<
>

Burnett continues to show he's an All-Star-worthy pitcher

2h
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Pittsburgh Pirates starter A.J. Burnett has saved the best for the last part of his career.

Burnett found out Monday that he made the National League All-Star team for the first time in his 17-season career, then pitched like an All-Star, allowing one run in 7 2/3 innings in a 2-1 win over the San Diego Padres. The Pirates have won six of seven overall and are a league-best 22-10 since June 1.

Burnett, who previously has said this would be his final major league season, lowered his 2015 ERA to 1.99. This was his seventh start of at least seven innings and one run or fewer allowed this season. Only two NL pitchers have more -- Max Scherzer (9) and Zack Greinke (8).

What’s so good about him?

Burnett could have called it quits after posting a 4.59 ERA with the Phillies last season, but he decided to return to Pittsburgh, where he had great success in 2012 and 2013.

The results have been far better than anything Burnett could have imagined. They're probably a bit better than they should be, given that Burnett's FIP (an ERA-scaled stat assessing him by strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed) is 2.61 and his xFIP (a stat that attempts to predict future ERA based on strikeouts, walks and fly balls) is 3.21.

There are two big difference-makers for Burnett in explaining his improvement from last year to this year.

One is his strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has 94 strikeouts and 30 walks, giving him a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 3-to-1. His ratio last season was just below 2-to-1.

Burnett gave up seven home runs among the 66 fly balls he yielded at home last season. This year, he’s allowed only one among the 34 fly balls hit against him at PNC Park.

That’s held consistent for Burnett on the road as well this season. He’s allowed only two homers on 42 fly balls in his nine road starts.

For those who think that Burnett’s improvements are explainable by an improvement in the defense behind him, that’s not necessarily so. The Phillies turned 69 percent of the balls hit against Burnett into outs. The Pirates have turned 67 percent.

But also pertinent: The Phillies' defense turned 67 percent of balls hit against Burnett with runners in scoring position into outs. The Pirates have turned 78 percent into outs.

Did you know?

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that only four pitchers age 38 or older have finished the first half with a sub-2.00 ERA. Burnett (age 38) has one start left to try to join Roger Clemens (1.48 in 2005), Phil Niekro (1.84 in 1984), Spud Chandler (1.87 in 1946) and Dutch Leonard (1.97 in 1948).