Appreciating Pat Burrell

Before getting into the good stuff I wanted to take a paragraph to introduce myself. My name is Eric J. Seidman and I am a baseball fanatic/statistical analyst/superfan from Philadelphia. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to write here at Fangraphs in order to help further the tremendous work David Appelman has done. In addition to posting daily at this great site I currently write for Statistically Speaking, MLB Front Office, and occasionally The Hardball Times. I welcome all questions, comments, and/or post suggestions via e-mail and you will definitely find me hanging with Dave Cameron around the comment threads.

For my inaugural post I am going to take a look at Phillies leftfielder Pat Burrell – a guy that somehow has the ability to garner the monikers of both overrated and underrated – and why the Phillies should not even think twice about whether to re-sign him. Burrell, the former #1 pick out of Miami came up to “the show” in 2000 as a first baseman. He had played third base in college but with Scott Rolen manning the hot corner needed to learn a new position. Then, with the acquisition of Travis Lee as part of the Curt Schilling deal, Burrell was forced out of the infield entirely. Never known for his fielding prowess Burrell has not been atrocious defensively but definitely will never win any gold gloves.

Early in his career Burrell was known as nothing but a power threat: he couldn’t run, he couldn’t field, he struck out too much, and his batting average too often hovered near the .255-.260 mark. Take away a horrid 2003 season, though, and Burrell has without a doubt shown signs of improvement and consistency. His strikeouts have decreased, walks have increased, and his confidence has seemingly returned. I wrote an article a couple of months ago on Burrell showing how his BABIP, save for 2003, had historically been consistently high. On top of that, here are his OBP, SLG, and HR figures from 2005-2007:

  • 2005: .389 OBP, .504 SLG, 32 HR
  • 2006: .388 OBP, .502 SLG, 29 HR
  • 2007: .400 OBP, .502 SLG, 30 HR

Already off to a great start Burrell has really been the glue so far holding this injury-plagued Phillies team together. As of right now Burrell ranks 1st in all of baseball in WPA/LI with a 0.98; his 0.98 is a full eighteen percent ahead of closest competitor Mark Reynolds. Burrell also ranks 1st in BRAA and REW, ahead of Joe Crede in both; in BRAA he is a full half-run ahead of Crede. Much of the talk surrounding the Phillies this season has pertained to whether or not Chase Utley would be the third straight Phillie to win the MVP award. If the season ended today, for whatever reason, Burrell would be the Phillies frontrunner.

His 6-yr/50 mil contract expires at the end of this season and Burrell has made it adamantly clear he wants to stay in Philadelphia. This raises an interesting question: Should the Phillies re-sign him? As that article states Burrell is no longer the franchise-savior and he is 31 yrs old. Being a devout Phillies fan my initial reaction is “heck yes they need to re-sign him!” On a more logical approach though, I decided to look at the 2009 Free Agent Class, via Cot’s Contracts, to see who his replacements could be should they go in a different direction. According to the site, the only left-fielders available via free agency, following this season, are:

There are two other notables in Carl Crawford and Manny Ramirez but both have options for 2009 that I fully expect to be exercised. This means that, unless the Phillies can pull off some sort of magical trade to land Matt Holliday, there choice is going to be between Burrell and the five guys listed above. None of those five are remarkably better than Burrell. Throw in the facts that Burrell wants to stay in Philadelphia above all else, will likely give some type of hometown discount to ensure that happens, and his power hitting is perfect for a bandbox stadium and it just makes sense for the Phillies to get moving on an extension.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

22 Responses to “Appreciating Pat Burrell”

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  1. dan says:

    I thought the complaint from Philly fans was that he’s not clutch? He has a negative clutch score in 5 of the last 6 seasons, albeit barely in some years, so they’re onto something with that assessment. Remember the days when $50million over 6 years was a huge contract?

