A.J. Burnett Signing A Boon To Phillies Bullpen

Doug Pensinger

The reported signing of A.J. Burnett to a contract not only helps the starting rotation. It also helps the bullpen get deeper and stronger.

With reports that the Phillies have signed free agent starter A.J. Burnett to either a one-year, $16 million deal, or a deal that includes a second year option of some kind, the Phils have apparently filled a massive hole in their starting rotation.

I guess I'm going to have to forgive him for Game 2 of the 2009 World Series now, aren't I?

Even with a limited or full no-trade clause (which was always going to be a part of this deal, given how much of Burnett's decision was based on location to his current home in Maryland), the Phillies did well to sign a true #3 starter to slot in behind Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, and allows the Phils to slide Kyle Kendrick to the #4 spot in the rotation, with Roberto Hernandez, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Jonathan Pettibone battling it out for the fifth spot.

This is all good news. The new Phillies rotation is among the strongest in the National League, and rivals the Washington Nationals' rotation for best in the NL East. But the A.J. signing does more than just give the Phils a stronger rotation.

The Phillies also upgraded their bullpen in the deal as well.

No, they didn't sign a reliever. Instead, two of the three starters that will lose out on a job in the rotation can now be moved to the bullpen to compete with the stable of young arms already there, or be sent to AAA for more consistent innings in Lehigh Valley's rotation.

The man with the inside track for the #5 spot is likely Hernandez, whom the Phils signed to a one-year, $4.5 million deal. His salary and experience makes him the most likely candidate to land the job, provided he doesn't implode in spring training.

That means the Phillies can now move Gonzalez to the 'pen, taking some of the pressure off the young Cuban mystery man and allowing him to get acclimated to big league hitters in a less pressurized environment. No one knows what MAG is going to give the Phils this year, and allowing him to ease into his new role in the Majors is likely the best option for everybody.

The Burnett signing also means the end of the Ethan Martin-as-starter experiment. Martin has terrific stuff but, as he has shown throughout his minor league career and his brief 40-inning cup of coffee with the team last year, his effectiveness and control wanes as the game goes on.

Split IP ERA PA SO/BB OPS
1st inning 7.2 4.70 38 3.00 .762
2nd inning 7.0 5.14 26 10.00 .564
3rd inning 7.0 5.14 32 3.50 .838
4th inning 6.0 4.50 31 .570 .961
5th inning 4.0 15.75 24 .330 1.333
6th inning 4.0 4.50 16 6.00 .717
Innings 1-3 21.2 4.98 96 4.14 .733
Innings 4-6 14 7.71 71 0.86 1.022

As you can see, in the early innings of Martin's starts last year (granted, in a small sample size), his SO/BB ratio was higher and his OPS allowed was lower than in the later innings. Martin's stuff and stamina simply don't translate into him being an effective starter. But he could be a dynamite reliever, and some believe he is the team's potential closer of the future.

His addition to the bullpen could be a huge difference maker for the team this year.

So the Phillies now have an abundance of bullpen arms that could miss a ton of bats in Martin, Gonzalez, Antonio Bastardo, Jake Diekman, Brad Lincoln, Jeremy Horst, Justin De Fratus, B.J. Rosenberg, as well as veteran (that's code for "old," by the way) relievers Mike Adams, and Jonathan Papelbon.

There's a lot of uncertainty in that group, but also a mountain of potential.

Now of course, with Cole Hamels' surprise announcement Wednesday that he is battling shoulder tendinitis and will not be ready for Opening Day, injuries to the rotation could change everything. But given a healthy rotation of Lee-Hamels-Burnett-Kendrick-Hernandez, the Phillies not only helped their rotation with the Burnett signing.

They've also given their bullpen even more of a chance to be dominant in 2014.

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