Right-handed pitcher A.J. Burnett was the 162nd player to appear for the Florida Marlins through their then-seven-season history.
Making his major league debut with the Marlins on August 17th, 1999, six-foot-four right-handed starting pitcher A.J. Burnett, who is turning 43 today, earned a 6-1 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out four and allowed one run, on a solo homer courtesy of Todd Hollandsworth. Burnet lasted 5 2/3 innings and issued a total of five hits and two free passes. Lifted one out short of a “Quality Start,” according to David O’Brien as printed in the Sun-Sentinel:
"The manager wanted to have Burnett feel good about the work he had done rather than have him face left-hitting Todd Hundley, representing the potential tying run. Though slumping, Hundley has power."
Burnett was sent back to the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs after that game, but had only brief minor league rehabilitation starts after that through the end of his career in 2015. He rejoined the Marlins 11 days later for good. In his first look at the major league level, he was 4-2 with a 3.48 ERA over seven starts, with a solid 124 ERA+ and 33 K’s in 41 1/3 innings.
Burnett didn’t start in the 2000 season with the parent club until July 20th, due to a thumb ligament injury. In that game, he struck out six and allowed one run on three hits over seven innings in a 6-1 victory against the Atlanta Braves. Again according to David O’Brien at the Sun-Sentinel:
"It felt great to be back out on the hill again and be able to go seven innings. I’m proud of myself .- Burnett"
Burnett went 3-7 for the 79-82 club in 2000 over 13 starts, with 57 whiffs in 82 2/3 innings. In 2001, Burnett finally got a full-season’s worth of starts under his belt, more-or-less. He was 11-12 through 27 turns in the rotation, with a 1.315 WHIP and 128 K’s through 173 1/3 innings. He was a part of history on May 12th, when he no-hit the San Diego Padres in a 3-0 victory. Burnett struck out seven but walked nine, getting 65-of-129 pitches over the plate. He also hit a batter and threw a wild pitch. Despite Burnett’s heroics, the Marlins went 76-86.
Burnett’s 2002 season was his best while with the Marlins. He led the team with a 4.0 WAR and led the major leagues with five shutouts. He was 12-9 with a 3.30 ERA and 203 K’s in 204 1/3 innings with a 1.189 WHIP. He also led the National League in both wild pitches, with 14, and fewest hits per nine allowed, at 6.7 H/9.
Burnett’s best start of the season was likely on June 15th in a 3-0 win against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, when he struck out 11, walked only three, and allowed three hits over the full nine innings. Then-Marlins catcher Mike Redmond said Burnet’s two-seamer was so lively they had to switch to the four-seamer early in the game. Burnett was quoted by Harvey Fialkov at the Sun Sentinel:
"Good pitchers know when to turn it down a notch and turn it up a notch. I tell myself I don’t want that guy crossing home."
After four starts to begin the 2003 season, Burnett was shut down for good to get Tommy John surgery. Of course, Florida went on to win their second World Series Championship.
When Burnett returned to the rotation in June of 2004, he was reportedly touching 102 MPH on the gun (I was thinking of that movie “Rookie of the Year” when I heard that. They tightened his ligament too tight!)
Anyway, Burnett went 7-6 for the Marlins with a 3.68 ERA and 113 K’s in 120 frames, with a 112 ERA+ and a career-best 1.167 after his return. His 2.97 strikeouts per walk was at the time the best mark of his career as well.
In 2005, Burnett was part of a solid rotation that also featured Dontrelle Willis, Al Leiter, and Josh Beckett. For his part, Burnett went 12-12 with a 3.44 ERA over a then-career-best 32 starts (he later topped that number four times).
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Burnett struck out 198 in 209 innings for the Marlins, nailing down a 116 ERA+, a 3.11 FIP, and a 1.258 WHIP. Unfortunately, after seven seasons in the aqua and white, he ended up signing through free agency with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Burnett later also pitched for the New York Yankees, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Philadelphia Phillies. Returning to the Pirates for his final major league season in 2015, Burnett went 9-7 with a career-best 3.18 ERA and was selected to his only All Star team at the age of 38.
At the time of his departure from the Marlins, Burnett was on top of their all-time leaderboard with 49 pitching victories, and still ranks fifth in the category. He’s still the all-time leader with eight shutouts, tied with Willis, and fourth with 753 strikeouts.