2012 Player Review: Sean Burnett
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. We move to the bullpen for our first reliever on the list, Sean Burnett.
One of the most overlooked aspects of any Major League team is the bullpen, especially looking beyond the more defined “closer” role. Your standard relief corps includes seven pitchers at any given time, complementing the five-man starting rotation as part of a 12-member pitching staff. And while some of the six outside the closer may generally fit into certain roles, lefties like Sean Burnett often fill the void wherever and whenever they are needed.
To that end, Burnett served Davey Johnson’s bullpen in a number of different capacities in 2012. After using him more in situational spots that called for a lefty-lefty matchup early in the year, Johnson called upon Burnett as a closer for a pair of key saves, May 14 vs. San Diego and May 21 at Philadelphia. The southpaw then settled into more of a setup role, consistently pitching the full eighth inning in front of Tyler Clippard and then Drew Storen, upon his return from injury. And though Burnett’s 2.38 season ERA is certainly indicative of the type of year he put together, a deeper look into his numbers reveal an even more impressive performance.
Burnett posted an ERA below 1.75 in three of the season’s six months, including an April that saw him allow just five hits and two walks while fanning 10 over 6.2 scoreless frames. He held opponents scoreless 58 times in his 70 relief outings, the most appearances made without allowing a run of any hurler on the staff. For whatever reason, his pedestrian 4.26 daytime ERA (9 ER/19.0 IP) turned into a head-turning 1.43 (6 ER/37.2 IP) mark at night. Burnett’s other impressive splits came in his ability to limit lefties to a .211 average (19-for-90) with 28 strikeouts, and the fact that opponents batted only .169 (13-for-77) with runners in scoring position.
However, arguably his most valuable set of numbers were Burnett’s improvements to his strikeout and walk rates. After averaging 3.9 free passes and 6.2 punchouts per nine innings (good for a 1.60 K/BB rate) for his career, the southpaw allowed just 1.9 walks per nine in 2012 while striking out 9.1 (a 4.75 K/BB rate). For some perspective, no other regular bullpen member cracked a rate of 3.00, and even the most efficient members of the vaunted starting rotation checked in no higher than 3.56 (Jordan Zimmermann) and 4.10 (Stephen Strasburg).
Burnett and the team hold a mutual option for next season. It has been reported in the past week that Burnett may decline that option, but that the 30 year-old is interested in working out a longer-term deal here in Washington.