Looking for a topic to write about, I went over to the official Mets site to look at how the guys playing Winter Ball did. Usually you can find someone hitting the cover off the ball but of the 16 hitters in various leagues, the highest OPS was the .834 posted by Juan Carlos Gamboa in the Mexican-Pacific League. The pitching was not much better, with the exception of Greg Burke.
In 31 games with Obregon, Burke was 3-1 and a perfect 11-for-11 in save opportunities. He notched a 2.23 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP, along with a 5.0 K/BB ratio. Now, I don’t follow the minors as closely as our own David Groveman, but I know a little and I was disappointed that I had no idea who the Mets’ best Winter Ball player this offseason was.
It turns out that Burke is a former member of the Padres who the Mets signed as a free agent after a strong year in the upper minors with the Orioles in 2012. Burke started the year in Double-A, where he notched 14 saves in 23 games. He had a 1.53 ERA and a 0.852 WHIP in 29.1 IP before getting the call to Triple-A. Burke again posted strong numbers, with an identical 1.53 ERA and a still-impressive 1.019 WHIP. But he did not get a September call-up and in November he was scooped up by the Mets.
Burke already has MLB experience, as he made the show in 2009 while with San Diego. As you might guess from that date, Burke is no spring chicken. He turned 30 this past September, usually an age where a guy who hasn’t been in the majors the past three years despite being healthy ceases to be interesting. But there are a couple of things working in his favor. First, the Mets have big holes in their bullpen, meaning anyone who has displayed an ability to get guys out is worth a look. Secondly, Burke revamped his delivery for the 2012 season, became a sidearmer and is now a completely different pitcher.
“It was sort of a last-ditch effort but it’s actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” Burke told Kevin Minnick of the Courier-Post online “I’m definitely better now than I was when I was 25, 26. I’ve been able to maintain my velocity and good spin on my fastball.
“It’s sort of my last chance to get back. I made it to the bigs ‘pitching regular.’ It’s kind of an ego hit to let it go because I had been pitching one way for 20-some years and now I had to try something different. But if I didn’t make any type of adjustment or bring it up I probably would have been released. It was a career saver for sure. I’ve re-invented myself.”
Of course, becoming a sidearmer is a type of double-edged sword. It usually means great success versus RHB at the expense of getting lit up by LHB. Burke certainly displayed this tendency in 2012 but with a 1.53 ERA – it was a tradeoff well worth making.
The splits at Minor League Central do not have ERA for left/right numbers. But they do include FIP and Burke had a 2.88 FIP against lefties in Double-A and a 4.80 FIP against lefties in Triple-A. Against righties at both levels, his FIP was 1.95 in Bowie and 1.22 in Norfolk.
MiLB.com has his L/R splits for Winter Ball and Burke allowed just 12 hits in 13.1 IP against lefties, did not give up a walk or allow a homer to a LHB and limited them to a 2.03 ERA.
It’s very easy to get too excited by Winter Ball numbers but combined with what Burke did at the upper levels of the minors last year, this is a very encouraging sign. With Manny Acosta signing to pitch in Japan in 2013 and neither Ramon Ramirez nor Jon Rauch likely to return, the Mets have a bunch of innings to make up from the right side of the mound.
We all know how, for better or worse, Terry Collins loves to play matchups with his relievers at the end of the game. Burke seems likely to give him a reliever to pair with a LOOGY to make multiple switches in the end of the game. While I don’t think it’s the way a bullpen should be run, it would be ignoring the obvious not to point this out as a point in Burke’s favor in his attempt to make the Mets out of Spring Training.
So, when Spring Training rolls around – keep an eye on Burke. He has an excellent chance to make the club and add to the San Diego connection that has developed since Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodesta joined the Mets’ front office.