A.J. Burnett: The Jays’ ‘X-factor’

A quick look at the final pitching statistics for 2007 shows the following strikeout leaders: Jake Peavy (240), Scott Kazmir (239), Johan Santana (235) and Erik Bedard (221). That’s a pretty impressive foursome. Peavy, for one, is the favourite to earn NL Cy Young honours after posting a record of 19-6 and an ERA of 2.54 during the ’07 regular campaign. Santana, meanwhile, earned his second Cy Young in three seasons when he took home the AL award in 2006. Bedard was among the favourites for the award this season before going down with an oblique strain in August. Up to that point, the left-hander had posted a 13-5 mark along with an impressive 3.16 ERA. Finally, Kazmir enjoyed the best season of his young career with the D-Rays in ’07, going 13-9 with a 3.48 ERA in 34 starts.

Not surprisingly, this group of hurlers made up four of the five starting pitchers in the league to average more than one strikeout per inning pitched (minimum 150.0 IP). The other starter? A.J. Burnett.

The hard-throwing Blue Jay right-hander compiled 176 strikeouts in 165 2/3 innings of work, giving him the best strikeout-to-inning ratio of his career. After spending a month and a half on the DL, Burnett returned in August to go 4-1 with an impressive 1.97 ERA in his next eight starts. His overall numbers were strikingly similar to 2006, as he finished the ’07 campaign with a 10-8 record and a 3.75 ERA. He was very effective, and a strong number two starter … when healthy. That’s been the tagline for Burnett since he signed with the Blue Jays two winters ago. That’s why he will again be the ‘X-factor’ for Toronto in 2008. With the emergence of youngsters Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum, the Jays have the chance to field one of the best pitching staffs in the American League next year. But it would be severely diminished if Burnett were to miss significant time due to injury.

Will Burnett enjoy his first injury-free campaign with the Blue Jays in ’08? If so, Toronto would find itself in great position to make a run at a playoff spot. 

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