When Phillies Nation posted the news of the Phillies signing of A.J. Burnett to our Facebook page yesterday, it was met with two responses: the wildly original and hilarious “another player to play in Senior Citizen’s Bank park!” response and the “why did the Phillies sign a pitcher when they have a horrible offense?” counter question. I have got no response for the first one other than that Burnett has had two of the best seasons of his career in 2012 and 2013 and that age probably won’t be a factor for him in 2014. The second question has some legitimate depth to it and it is worth exploring.
While everyone assumes the quickest route to fixing the Phillies is through its offense, the tricky part is what spot do you improve? Four-fifths of the Phillies infield is currently locked under some sort of long-ish contract (think Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Ruiz) or protected by no trade clauses (think Jimmy Rollins) and the fifth spot, third base, is the one spot in the infield where the Phillies have a young player worth giving a shot. In the outfield, Domonic Brown and Ben Revere are two young players worth giving a shot to develop and the other corner, right field, is occupied by Marlon Byrd for two years. So even though the Phillies had the 26th best offense in baseball last year, 14th in the National League, there just isn’t a whole lot of spaces to add offensive production.
So the Phillies, presumably sensing an opportunity, or reacting to the news that Cole Hamels is behind schedule, added a pretty good pitcher to a suddenly barren rotation. Despite having Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels healthy for the entire season in 2013, the Phillies ranked 25th in ERA, 10th in FIP, and 13th in xFIP, while ranking 15th in K/9 IP and 13th in GB%. Burnett is an instant upgrade to all of those metrics.