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  2. Dan, the biggest problem is that he wasn’t producing up to the standards of his 37-116 season in 2002. I won’t get into the issue of clutch because there are currently way too many definitions of what clutch hitting entails if it even exists (which I contend it really does not unless we’re talking about smaller situations). Back when he was given the 6 yr-50 mil contract (you’re right, HUGE at the time) they expected him to get upwards of 44-48 HR, or at the very least maintain that 37 pace.

    The Phillies then brought Jim Thome in and we all thought it would be the dominant lefty-righty combo. Burrell then had a horrid 2003 season and some fans are still feeling the rammifications of it. It is unfortunate because he has had some very good seasons and does not get enough credit for his patience and power production.

    In 2005 he had a 32-117, .281 BA which was very similar to his 2002 season but many Philadelphia fans already had their minds made up. The fact of the matter is I would much rather have someone already comfortable playing in Philly with similar/slightly better numbers than those 5 guys listed as potential replacements. The only one I would consider is Adam Dunn, but he is very similar to Burrell and it would be a pointless replacement as Dunn would command a nice sized deal whereas Burrell is likely to give a hometown discount – he has used his no trade clause countless times.

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  3. Dave Cameron says:

    So, here’s a question – when was the last time that a long term extension turned out well when the player was:

    A. Heading into his age 32 season
    B. Unathletic and defensively challenged at a non-premium position.
    C. Had old player skills
    D. Played in the league without a DH

    Burrell’s already to the point where he should be moving to 1B/DH within a year or two, and his offensive skillset isn’t one that generally survives the decline of bat speed very well. Pretty much all the defensive metrics have Burrell as a -10 to -15 defender already, so he’s going to have to retain all of his offensive value to remain a productive player as the defense continues to erode with age.

    If Philly could get him to re-sign for 2 years with a team option or something, that’s one thing, but I’m not sure giving him 3+ guaranteed seasons to try and stave off decline is a good use of resources.

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  4. Eric Seidman says:

    No I wouldn’t offer a 5-yr deal or anything like that but a 2-yr deal or 3-yr deal with an option for an extra year would not be a bad investment, especially looking at the alternatives in the free agent market and the fact that the Phillies just do not have the pieces to pull off a trade to land a great LF.

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  5. Dave Cameron says:

    Well, I’d argue that the pool of available choices is far larger than only those established veterans with expiring contracts this winter. If we accept that Burrell is a +2.5 win player in 2009, a +2 win player in 2010, and a +1.5 win player in 2011 (these are fairly generous projections, honestly), then the question is how hard is it to replace six wins from a corner OF spot over three years. I’d suggest it’s just not that difficult, given the structure of the talent pyramid in baseball.

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  6. Eric Seidman says:

    No I would agree, definitely, but I was referring to likely choices. With Pat Gillick unlikely to return for the 2009 campaign it really leans on the likely replacement in Ruben Amaro, Jr, and whether or not he feels comfortable mixing someone “unproven” with a team that should be contending. The Phillies do not have great depth with their farm system which is why they are in an odd position – they have a great young pitcher in Hamels, and a young centerfielder in Victorino, but Utley and Howard are older than their service time would have many think, and Rollins will only get older. Then you’ve got Jenkins here for at least one more season, most likely two more due to his options.

    My basic point is that, if the choices come down to Burrell vs. the veterans they are more likely to bring in than a younger player, Burrell would be a better bet due to his comfort level here and the fact that he would be more likely to cost less with a hometown type discount. If the Phillies are interested in moving in a different direction it would make more sense to get someone younger that could, at the very least be a +3 win player over a three year period with potential to develop into more as opposed to a Jacque Jones-esque player; one that would provide equal or less production but likely cost just a bit less.

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  7. Bob says:

    Something some fans forget is that Burrell’s 6yr extension was a backloaded contract, the earlier years were far cheaper than the later couple of years in order to give the Phils payroll flexibility for those earlier years (and the Phils looking at increased revenues from CBP).

    Some may find this odd since Rollins won league MVP, but an arguement can be made that Burrell was the team MVP last season. He practically carried the team when needed most (when Utley was injured), and without his second half production, the Phils may not have won the division or reach post season.

