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Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Burnett's fastball keys 8-game win streak

By Justin Page


Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesA.J. Burnett is 9-2 in 13 starts with the Pirates this season. He didn't earn his 9th win until August 15 last season in his 25th start of the year.
A.J. Burnett will go for his ninth consecutive win tonight when the Pirates host the Astros. During the live ball era (since 1920), only two Pirate pitchers have won nine or more consecutive decisions: Dock Ellis won 10 straight in 1971 and Steve Blass won nine in a row in 1968.

NEW TEAM, NEW PERSONA
Burnett joined the Pirates prior to this season, and he’s making a first impression that not many others have made over the last 40 years.

A win tonight would make Burnett the sixth player in the divisional era (since 1969) to win nine or more consecutive starts in his first season with a new team. Tim Wakefield was the last to do it when he won 10 straight for the Red Sox in 1995, after spending his first two seasons with Pittsburgh.

LIFE AFTER THE YANKEES
Burnett has run his season record to 9-2 during the eight-game win streak, good for an .818 win percentage. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, four pitchers in baseball history have posted a win percentage of .818 or better after leaving the Yankees (min. 15 starts):

Dazzy Vance with the Dodgers in 1924 (.840, 28-6), Johnny Allen with the Indians in 1937 (.938, 15-1), Roger Clemens with the Astros in 2004 (.818, 18-4), and Ian Kennedy with the Diamondbacks in 2011 (.840, 21-4). Of the four, only Roger Clemens did it in his first season after leaving New York.

FEARSOME FASTBALL
Burnett’s numbers have improved across the board this season. His 3.31 ERA is the second best of his 14-year career and both his WHIP and hits allowed per nine innings are the lowest they have been since 2007. A key reason: better command of his fastball.

Burnett has thrown a higher percentage of his fastballs in the strike zone (59 percent in 2012 vs 51 percent in 2011), resulting in a lower walk rate (11 percent vs 13 percent), higher strikeout rate (11 percent vs 9 percent) and a lower opponent batting average on at-bats ending in fastballs (.267 vs .332).

Tonight against the Astros, he's looking for a win against a team that has gotten the best of him during much of his career. Burnett is 1-5 with a 5.14 ERA in his last seven starts against the Astros, including losses in each of his last three decisions.

Burnett last earned a win against Houston on April 25, 2002, when he was a member of the Marlins.