Back in November, the Mets announced they had signed a right-handed relief pitcher named Greg Burke to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. When I heard of the signing, it reminded me of the scene at the beginning of the movie Major League where the Cleveland fans are all giving their take on roster moves the team made, and the guy in the diner asks “Mitchell Freidman?” In similar fashion, after the signing was announced, Mets fans asked “Greg Burke?”
Burke is an easy guy to point out on the field because he has a very distinct motion. You see, Burke is a side-winder. Side-arm pitching is somewhat of a lost art, similar to the knuckle ball. When you find a guy who is effective, he can wreak havoc on a lineup. The problem with side-winders is, and the reason why most pitchers avoid style of delivery, because you immediately turn yourself into a righty/lefty specialist. A right-handed side-winder, as Burke is, would be incredibly difficult for a right-handed batter to face.
The motion looks weird, the ball comes from a completely different angle, and it just makes the hitter feel very uncomfortable in the batter’s box. However, for a left-handed hitter, it would almost work to their advantage to face a righty side-winder. They would have more time to see the pitch coming across and out of the side-winders hand. A left-handed hitter would feel much more comfortable batting against a right-handed side-winder than a right-handed hitter would. So Burke, like many pitchers trying to stay in the show, have mastered a lost art. He is out of options, and hopefully becoming a side-winding righty specialist will keep him in the show for one more year.
Another movie I am immediately reminded of when seeing Burke, is Moneyball. In Moneyball, an overweight Jonas Hill who we are supposed to believe is representing Paul DePodesta, is virtually obsessed with Chad Bradford, a sidewinding pitcher that Hill’s character believes can be the most effective reliever in their pen.
I’m not so sure DePodesta thinks Burke will be the most effective reliever in the bullpen for the Mets, that is if he makes the team out of camp, but he definitely has the ability to get right-handed hitters out. While I’m not a big believer in bullpen specialists, I think that Burke could provide some decent value with his deceptive pitching style. For at least one go around, the hitters will be very confused when they face Burke, and as long as you get him out of the game before the hitters can adjust, he can be effective.
In 2012, Burke was with the Baltimore Orioles, and split time between AA and AAA. He pitched a total of 64 innings and had a miniscule 1.53 ERA. That is promising. He was named an organizational All-Star by MiLB.com in 2012.
It’s yet to be seen if Burke sticks with the big league club after camp breaks, but he definitely has something the Mets are in need of—the ability to get guys out. Burke is a true underdog, having a brief stint with the Padres back in 2009, but spending most of his career riding buses and staying in motels playing the minor leagues. Everyone loves an underdog story. He has shown the ability to get right-handed hitters out, and hopefully he does enough to earn a spot on the 2013 Mets. Everyone here at MMO will be rooting for him.