Thursday, April 13, 2006
In short, I don’t think there is a more controversial player on the Phillies roster and I feel bad for him because he’s had to suffer through exceptional travails to get to this point of his career. It really does feel like the world is rooting for him to fail. Last May, in a post I entitled "Phillies Phans vs. Pat Burrell", I argued that Burrell had silenced his critics with his fast start to a season that would see him hit an astonishing 117 RBIs, tied for second in the NL. Still, it feels like Burrell plays under a cloud.
In the (reopened) case of the Phans vs. Pat Burrell, who has the stronger argument?
Briefly, Pat's career has gone like this:
2000-2001: Joined team after being top pick in 1998 draft out of Miami, developed skills after early struggles;
2002: Breakout season allowing Phils to hasten Scott Rolen's departure to Cardinals;
2003: Disasterous season;
2004: Struggled to return to '02 form, improved in certain areas and struggled in others;
2005: returned to 2002 form;
Here's a quick survey of Burrell's career stats:
Runs Created per 27 outs gives you a more accurate picture:
Hold on: confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
GPA (Gross Productive Average): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, GPA measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power. This is my preferred all-around stat.
Runs Created: A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. Here is the formula ESPN (where I get it from) uses: [(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times (Total bases + .26[BB - IBB + HBP] + .52[SH + SF + SB])] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF)
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.
ISO (Isolated Power): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
OBP (On-Base Percentage): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
BB / PA (Walks per plate appearance): (BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg)
SLG (Slugging Percentage): Power at the plate. (Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage)
Here is a quick summation of Pat's career with Win Shares:
That gives you a pretty good idea of the overall flow of Pat's career. So what are the major issues with Pat?
Does Burrell strikeout too much? Pat struck out 160 times in 2005, 130 in 2004, 142 in 2003, 153 in 2002, and 162 times in 2001. That's a lot. Basically, once a game. This is an argument that Burrell critics usually refer to, and I'm fairly unimpressed by it. First, how is a strikeout worse than a 6-3 groundout? A groundout could come from one pitch, a K requires 3 or 4 or more. Sure, he strikes out a lot, but he's got a good eye: his career walks-per-plate appearance (BB/PA) is .132. Anyone getting a walk every eighth or so time he comes up to bat is no free-swinging strikeout artist. He's a patient hitter. Burrell's BB/PA the last two seasons is doubly impressive: .148 in 2005, and .146 in 2004.
Will Burrell ever get his 2002 promise back? Actually he already did. Scope out how similar his 2002 and 2005 campaigns are:
2002 / 2005
HR: 37 / 32
RBI: 116 / 117
OBP: .376 / .389
SLG: .544 / .504
RC27: 7.10 / 7.08
ISO: .263 / .222
Maybe his 2002 campaign showed a little more power, but he's a better pure hitter these days: a tougher out and more reliable hitter.
Does Burrell benefit from Citizens? Ah ... things get a little tricky here. As I noted in my Season Preview, Chase Utley is alone amongst the Big Four of Burrell, Bobby Abreu, Ryan Howard and himself that plays better on the road than at Citizens. The shift from the Vet to Citizens was a big deal for the team because they went from a pitchers paradise to a hitter paradise. (I'll revisit this whole Coors Field East thing soon.) Check out the difference between Burrell in 2002 and 2005:
2002: (GPA / ISO)
Home: .281 / .237
Road: .327 / .288
Home: .326 / .264
Road: .273 / .178
Yeah, those are some pretty big swings, and it suggests that there is a bit of a park factor there. Not that Burrell is alone: Bobby Abreu has park-factors at work in his stats, but that's a big swing. Here, I'm willing to concede that Burrell critics have a point.
Isn't Burrell a lousy defender? Pat won't win a Gold Glove for his defense, but he's no liability either. According to The Fielding Bible: "Burrell doesn't have great speed or range, but his ranking ... suggests that he holds his own in left field ... [Burrell] has a good arm and a quick release." (page 178) Overall, Burrell ranked fourth of 31 leftfielders in John Dewan's Plus / Minus system from '03-'05. Okay, he's competing against the likes of Manny Ramirez and Matt Lawton, but thanks pretty good. Burrell also ranks fifth in holding runners: baserunners advanced just .338 of the time against him.
