The Twins fell to the Blue Jays on Tuesday night due in large part to the wheels falling off the Phil Hughes strikeout express in the 6th
inning. After cruising through five innings, limiting the Jays to four hits while striking out five batters, Hughes suddenly couldn’t retire a single batter and was forced from the game clinging to a 2-1 lead with two runners on and no outs. Those runners went on to score (plus one more for good measure), which left Hughes with a disappointing stat line of 5.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 5K and left his ERA at a far too high 7.20.
I’m not here to talk about Phil Hughes, however. In my opinion, these "one bad inning" outings are just something Hughes needs to work through (or the team needs to be ready for). With as poor as the pitching has been over the past three seasons, we’ll take the bad with the good when it comes to Phil Hughes and hope he figures it out in the meantime.
My bigger concern from last night’s game comes from the ninth inning when Jared Burton entered the game. Burton retired the first two Blue Jay batters relatively quickly before walking the next three batters in just as rapid fashion. Brett Lawrie stepped to the plate and well…
I thought about linking the video, but I don't want to subject Twins fans to THAT again. Let's just say it was 9-2 in short order.
Tuesday was Burton’s fourth appearance of the season and it continued a frightening trend for the righty set-up man, one that dates back to 2013. To put it simply – he’s been crushed. (All numbers that follow were obtained from Fangraphs on 4/16/14)
Burton finished 2013 with 2-9 record with an ERA of 3.82. For comparisons sake, Burton finished 2012 with a record of 3-2 with an ERA of 2.18. That should raise a red flag immediately. While relievers are prone to up and down years, Burton’s 2013 was so much worse than 2012 that the Twins management and front office had to be concerned about the righty heading into 2014, even if they never publicly said anything.
Delving a little deeper into the numbers doesn't make things look any better for Burton. He finished 2013 with a xFIP of 3.94, showing that his inflated ERA wasn’t the product of bad luck or a few bad outings – rather it was an accurate measurement of his performance. With an opponent batting average allowed of .240 (up from 2012’s .183) and a BABIP of .294, the writing was on the wall. Burton may just be out of gas.
I think Twins management was influenced by Burton’s outstanding 2012 numbers and therefore were willing to take a chance that he could turn in numbers closer to his careerbest season – rather than 2013’s effort. Early season indicators seem to show that as a mistake. While the season is young and sample sizes are extremely small (especially for relievers) Burton has done little to show that 2012 Jared Burton will ever be coming back.
He currently boasts an ERA of 14.40, with a xFIP of 6.94 (That’s depressing. It means Burton has been somewhat unlucky and that his ERA should ONLY be nearly 7…), opponents are hitting .300 off him and his BB/9 has risen, while his K/9 has been cut in half.
In short, he’s walking more batters, striking out fewer batters and then letting everyone else hit .300 off of him.
With a plethora of young arms in AAA that look to be ready for the show, I hope the Twins don’t let Burton flap in the breeze much longer. Michael Tonkin or Casey Fien could easily take over Burton’s role as the 8th
inning bridge to Perkins, and Deolis Guerra, Ryan Pressly and Logan Darnell are all just a phone call away.
Things like this happen with relievers. Sometimes their stuff just stops working - for whatever reason. In reality, the Twins were lucky to get a career best season from a minor pickup in 2012.
Whether Burton is hurt or simply out of gas, the choice remains the same. Something must be done with Burton and I believe the sooner the Twins make a move, the better off they'll be.