In Dejanís Q&A today, there was quite a bit of support for Sean Burnett making the roster. I thought I should take a look at Burnettís career, specifically what he has done since returning from his major arm injuries.
Burnett rose steadily through the low minors, reaching each level at a relatively young age. He got by mostly on good control, walking only 95 in 476.1 innings in his first three full professional seasons. However, he only struck out 316 in that same period. That left him with a good K/BB ratio, but his K/9 left something to be desired. He arrived at Triple-A Nashville in 2004 at the age of 21, and struggled for the first time in his career. He made ten starts, walking 17 and allowing 58 hits in only 47 innings. Nevertheless, he was brought to Pittsburgh and joined the rotation in the middle of the season. After a great start, he cooled off and was eventually shelved with an injury. He would miss all of 2005 after surgery, and returned as a question mark in 2006.
He started that season in Triple-A Indianapolis, and the results were nothing special. His WHIP was high at 1.51, and he walked as many as he struck out (46) in 120.1 innings. However, the fact that he pitched the entire season and was healthy was encouraging. Last year, he came to spring training hoping to steal a spot in the Pittsburgh rotation. He pitched well in three appearances, allowing no earned runs and just five hits in 11.1 innings. His K/BB ratio of 9/7 was not great, though, and he began the season back in Indy. Remember that this decision was questioned by many, as Burnett had clearly outpitched Tom Gorzelanny, who made the rotation despite a terrible spring. Burnett struggled again in Triple-A, while Gorzelanny had a great season in Pittsburgh. Burnett made only 15 starts before being shut down with an injury. He walked 39 while only striking out 31 in 70.1 innings, and finished with an ERA of 4.48 and a WHIP of 1.73.
Now I know that Burnett has been fantastic this spring. He has a 0.90 ERA, and has not allowed a hit in seven appearances. I know he has come a long way while battling back from some serious arm injuries. But we cannot discount how poorly he pitched in Triple-A last year. Saying that he should be on the team over someone like Phil Dumatrait, who has been pretty solid this spring and was much better than Burnett in Triple-A last year, is pretty silly if you ask me. Remember, spring training stats mean absolutely nothing. They are interesting to look at, but they are not an accurate measure of how a player will perform in the regular season. If you want some evidence of this, just look back to the spring stats of Gorzelanny and Ronny Paulino last year. In addition, Dumatrait is out of options, while Burnett can be returned to Indy.
Burnett needs to prove that he can be effective at Triple-A over an extended period before he can expect to see the big leagues again. I am rooting for him to do so, and I think moving to the bullpen will definitely help his chances. I love a comeback story as much as the next person does. But we cannot get so caught up in Burnettís spring stats that we forget what he did last season.