In terms of Zone Rating, my other preferred fielding stat, overall, Burrell was 16th of 31 leftfielders in Zone Rating (ZR) from 2003-2005, at .630. Here is the breakdown of his ZR numbers:
ZR / MLB Rank / Plays Made Out of Zone
'03: .649 / 10th of 28 / 18
'04: .633 / 16th of 30 / 14
'05: .610 / 24th of 30 / 14
Okay, there is some varience between Plus / Minus and ZR: let's split the difference. I think we can say that Burrell is in the top third of defensive outfielders in left field. Not a liability.
Is Burrell worth the $7.5 mil we are paying him? I say yes. According to Baseball Prospectus 2006: "[Burrell] should be able to post offensive totals similar to 2005 for years to come..." (page 349) Prospectus projects him to hit .282 GPA (.364 OBP, .476 SLG), .220 ISO, with 27 home runs, 26 doubles and 87 RBIs in 2006. (I think their RBI assessment is a little low.) Good numbers. He's definately a 30+ home run, 90+ RBI guy. And he's still young at 29. I'd say he's worth it.
Naturally, this is a debate that won't end. Burrell is the team's star. It is a role that he was expected to inherit from Rolen and he's seen guys like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard step into the breach. I think he'll be a consistent performer and it would be a mistake for the team to deal him. That said, I will concede that the case is his defense has problems: he does seem to benefit from playing at Citizens.
In the end, I expect the case to continue...
About Last Night ... A nice 7-5 win from the Phils, running their record to 2-6. Remember when I said that this year was the year of the glove? What were the two key plays in last night's game? Edgar Renteria booting Rowand's grounder, and Rowand's throw to gun down Brian McCann as he tried to score.
Rowand's throw was terrific and a perfect example of why the Phillies dealt for him: he tough, hard-nosed defense. Renteria's error sums up something I said in my season-preview: the Braves defense is much, much worse than it was last year when Furcal played short. Rowand's aggressive play in the outfield and Renteria's sub-par play could be the factors that tip the balance to the Phillies favor this year. Stay tuned.
I don't think Rowand has played up to his defensive reputation so far this season and I really hope you're wrong about Abreu being dealt. As pointed out on his blog by Stephen Miller of the Morning Call, the Braves' 3b coach made an awful decision sending a slow catcher home on that play. Rowand has misplayed a few balls in cf so far, and while I'm encouraged by his offense so far, I don't know that he will be the amazing run-saving upgrade that many expect him to be.
As for Abreu, give credit where it's due - he had a nice defensive game last night, got his uniform dirty and demonstrated his value by working a walk after falling behind 0-2, then scoring on Utley's sac fly after helping Burrell get a single instead of a GIDP. I like Burrell and have pretty much echoed your opinion of him. Again, good to have you back.
Brian @ the Philling Station
Carson @ We Should Be GM's
Guess the Braves needed a SS and they got a ton of money from the Red Sox but the fork is sticking out of Renteria's back.
You have done a good job at explaining why Burrell is back. Certainly the '03/'04 campaigns were rough, but not unlike McNabb's poor year last year, the "excuse" that someone played hurt can't be used. Burrell could have had surgery at the end of '04 and ended his season, but he played hurt. Yet he gets NO respect for that.
I don't buy the "Burrell doesn't like people comment." If you watch Burrell's report with the Left Field fans ESPECIALLY after he has hit a homer, there is a good relationship.
But ultimately, I think the problem comes back to, most fans in this town have been away from baseball for too long to understand... that the BEST players in the game... THE VERY BEST... fail 6 or 7 out of 10 times at the plate. I'll repeat. They FAIL 6 or 7 times out of every time at the plate.
EVEN if you watch EVERY game, you will see Burrell or Abreu or whover fail 400 times over the course of the year.
You isolate that down to the 10 to 15 games you might go to in a game. You might very well see them fail 30 out of 40 times.
And that's why this town booed Schmidt. That's why they WILL boo Howard. That's why they will boo Utley and the rest. Because they don't understand the game.