    Something I’ve noticed is that Burrell has seemed to adopt a Ted Williams-esque approach at the plate… lay off “pitcher’s” pitches (even if they’re strikes) as to not get into the habbit of chasing those virtually unhittable “pitcher’s” pitches. And he seems to have stopped trying to be a pull hitter (something the Phils told him to be) and re-adopted the approach that led to his success in college and minors. IMO, the Phils may have hindered him by trying to make him into the next Schmidt instead of allowing him to progress into the hitter he naturally is.

    Fan opinion may have been painted by the expectations of some for a “savior” and that Burrell was their #1 pick the year after the Drew disaster… things that may have been motives for the Phils trying to change him into the next Schmidt, to the point of having Schmidt himself “tutor” him.

    But I digress… In my opinion, the Phils should extend Burrell for 2 or 3 years (maybe even 4 if it takes a 4th year to get it done). It’s not easy to replace his production, and losing Burrell after this season may result in 2008 being their best shot at the brass ring from an overall offensive talent perspective.

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  8. Eric Seidman says:

    Bob, I don’t find it odd at all to suggest he was their MVP last year. He really stepped it up down the stretch and, point blank, if he does not step up they not only don’t win the division, they don’t win the wild card or make the playoffs. The backloaded contract was key, as well, and it unfortunately leads to some discussions as to him being “overpaid.” If you average it out, 50 mil over 6 yrs is 8.33 mil/yr; this may have been a lot back in 2002 but is dwarfed now by the 15-18 mil some other outfielders are getting. It really depends on the incumbent GM. Gillick has solved problems by bringing in veterans but who knows what Amaro or Arbuckle or someone else might do?

    If Ed Wade were still in Philly Burrell would have signed a 12-yr extension already. And Alfonseca would be the closer.

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  9. dan says:

    Alfonseca has 12 fingers.

    Just had to throw that out there.

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  10. Eric Seidman says:

    And 12 toes. Odd thing is if you go to Google and look for pictures it is SO hard to find a quality pic of his fingers. Apparently it is just a little extra non-functional nub on his hand. His nickname is “El Pulpo” which, I guess, is Spanish for “he who has 12 fingers”… or octopus. Either or.

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  11. Dave Cameron says:

    I’m sorry, but no, you can’t make an argument that Pat Burrell was the Phillies MVP last year.

    Chase Utley: .332/.410/.566, 5.10 WPA/LI, 46.99 BRAA, plus defender at 2B
    Pat Burrell: .256/.400/.502, 3.36 WPA/LI, 34.56 BRAA, negative defender in LF

    I’m sure he had a great second half and was probably a lot of fun to watch down the stretch, but Chase Utley >>> Pat Burrell, and no amount of September home runs can overcome that kind of gap. Once you adjust for position and defense, we’re talking about a 3 win difference between the two. Utley is a superstar, and Burrell is a nice role player.

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  12. Eric Seidman says:

    Dave, the major reason for the argument stems from Burrell’s production down the stretch when the Phillies started to get hot. Overall, for the season, Burrell’s numbers were definitely worse than others, but in terms of MVP voting, Utley missed 30 games. He was the frontrunner at the time of the injury but he was not likely to win after having missed that many games.

    MVP voting is definitely more of what have you done for me lately. If the Mets didn’t “collapse” down the stretch Wright would have been the likely winner. Same can be said for Prince Fielder and the Brewers. Judging in those terms, an argument can be made for Burrell, though I wouldn’t agree with it, due to his 2nd half production and the Phillies overtaking of the Mets.

    Utley is by far the Phillies best player – you will be hardpressed to find someone that will argue that. Plus, the argument that would be made is more for 2nd-half MVP, not overall MVP.

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  13. Dave Cameron says:

    Oh, I understand where the Burrell-MVP sentiment would come from. It’s the same place the Shannon Stewart-MVP sentiment came from several years ago. I just think the logic that gets someone to the place where they argue the affirmative on that issue is just demonstrably wrong.

