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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Player Profile: Pat the Bat 

To say that Pat Burrell has had a rocky couple of years with the Phillies is an understatement. The Phillies much heralded left fielder, after three progressively good-to-great seasons from 2000 to 2002, stunned Phillies fans with his horrific 2003 campaign which saw his numbers dramatically plummet and left Burrell’s confidence shattered (as well as the fans confidence in him). Burrell’s 2004 campaign was a mixed bag. He played well at the beginning and end of the season, but had an awful summer, missing parts of August with injuries. He played better than in 2003 but much worse than in 2004. Will the Phillies ever get back the fearsome Pat Burrell of 2002? Is Burrell the Phillies future or their latest past flop?

I begin my 2005 player profiles by stating that Pat Burrell is the Phillies biggest X factor for 2005. If he approaches the level of play he exhibited in 2002, then the Phillies have a fearsome foursome in the 3-6 slots with Abreu, Thome, Burrell and Utley. If he returns to 2003-levels, then the Phillies will likely have problems. More on Burrell than on Jon Lieber, or on Jim Thome, or on Chase Utley do the hopes of the Phillies 2005 season ride. Unsurprisingly, the Phillies recently announced that they were going to start working with Burrell to try to improve his hitting.

Let’s start with a few of Burrell’s career stats…

(Philadelphia magazine complained in its review of A Citizen’s Blog that I didn’t always explain what my stats mean for the lay reader. Here is a glossary:

GPA (Gross Productive Average): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, it measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power.
ISO (Isolated Power): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
RC (Runs Created): Measures how many runs a player “creates” for his team. The formula used by Bill James is fairly complex: look at p. 397-398 of the Bill James Handbook.
OBP (On-Base Percentage): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
ZR (Zone Rating): Is a stat which measures a player’s defensive ability by measuring plays they should have made. Admittedly, this is a stat left open to subjective opinions.)

Back to the numbers …

Win Shares
2000: 12
2001: 17
2002: 25
2003: 9
2004: 15 (1 Win Share Above Average)
Career: 78 (15.6 Avg)

I don’t think any number more dramatically illustrates Burrell’s collapse than the drop from 25 Win Shares to 9 from 2002-2003. Last year’s 15 Win Shares are on-par with his career average.

Here are Burrell’s “regular” baseball stats:

BA / SLG / HR / RBI / 2B
2000: .260 / .463 / 18 / 79 / 27
2001: .258 / .469 / 27 / 89 / 29
2002: .282 / .544 / 37 / 116 / 39
2003: .209 / .404 / 21 / 64 / 31
2004: .257 / .455 / 24 / 84 / 17
Career: .253 / .470 / 127 / 432 / 143

They fit a fairly consistent theme: improvement 2000-2002, decline in 2003, and a return to pre-2002 levels in 2004.

Here are some of Burrell’s sabremetric stats:

GPA / ISO
2000: .277 / .203
2001: .273 / .211
2002: .305 / .262
2003: .240 / .195
2004: .278 / .199
Career: .275 / .217

Again, improvement 2000-2002, decline in 2003, and a return to pre-2002 levels in ‘04 with GPA, but look at Burrell’s ISO numbers: just a +.004 increase over 2003. Burrell’s 2004 ISO stats are the second worst of his career, not even as good as his rookie year in 2000. Why? I thought it might be because of a decline in home run production, but look at Burrell’s home runs per at bat:

2002: 15.8
2003: 24.9
2004: 18.7

Lower than in 2002, but much better than in 2003. The decline was due to Burrell’s reduction in doubles:

Doubles per at bat:
2002: 15.8
2003: 16.8
2004: 26.4

Burrell also had no triples in 448 at-bats in 2004 and four in his 522 at-bats in 2003. Why? A decline in speed? At first I suspected it was due to the move to Citizens, but Citizen’s doubles rating is virtually the same as the Vet (90 to 92). And according to Bill James' park factors, it is actually easier to hit a triple at Citizens than at the Vet (117 to 101). I’m focusing in on speed factors here. I suspect that Burrell either lost his aggressiveness on the base-paths and is wary of stretching singles into doubles, or his injuries have cost him a step or two on the field. Or both.

