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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Monday, June 26, 2006

Spotlight on: Pat Burrell 

With the Phillies poised to drop their thirteenth loss in sixteen games tonight against the Red Sox (I'm not optimistic), I began to look for things that were going wrong this season for the Phillies. Noting a week or so ago that many of the Phillies were struggling with their batting averages with runners in scoring position, I pointed out that Pat Burrell was hitting just .215 RISP. I began to mull it over: was Pat Burrell an anchor on the Phillies?

This isn't the first time I've written about Pat's position with the team and speculated about his positive / negative impact. After his horrible 2003 campaign and inconsistent '04 campaign, I was positive Pat was poised for a terrific season once more in 2005. As it turns out, I was mostly right. Pat had a great season in 2005, accumulating career-highs in RBIs (117, tied with Albert Pujols for second in the NL), Runs Created (109), walks (99) and OBP (.389). Pat was virtually a non-factor in the MVP race because he did his work so quietly. I also suspect that there is a lingering stigma from the 2003 campaign at work: is Pat Burrell really the player he was back in ’02, or is this comeback a fluke?

The question here is simply this: is Pat Burrell worth the approximately $10 million the Phillies are paying him? My answer is … Well, let's start with a little analysis.

A few weeks ago I began my analysis of Chase Utley by examining Utley’s “tools”, those five magical talents that baseball scouts look to see if a player possesses: the ability to run, to throw, to field, to hit and to hit with power. It was an excellent starting point for our discussion of Utley and I’ll begin there …

1. Can Pat Run? A new feature in the Bill James Handbook is Baserunning stats. How often did a player advance when he could and how often did he make an out on the basepaths? The numbers for Pat aren’t real good:

Times Advancing from First to Third: 6-of-15 (40%)
Times Advancing from Second to Home: 6-of-16 (38%)
Times Advancing from First to Home: 0-of-8 (0%)
Overall Times Advancing: 31%
Times Thrown Out: 5

How did other Phillies do? Bobby Abreu advanced 48% of the time and went from second to home 67% of the time (24-of-36) … though, oddly, Abreu advanced from first to third 27% of the time (6-of-22). Utley? 44% advancement, went from second to home 67% of the time (14-of-21) … though, again, Utley had problems going from first to third: 29% (6-of-21). Ryan Howard was even better than Pat: 34% advancement, second-to-home 55% of the time (6-of-11) … and again a caveat: went from first to third just 14% of the time (2-for-14) … Bobby Abreu was thrown out just twice, while Ryan Howard and Chase Utley weren’t thrown out at all. Pat was thrown out five times … Aside from that ability to go from first to third (perhaps a function of the fact that he plays leftfield and knows how to stretch the defense on that side of the field), I’d have to say that Pat is probably below-average here.

Answer: No.

2. Can Pat Throw? Well, in 2005 baserunners advanced on Pat Burrell in 52 of 147 opportunities, a .354 percentage. Pat threw out nine baserunners. Pat’s kills are pretty good, but his overall percentage ranks him in the middle of the pack, thirteenth of twenty-five.

However, if you adjust things and look at Pat’s performance over the last three years, he’s had remarkable success: a .338 percentage, which is good for fifth. His twenty kills rank him tied for second, three behind Cliff Floyd. I think this is an aspect of Pat’s game that is very strong.

Answer: Yes.

3. Can Pat Field? Well, the answer is sort-of. Yes, Pat Burrell ranked fourth of 31 left-fielders in Plus / Minus from 2003-2005 at +12. However, John Dewan hinted in The Fielding Bible that he suspects that Burrell gets a park factor boost in terms of his defensive numbers. And Pat does play what is arguably the easiest defensive position in baseball.

Note: I am not discussing this year’s Zone Rating numbers vis-à-vis Plus / Minus or prior ZR ratings. Let’s just say that this year’s ZR numbers indicate that Pat is average-to-below-average.

Answer: Sort-of.

4. Can Pat hit? Ah, and now we get into the meat of our discussion … I think Pat has remarkable skill, but he is maddeningly inconsistent. What do I like about Pat? He is patient. In 2005 he was second to Bobby Abreu in pitches per plate appearance. He seems to have kept the trait: he’s averaging 4.3 pitcher-per-plate-appearance again in 2006.

The patience at the plate helps him get on-base: as I write he has an OBP of .395, which would be a new career high. Pat’s secret is that he’s become a walking machine. Scope out his walks-per-plate appearance for the last three years:

BB / PA:
2004: .146
2005: .148
2006: .173

BB / PA (Walks per plate appearance): (BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg)
OBP (On-Base Percentage): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)

I think that is a remarkable stat: every sixth time Pat Burrell goes to the plate he draws a walk. Pat is bleeding pitchers and he’s getting on with great frequency.

The flip side is that Pat’s pure hitting has taken a turn for the worse: in 2004, a season where he struggled to return to his old form, 19.8% of the balls he put into play were line-drives. In 2005, 24.1% were. Thus far in 2006 just 16.5% of the balls Pat put into play were line-drives. In turn the batting average for the balls Pat has put into play has declined from 2005 to 2006 from .341 to .283. Consequently, Pat’s batting average has declined from .281 to .266 … also disturbingly has been the decline in Pat’s batting average with runners in scoring position (BA / RISP):

2004: .263
2005: .313
2006: .215

Notice that while Pat saw his average increase in ’04 & ’05 by six and thirty-two points, he has seen his batting average decline fifty-one points this year when runners were in scoring position. This year has nearly been as bad as 2003, when Pat had a .200 BA / RISP during a season in which he hit .209 …

The ability to can on base is there, but it is inconsistent. We’ll give Pat a qualified yes.

