30 Players in 30 Days: Sean Burnett

Sean Burnett in Atlanta.jpgA win-loss record of 1-7 doesn’t suggest excellence but Sean Burnett had an excellent 2010 campaign. He was arguably the best among all Washington relievers, despite ending the season with the aforementioned record.

In fact, coming into the last full week of the season, Burnett was winless.  “For him to have such a great year and not have a win, we were talking about that in the bullpen,” Drew Storen said. “We didn’t want to jinx him, but we were like, ‘He needs to get one,'” which finally happened on September 26 when Burnett pitched two hitless innings and recorded three strikeouts against the Braves. Of course, it wasn’t the first time Burnett had pitched extremely well during the season–it was simply the first time the performance resulted in a win. On 15 other occasions this season, Burnett pitched an inning or more without allowing a hit, and in 58 of his 73 appearances, he did not allow a run–proof that win-loss record can be highly deceiving.

Burnett looked as sharp as ever in 2010, striking out 8.86 batters every nine innings–the most in his Big League career, while walking only 2.86 batters every nine innings–the least in his Big League career. He also stranded more runners than ever before, leaving 81.4 percent on base. (For the record, he debuted for Pittsburgh in 2004 and has since pitched nearly four complete seasons in the Majors.)

Burnett was adamant against being tagged a left-handed specialist–he was drafted in 2000 as a starter and converted to a reliever in 2008, so being confined to limited innings against lefties only sounded like a further demotion. He worked hard in the offseason to strengthen his repertoire against righties and came out strong–so strong that right-handed batters had averages almost 100 points less (.182) than left-handed batters (.273) against him.

His pitching this season should cement him as next season’s top setup man. He may not be best suited as a closer, due to his pitch-to-contact style and a fastball that tops out in the low 90s. However–he could be great. He recorded three saves this year and has shown one doesn’t have to be considered ideal or fancy to get the job done.

“He’s not getting nearly the credit that he should,” Storen said. “A lot of times, it’s kind of boring watching him pitch. He just does well every time. He goes in there and throws good pitches. It’s not flashy. He does his job. That’s something that’s great about him. He’s kind of not well known. And he should be for what he’s doing for us this year.”

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