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, September 24, 2007

The Exceptional Consistency of Pat Burrell* 

* With a caveat …

We’ll get to the Phillies left fielder and his performance this season, but first let’s sum up the Phillies current playoff chances:

Sunday’s loss to the Nationals left the Phillies record at 85-71, a half game behind the 85-70 San Diego Padres. The bad news is that the Phillies fell to 2.5 games behind the Mets in the N.L. East race, which narrows the Phillies chances of taking the division. Even if the Phillies go 6-0 against the Braves and Marlins, they need for the Mets to lose three of their last seven games that remain, a thoroughly tall order. That would give the Phillies and Mets a tie at 91 wins and force a one-game playoff. Simply put, the chances of the Phillies catching the Mets is remote. According to Baseball Prospectus, the chances of the Phillies winning the division is about 5%.

However, the Phillies overall playoff chances are pretty good. According to BP, the Phillies actually hold a slight edge over the Padres in terms of playoff chances: 48% to 44%. The interesting thing is that the Phillies play their last six games at home, while the Padres play theirs on the road. Could that be the Phillies edge?

Let’s move on to Pat Burrell. I’ve often felt bad for Burrell. Immensely talented, he never quite was able to become the Mike Schmidt / Mickey Mantle type of franchise player that the Phillies hoped he’d be when they drafted him as the first player overall in the 1998 draft. After his break-out season in 2002 – 37 home runs, 116 RBI, 121 Runs Created – Burrell was poised to become the Phillies super-duper star, replacing the departed Scott Rolen as the new heir to Mike Schmidt’s legacy. That didn’t happen. His horrible 2003 campaign – 21 home runs, 64 RBI – tarnished his reputation beyond repair. He struggled to regain form in 2004 and turned in a terrific season in 2005, not that anyone has noticed. The focus of Phillies fandom has switched to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

The Phillies much-maligned left fielder is on Pat Gillick’s chopping block for 2008, after innumerable efforts to deal him in 2007. Owed $13+ million in 2008, the final year of the six-year, $50 million dollar deal he signed in 2003, Burrell is border-line untradeable. Declining defensive skills and a perception that he has a fatal ankle injury that might go at any time have destroyed his value in the trade market. Burrell has never been able to replicate the splash that he made in 2002.
Confused about what stats I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to below defined:
Isolated Power (ISO): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Walks per plate appearance (BB/PA): BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.
Runs Created (RC): A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. Here is the formula: [(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times ((S * 1.125) + (D * 1.69) + (T * 3.02) + (HR * 3.73) + (.29 * (BB + HBP – IBB)) + (.492 * (SB + SF + SH)) – (.04 * K))] 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.

Let's start with Burrell’s season so far. Burrell has hit 29 home runs with 94 RBI thus far this season. Impressively, he has 110 walks vs. 114 strikeouts. He has moved from being a free-swinging slugger to a confident, choosey hitter. Compared with 2002, when he struck-out 22% of the time, Burrell has seen his strikeouts decline slightly to 19% in 2007. His 110 walks this season are a career-high, eleven better than 2005. Look at how often Burrell walks now, compared with 2002-2006:

2002: .130
2003: .120
2004: .146
2005: .147
2006: .172
2007: .191

I think Burrell has really changed his approach at the plate. Look at how his OBP has shifted:

2001: .346
2002: .376
2003: .309
2004: .365
2005: .389
2006: .388
2007: .404

Part of the story here is his shift from free-swinging slugger to cautious slugger ... What is interesting to me is that for all of the criticism of Burrell, he is just as explosive at the plate as he has ever been. This is the remarkable consistency I spoke of. Look at his slugging percentage ...

Slugging Percentage:
2001: .469
2002: .544
2003: .404
2004: .455
2005: .504
2006: .502
2007: .506

His performance from 2005 to this season has been astonishing. A +.500 slugging percentage for a player whose career is supposedly in decline. His raw power at the plate is even more impressive:

2001: .211
2002: .262
2003: .195
2004: .198
2005: .223
2006: .244
2007: .245

In 2005 Burrell got some notice by the writers for his terrific comeback by placing seventh in the MVP voting, well behind Albert Pujols. His raw power at the plate has actually been increasing slightly. In fact, his isolated power has been increasing since 2003, when it bottomed out at .195. I find the criticism leveled at Burrell that he's not consistent, that he's a shell of the player he used to be, that he provides Ryan Howard with no protection in the lineup, to be ironic. He looks like as tough and formitable a hitter now as he ever was.

This year will be a career-high in terms of Runs Created per 27 Outs for Burrell:

2002: 7.3
2003: 4.0
2004: 6.1
2005: 7.3
2006: 7.1
2007: 7.8

Declining hitter? I think he's been remarkably consistent and will likely continue to do so in 2008.

Now to my exception - there is little doubt that Burrell, once a talented defensive outfielder, is today simply awful. As I write this he ranks dead-last in N.L. left fielders in terms of Relative Zone Rating, the percentage of times he makes a play on balls hit into his defensive zone. In fact, his .794 RZR is substantially worse than such defensive horror-shows as Carlos Lee and Adam Dunn. Burrell has made 19 plays on balls hit outside of his zone, a terrible number. Burrell's fielding percentage is an absurd .944. He's made nine errors this season in the field.

For this reason Pat Burrell needs to play for an American League team, but his massive $13.5 million dollar salary makes that a nullity, unless the Baltimore Orioles or some other team takes Burrell off the Phillies hands. The thing is that for all of the heat Burrell takes, he's actually pretty good. Not $13.5 million dollars good, but the criticism leveled at him is unfair. He's assailed by the writers and pundits and fans because he never became the player that they expected him to be. But the player that he is ... well, I think he's a terrific weapon in the Phillies arsenal, a cagey slugger capable of working the count and burning you with a home run. This has gone virtually unnoticed, but he's been just as consistently good now as he has ever been.

Maybe Pat Burrell was never Mike Schmidt, maybe he never seized the opportunity the departure Scott Rolen presented to him, but he is a tremendous player. Recognize that, Phillies fans.

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