Answer: Basically Yes.

5. Can Pat for Power? Let’s look at the numbers:

2000: .203
2001: .211
2002: .262
2003: .195
2004: .198
2005: .223
2006: .288
Career: .218

ISO (Isolated Power): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.

I think that anything over .200 is power-hitting (the league averages are typically .150 or so), so as you can see, aside from that 2003-2004 period, Pat has been a power-hitter. Since 2003 he has improved each year and gotten more dangerous at the plate. Look at the frequency he hits home runs:

2003: 24.9
2004: 22.3
2005: 17.6
2006: 12.3

He’s back in line with what he did in 2002, when he hit a home run once per every 15.84 AB’s.

So yes, I think we can say that Pat is a power hitter.

Answer: Yes.

So is Pat a critical cog in the Phillies machine? I’m reminded of the following exchange from an episode of The Simpsons:

Ned Flanders: "But Reverend, I need to know, is God punishing me?"
Lovejoy: "Shooh, short answer: 'Yes' with an 'If,' long answer: 'No' - with a 'But.'"

Is Pat important to the Phillies long-term success? He’s 29 and entering his prime as a baseball-player. He’s recovered from his ’03 slump and looks like the player he was in 2002. So the short answer is yes, if he continues to produce. However, Pat plays the weakest defensive position on the baseball field (though he is good-to-very good at it) and he is inconsistent with his hitting in some respects. If he isn’t getting a home run or a walk, he’s an average contributor to the Phillies offense. So the long answer is no, but if he starts hitting some more line-drives to get that batting average up, he’ll be the complete player and worth every dime of the nearly $10 million that the Phillies are paying him.

There you go. Comments? ... One thing I won't comment on is the Phillies performance this weekend against the Red Sox. Horrible, made all the worse by the behavior of Brett Myers, who is apparently more upset that he hit his wife in public than the fact that he hit his wife period. Meanwhile, the team continues to slide out of playoff contention. Usually the Phillies improve in the summer months, so this collapse after a stronger than usual spring is depressing to watch. Typically I am the voice calling for patience, arguing that the Phillies look stronger than they really are, etc., but I don't think I can make that argument anymore. The best thing for this team might be a total shakeup.

That's an interesting stats about his line drives decreasing. with regard to running and his foot - is there an argument for him to be higher in the batting order by one slot? As you point out, pat does get on at a fair clip, but I always worry with howard behind him that if howard can't move him over, then the bottom of the order will consistently leave him stranded, because they can't give the kind of solid singles he needs to advance. My intuition is that his slow speed shouldn't work against the OBP, but I wonder whether his place in the lineup hurts him. Yet another reason why moving jimmy down to 6/7 would help out.
Generally, a player isn't entering his prime at age 29. That's generally age 27. It is very rare that a player peaks past that age, although a player can maintain high levels for a while if they are special. Pat isn't entering his prime, he's leaving it.

His 50% projection this year shows a decline from 2005 VORP of 41.3 to 14.9 this year, and declining steadily thereafter. His PECOTA projected value shows him at about 5.3 mil in 2006, then going down to a low of 2.1 in 2010. I'm not sure 100% of the valuation, but he isn't peaking now. He's declining.

With his foot problems, it wouldn't shock me if he was out of baseball in 2 years.
great post, I think he's a very good player having a really good year. Because of our strength in OF, he might be the first to go. I know everyone is saying Bobby is going to be dealt soon, but somehow I doubt it.
great post, I think he's a very good player having a really good year. Because of our strength in OF, he might be the first to go. I know everyone is saying Bobby is going to be dealt soon, but somehow I doubt it.
Mike, a very interesting post. I'm torn when it comes to Pat. I've liked him since the day they drafted him (his college numbers were absolutely unbelievable). I was obviously disappointed in his '03 and '04 seasons, but stuck with him.

His June has been horrible - I think he's hitting about .200, though his power numbers are still decent. He isn't pretty in the field (turns the wrong way a fair amount), but I really like his throwing arm.

He's valuable, though it's hard to say if he's $10 million valuable. He seems to (don't have the numbers) hit into a ton of double plays.

Let's put it this way: Pat Burrell is definitely not the first guy I'd get rid of on this team.

Which leads me to...I've been a Phillies fan my entire life. I've been patient and try to let the season play out. I'm trying to pretend that Hamels will get better and that the additions of Lieber and Wolf will help as well. But this Myers situation is really upsetting. I feel like this is about the millionth time a Philly sports team has teased me and/or done something incredibly stupid. I wouldn't be opposed to breaking up this team.

A good question for you: if you had to break up the team, which five guys on the current MLB roster would you keep? My answers: Utley, Howard, Hamels, Rowand, and who knows who else (maybe Victorino as a role player).
Jim: I would keep Rowand, Utley, Howard, Hamels, Victorino and probably Jon Lieber too. I would actively seek to deal Randy Wolf and Brett Myers. I would be willing to deal Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell if the right offers came along. I'd be willing to sell David Bell if anyone would take him.

Interesting question: what about J.Roll? Is J.Roll tradable? Hmmm....

Oisin: maybe hitting Pat #2 would be an interesting choice, moving Howard to #3, Abreu to cleanup and Utley down to #5. Pat could get on with consistency and if Howard can't move him over, then Abreu and Utley can.
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