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  14. Eric Seidman says:

    Yeah, for instance, I’m not saying he was the MVP but rather that if someone argued that Burrell was the MVP of the Phillies due to his 2nd half production during significant injury stints by Hamels, Utley, and Victorino, they would not be complete Joe Morgan’s.

    Utley missed July 27th to August 26th. In that span, Burrell was:

    31-98, 8 2B, 8 HR, 21 RBI, 17 R, 17 BB, .316/.419/.643, 1.062 OPS

    He definitely picked up the slack while Utley was on the shelf which would lead some people (not myself) to consider him the Phillies MVP. The problem with an assessment like that deals with his numbers once Utley returned. From August 28th until the end of the season:

    22-105, 4 2B, 9 HR, 25 RBI, 21 R, 26 BB, .210/.358/.505, .863 OPS

    Making an argument based on his production during Utley’s absence would make sense if, say, Utley missed 90 games and Burrell maintained that production level for all 90 games. But, alas, neither happened. He was the Phillies MVP during Utley’s absence, but not the Phillies MVP overall, which is where the confusion comes in.

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  15. I wouldn’t be opposed to the Phillies bringing Burrell back, but at the same time, I don’t see it happening. He would certainly take a pay cut and it’s pretty rare for a player to take a pay cut and remain with the same team. I also tend to think that how well Jayson Werth and Geoff Jenkins play, as well as Greg Golson in the minors, will determine how agressively the Phils try and retain Burrell.

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  16. dan says:

    Eric, I got some good ones….

    “Baseball pitcher and hitter for the Atlanta Braves(2004-). 6 feet 2 inches tall, 250 pounds, nicknamed ‘Pulpo’ which is spanish for ‘octopus’ because he has six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot.”


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  17. Dan, very nice, haha. I checked over the summer and there was like nothing there. I even found blog posts that talked about how there was nothing out there. I guess the pulpo conspiracy has come to a close. I should do a post on him. I have fun looking at random players. Jeff Cirillo, Tim Naehring, and Mike Lansing come to mind.

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  18. Tom, I’ve seen Golson play and, unless he can really improve and develop he is not a long term answer. Then we get into all types of management questions pertaining to what should the team really be looking for? Long-term success or short-term success? Only one team is going to win the World Series and it is not very likely to be the Phillies. Plus, they’ve already had a string of 85+ win seasons so it isn’t like they have been losing. Somebody brought an interesting topic up to me that I’d like to pose as a question here. It dealt with being a Giants fan or being a Marlins fan, but teams aside, the question would be interesting to answer. Basically it was: In the late nineties, early 2000’s, the Giants were a perennial playoff contender, going so far to make it to the World Series in 2002, whereas the Marlins won two championships but stunk the other years.

    Would you rather be rooting for a team that had a legit shot at success every single year or one that would win championships but struggle in between World Series wins?

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  19. Dan says:

    Pat has definitely been the MVP of the Phils so far this year. And if he holds up to the production he’s putting out now has a good chance of earning his first mvp trophy!

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see him batting 4th if Howard continues to slump early.

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  20. Eric Seidman says:

    Dan, I just can’t see it happening. So far yes he’s the MVP of the team, along with Cole Hamels. If Burrell can keep this up until June or July I would be shocked. I tend to think that if Howard starts to get hot, Burrell will somehow cool down. I feel like if Howard starts producing and hitting the 2-r homer before Burrell can, that Burrell’s productivity would decline somewhat. It’s something to research but how many times have we seen a huge play (game-tying or pushing into the lead) home run followed by a weak groundout of flyout while the team is still cheering over the home run? I’ve seen it a lot. It goes into the Yerkes and Dodson theory that a player in low and high pressure situations will produce less than someone in moderate situations. If Howard hits the 2-r homer last night, the pressure would be less. Something to explore.

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