| Sports

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Burnett whiffing hitters, defying time

Pirates/MLB Videos

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Pirates podcasts

  • Loading...

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By David Golebiewski
Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, 9:17 p.m.

Making hitters miss is a young man's craft. As a pitcher ages, his strikeout rate tends to erode.

Hurlers younger than age 30 have struck out 7.5 batters per nine innings over the past three seasons. The 30-plus crowd, meanwhile, has whiffed 7.0 hitters per nine frames. Of the top 10 qualified starting pitchers in K/9 this year, nine are in their 20s, and five are 25 or younger.

The Pirates' A.J. Burnett cares little for Father Time. The 36-year-old has struck out a career-high 9.9 batters per nine innings entering his Saturday start, fifth-best in the majors and the second-highest single-season strikeout rate for a Pirates starter throwing at least 120 innings (then-22-year-old Oliver Perez racked up 11 K/9 in 2004).

Burnett's surge puts him in elite company among graybeard starting pitchers. He has the 10th-highest single-season strikeout rate for a starter 36 or older, trailing only ageless wonders like Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan:

Elite company

Highest single-season K/9 for starter age 36 or older (120+IP):

Pitcher Year Age K/9

Randy Johnson 2001 37 13.4

Randy Johnson 2000 36 12.6

Randy Johnson 2002 38 11.6

Nolan Ryan 1987 40 11.5

Nolan Ryan 1989 42 11.3

Randy Johnson 2004 40 10.6

Nolan Ryan 1991 44 10.6

Curt Schilling 2003 36 10.4

Nolan Ryan 1990 43 10.2

A.J. Burnett 2013 36 9.9


When it comes to strikeouts, Burnett has little competition among older Pirates starters.

Jim Bunning has the second-highest single-season strikeout rate among Pirates starters 36 or older, with 7.2 K/9 in 1969 before the 37-year-old was traded to the Dodgers.

While strikeout rates are at historic highs, Burnett's K/9 is 38 percent better than the league average for starting pitchers compared to 16 percent for Bunning in '69.

Burnett's curveball is his put-away pitch, but his swinging strike rate with the offering hasn't changed much between 2012 (20.3 percent) and 2013 (20.1 percent). He has raised his strikeout rate mostly by missing more bats with his fastball and changeup:

Dual threat

A look at Burnett's strikeout rates using his fastball and changeup during the past two seasons:

Pitch 2012 2013 MLB avg.

Fastball 4.0 % 5.8 % 6.0 %

Changeup 7.5 % 11.6 % 12.6 %


Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.



Show commenting policy

Most-Read Pirates

  1. Pirates third baseman Ramirez’s last ride is about winning a ring
  2. Gameday: Pirates at Twins, July 28, 2015
  3. Pirates notebook: No sign of improvement for RHP Sadler
  4. Cole collects MLB-best 14th win as Pirates take series against Nationals
  5. Starting 9: Pirates help and the illusion of help
  6. Pirates minor league report: Moore a breakout star in Morgantown
  7. Pirates notebook: Cervelli cherishes All-Star gift from teammate Burnett
  8. Making splash at MLB trade deadline not always in buyers’ best interest
  9. Nationals pound Burnett, Pirates
  10. Rossi: Pirates, Cardinals deserve October showdown
  11. Gameday: Pirates vs. Nationals, July 23, 2015