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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:

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.