The two most appealing parts of A.J. Burnett's game are his abilities to induce swings-and-misses and groundballs. He's second in the majors with a 57.6% groundball rate since 2012. But will that matter as much with the Phillies as it did with the Pirates?
When the Phils first signed Burnett, ESPN's Keith Law opined that it was a waste of a move for a team that likely couldn't contend anyway. I don't agree with that assessment, but I do lend some merit to Law's claim that the Phillies aren't the ideal team to field Burnett's groundballs.
One reason Law cites for that is the Pirates' penchant for infield shifts and the Phillies' lack of shifting. Another is the poor defense from Ryan Howard at first base, the declining defensive skills of Jimmy Rollins at shortstop and the average defense Cody Asche showed in the second half of 2013.
I took a look at the numbers and it is a bit worrisome.
Since 2012, Burnett has allowed a .222 batting average on groundballs. The league average over that span was .240.
This past season, the Phillies allowed a .260 batting average on groundballs, second-highest in the majors and better only than the Tigers, who had statues at both corners with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
The Pirates, meanwhile, allowed a .224 batting average on grounders, fifth-best in the majors.
Inducing the groundball is only half the battle; fielding it is the other.
The good news is that Burnett was excellent these last two seasons even while maintaining normal BABIPs. His batting average on balls in play last season was .305, and the year before it was .294. And yet his opponents hit below .240.