Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Phillies Phans vs. Pat Burrell, Redux 

Alright, it is hard to feel bad for Pat Burrell. He going to make $7.5 million dollars this season. (That’s about 200 times what I made.) He’s got fame, money and he’s just 29. Still, he’s a fairly maligned player. Pundits rag on his alleged inconsistencies at the plate and fans complain he isn’t enough of a presence at the plate. Pat Burrell is a good player, but his sin is that he isn't the Second Coming of Mike Schmidt, which is the expectation many had for him when he was brought up to the bigs, and then after Scott Rolen was dealt to the Cards.

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:
2002: 116.6
2003: 63.3
2004: 77.0
2005: 110.4

Runs Created per 27 outs gives you a more accurate picture:

2002: 7.10
2003: 3.96
2004: 5.96
2005: 7.08

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:
2000: 12
2001: 17
2002: 25
2003: 9
2004: 15
2005: 26

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.

Mike, the problem with Pat Burrell has nothing to do with his numbers, as you have stressed with your analysis. People don't like him because he doesn't like people. There's a perceived distance about the guy which is reinforced by his responses to critical fans - and it's not gone unnoticed in the phlogosphere that fans weren't critical at all during his year of hell. But to this criticism of Pat, I have to ask - why worry? No, he's not a nice guy, but he plays well. It doesn't excuse the comments and the poutiness, but if you ignore it, it's not a problem. As you point out, Howard and Utley have filled the gap of players you like to love - so its not as if we even can be disgruntled about burrell for not being the lovable franchise player we grew up with.
i agree. i think burrell is a fine complimentary player, not a focal point. probably the same argument for rolen, although he was even more prickly than burrell, which in theory is hard to believe but in reality was the ugly truth. his problem is largely perception-based -- for instance he is seen as not clutch because he was caught looking something like 15 times in december last year. that may not be any different than a 6-3 groundout in theory, but he seems to give at bats away sometimes which feeds the perception -- along with the points about him not likign the spoltlioght -- that he isn't a pressure guy. the poutiness then is not a problem, but then again may be it is. see what i mean?

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
Pat Burrell is what he is. He's not the greatest of all outfielders in the MLB, but he is up there. He's had some tough years, and some good years. When it's all said and done, I'm mighty glad Pat Burrell is on the Phillies. He makes the team better, not worse. Thank you for blogging an excellent look into the career of Pat Burrell. His naysayers need to back off and place their angst on players who deserve it, like David Bell on Mike Lieberthal.

Carson @ We Should Be GM's
Watching Renteria boot that ball brought back memories last season of Renteria's defense with the Red Sox. Red Sox were supposed to get a Gold Glove caliber SS and instead wound up with the MLB leader in Errors at SS. The early double-play combo of Bellhorn and Renteria was brutal to watch. Just awful.

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.
Simply... There is a vocal fanbase in this town that have LITTLE knowledge of baseball. They have little understanding of statistics. And they have LESS understanding about WHAT stats mean something and what doesn't.

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.
I agree with many of the points made earlier, and I am actually someone who knows the game very well ... but my assessment of why Burrell is not liked by the fans has little to do with baseball. It has to do with him being a public figure. I think people want to like Burrell because he is so physically attractive - guys want to hang with him and be friends with him, girls want to date / marry him. That's a lot of pressure on a person - people's motivations aren't always clear. I think that is especially true in a city like Philadelphia, where famous people really stand out - it's not like NYC, where movie stars and athletes are a dime a dozen. I think his attitude is a direct result of him trying to just stay focused on the game and the reason why they pay him the money.
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