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Top 55 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #39 A.J. Burnett

A.J. Burnett
A.J. Burnett

Allan James Burnett | RHP | 2006 - 2008

Everybody's favorite starting pitcher A.J. Burnett was born January 3, 1977 in North Little Rock, Arkansas. He was drafted by the Mets in the 8th round of the 1996 draft, one of just 3 players out of that round who made the majors. The Jays had the pick right before the Mets and picked Dave Marciniak, a shortstop.

In February of 1998 he was traded, along with Robert Stratton and Jesus Sanchez to the Marlins for Al Leiter and Ralph Millard. A.J. was called up in late August of 1999 and made 7 starts. In 2000 he came up about mid-season and made 13 starts. He had his first full season in the majors in 2001 and pitched a no-hitter for the Marlins (giving up 8 walks in the game), on May 12. He had Tommy John surgery in 2003, came back in 2004 but missed several games with an elbow injury. Burnett made 32 starts, in 2005, the first time in his career that he made over 30. It was good timing as he was a free agent after the season. A.J. is currently 3rd in career wins, with 49, in Marlin history.

At the 2005 winter meetings, JP Ricciardi made a big slash, signing both B.J. Ryan and A.J. Burnett to huge, long term contracts. A.J. was given a 5-year, $55 million contract that contained an opt out clause after the 3rd year. The Jays were taking a big risk, signing a pitcher that had many injury issues, over the years, to such a big contract, but Ricciardi thought that it was time to make a move to get to the top of the division.

We looked to have a very good rotation, going into the 2006 season, with Roy Halladay, Ted Lilly, Gustavo Chacin, Josh Towers and A.J. all having good seasons in 2005. But Towers was awful in 2006, Chacin wasn't great and A.J. spent about half the season on the DL. He started the season on the DL, with some troubles from some scar tissue from his Tommy John surgery back in 2003. He was activated in mid-April, made two pretty poor starts and went back to the DL. He came off it again on June 22, throwing a shut-out for his first Blue Jay victory, and played the rest of the season.

Other than the injuries, he didn't have a bad year, going 10-8 with a 3.98 ERA in 21 starts. He struck out 118 and walked 39 in 135.2 innings. The team finished 2nd in the AL East but 10 games back of the Yankees.

In 2007 the Jays pitching staff had more than its share of injuries, Roy Halladay missed a month after an appendectomy and B.J. Ryan was lost for the year after Tommy John surgery. A.J. stayed healthy until the mid-June, going 5-6 with a 4.00 ERA to that point, then hit the DL with a shoulder strain. He came back for one start, on June 28, and then went back on the DL for the month of July. Coming back in August he went 5-2 the rest of the way.

When he did pitch, he was pretty good, holding batters to a .214 batting average, second in the AL and getting more than a strikeout an inning. He was great against AL East opponents, going 7-1 against them. In all he was 10-8, with a 3.75 ERA in 25 starts. He gave up 131 hits, 66 walks while striking out 176 in 165.2 innings.

2008 was Burnett's best year with the Jays, managing to stay off the DL (though he started the season with a torn finger nail, after catching the finger in a car door), he went 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA in 34 starts. He also led the league in strikeouts with 231 and strikeouts per 9 innings with 9.4. He and Doc made a very successful top of the rotation, winning 38 games between then (Doc came in second in the Cy Young voting to Cliff Lee). A.J. set career highs for wins, innings pitched and strikeouts, finishing 3rd in the AL in innings and 4th in wins. He finished the season strong, going 13-6 over his last 19 starts and winning 8 of his last 9 starts. Fangraphs gives him a 5.5 WAR for that season, his career best.

Timing has always been Burnett's strong suit, having a strong season before he could become a free agent in 2005 and then having the best season of his career right before he could opt out of his Blue Jay contract in 2007. In the off-season he signed a 5-year $82.5 million contract with the Yankees in the off-season. I have no hard feeling towards A.J. for opting out, any of us would have done the same, but I do enjoy watching his troubles with the Yankees. I even enjoyed watching the Jays pound him in a spring training game last year. Against the Jays, he is 3-4 with a 5.64 ERA in 10 starts.

He was pretty good, in 2008, for the Yankees, going 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA in 33 starts. The highlight of that season, at least for Jay fans, was the May 12 start in Toronto, against Roy Halladay. The Jays and Halladay came out on top, with a 5-1 win and A.J. was booed, loudly, throughout the game. After that first Yankees season, he's had nothing but trouble in New York. I can't say that I'm sad that he signed with them, as things turned out.

It seemed, at least from the outside, that A.J. was a good teammate in Toronto. He was friends with Halladay, their friendly competition seemed to make both pitchers better and he started the Jays tradition of getting the star of the game with a shaving cream 'pie', generally while the player was on camera, being interviewed.

A.J. was pretty much a fastball/curveball pitcher for the Jays. He had one of the hardest fastballs in baseball at one time, it's dropped off some since then. He used the curve as his strikeout pitch, going to it when he was ahead in the count. Each game seems to depend on his feel for those two pitches, if he has them, he is has been almost unhittable but when he doesn't life isn't as good. As a Jay he was 38-26, with a 3.94 ERA, in 80 starts. He had 525 strikeouts in 522.2 innings.

Burnett is married and has 2 children.

A.J. Burnett's place among Blue Jay pitching leaders:

ERA (>500 innings): 11th, 3.94
Wins: 16th, 38
Winning %: 6th, .594
Strikeouts per 9 innings: 3rd, 9.040, tops among starters
Innings: 24th, 522.2
Strikeouts: 14th, 525