Here are his runs created and his on-base percentage.

OBP / RC
2000: .359 / 69
2001: .346 / 86
2002: .376 / 104
2003: .309 / 57
2004: .365 / 72
Career: .351 / 388

Here is something I find interesting: Burrell’s on-base-percentage for 2004 was pretty darn good, just .011 below his career high and a nearly sixty point jump over his 2003 campaign. The jump in his on-base percentage was arguably the biggest story of Burrell’s 2004 campaign. Look at Burrell’s walks-per-plate appearance, compared with the rest of the team:

Abreu: .178
Thome: .168
Burrell: .146
Michaels: .121
Bell: .095
Rollins: .079
Lieberthal: .070
Byrd: .058
Utley: .052
Polanco: .049
Team: .100

That’s terrific stuff. Critics is Philly complained that Thome and Burrell struck out too much (see my recent post on strikeouts), but in reality both players were skilled at milking their plate appearances. Burrell, by the way, was sixth in the NL in pitches per plate appearance (4.21 … Abreu led the NL at 4.32). He’s a patient hitter at the plate and I think that the story of his 2004 campaign was his willingess to sacrifice some power at the plate for patience and control. I think this is all part of Burrell's return to his pre-2003 form. I think he'll regain his speed on the base-paths once the 2005 season gets underway because he'll have his confidence back and hopefully be free of nagging injuries.

Defensively … Burrell isn’t a defensive wiz. His fielding isn’t, in my judgment, a critical part of the Phillies chances for 2005 the way Utley, Polanco and Rollins' glove-work is. But Burrell is a solid glove in the outfield. Here are some of his stats:

Fielding % / Range Factor / Innings Played
2001: .972 / 1.76 / 1,250
2002: .979 / 1.83 / 1,383
2003: .976 / 1.83 / 1,186
2004: .983 / 1.92 / 1,060

* Because Burrell played half of the 2000 season at first rather than left field, I’m excluding his 2000 stats.

Range Factor: (Putouts + Assists) * 9 / (Innings played). The average leftfielder had a 1.94 range factor in 2004.

Pretty average stuff.

ZR / Rank Among NL Left fielders
2001: .867 / 4th of 8
2002: .891 / 5th of 11
2003: .875 / 6th of 10
2004: .872 / 3rd of 7

Middle of the road. So we’ll say the Burrell is a solid glove, not a defensive wiz, but not a soft spot in the Phillies defensive alignment either.

What can we expect from Burrell … I’ve been a Burrell booster for a while. (And not just because my Christmas gift from my wife was a Burrell jersey.) Simply put, I think he’s an above-average bat and a real leader on the Phillies. I think Burrell can anchor the Phillies offense in the years to come and that dealing him at this juncture of his career, as some friends of mine have advocated, would be a major mistake. I think 2005 could be another terrific year for him, something more like his 2002 campaign than ’03 or ’04. Here are Bill James ’05 projections for Burrell:

2005 (Projected):
BA: .249
GPA: .277
ISO: .221
OBP: .354
SLG: .470
HR: 29
2B: 31
RC: 90
RBI: 95

I actually think those numbers are low: his OBP will be in the .360 range and his slugging percentage will climb into the .490’s. He may never have a season like ’02 again, but Burrell will be a consistent 30 home run / 35 2B / 100 RBI / 105-110 RC / .360 OBP guy for the Phillies for a long time. He’s just 28, six years younger than Thome and four younger than Abreu, so the Phillies can expect the best is yet to come from him. Imagine this middle lineup for the Phillies in 2006:

3. 3B / 1B Ryan Howard, age 26
4. LF Pat Burrell, age 29
5. 2B Chase Utley, age 27

They could be young and fearsome. I think Pat Burrell is the Phillies future and their key to 2005. Let’s keep him.

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