The Return of Pat the Bat

In the 2008-2009 off-season Pat Burrell was in an excellent situation. After nine seasons in Philadelphia he had finally won a World Series. He had endured plenty of criticism while playing there, including particularly fervent booing in 2003. At age 31, he had options — including a possible return to the only team he had ever known. But in mid-December the Phillies signed Raul Ibanez to a three-year contract, which effectively ended Burrell’s time in red pinstripes. That put him in front of 29 other teams, most intriguingly the 14 AL teams that could use him as a DH.

Looking for another championship he signed with the team the Phillies beat in 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays. The marriage seemed perfect. Tampa Bay didn’t get much production out of the DH spot during their pennant year, employing Cliff Floyd while he wasn’t injured and a ragtag bunch of below-average DHs when he wasn’t. Adding Burrell would give them a right-handed power bat to complement left-handed first baseman Carlos Pena. Best of all, it meant that Burrell’s defense would no longer subtract from his overall value.

Nothing went according to plan. The Rays spent most of the year in third place, trailing the Red Sox and the Yankees in the AL East. Their run differential made it seem as though they were perpetually poised to make a charge, but that never materialized. Burrell didn’t help the cause, turning in the worst season of his career. Even with his poor defense, a career -44.9 UZR in left field, he was able to produce at least 2 WAR in each of his seasons with Philadelphia, save for his ugly 2003 campaign. In 2009, with no defensive issues holding him back, he produced the worst wOBA of his career, .309, which amounted to -0.5 WAR, more than a full win worse than his previous worst season.

His bounceback attempt in 2010 didn’t go well either. In fact, it went much worse than 2009. Burrell produced a .283 wOBA, including a mere .131 ISO. After 24 games at DH, the Rays designated him for assignment, releasing him four days later. He’d end up somewhere for sure, probably a team like the White Sox that could have used a DH. Instead he signed a minor league contract with the Giants. It seemed like an odd pairing, a defensive statue like Burrell potentially playing for an NL team, but the Giants needed bats.

After just five games at Triple-A, the Giants recalled Burrell and slotted him into his familiar position, left field. The gamble paid off almost immediately. In 74 June PA, Burrell produced a .425 wOBA. He slowed down a bit in July, riding a .237 BABIP to a .273 wOBA, but the Giants offense covered for him, scoring 149 runs, by far their most in any month of 2010. In August he’s picked up the pace again, going 12-for-32 with five doubles and two homers. He has had a hand in 10 of the Giants’ 36 runs scored this month, so again his presence has helped the team avoid a prolonged slump.

Burrell’s recent hot streak, and really his season overall, calls into question the reasons why he failed so horribly in Tampa Bay. Does playing the field really affect his hitting ability? Does he simply know NL pitchers better, even though there are many pitchers he didn’t face during his time in the NL last decade? Was there something making him uncomfortable in Tampa Bay? In the AL? Like most issues of causation, there are likely myriad reasons why Burrell failed in 2009 and the first two months of 2010. He has apparently put that behind him, though, and is now playing a prominent role on a contending team. A year and a half later, Pat the Bat is realizing the perfect marriage he thought he had in 2009.

Bonus trivia: Did you know that Pat Burrell is the all-time leader in home runs for players born in Arkansas? The previous record holder: Brooks Robinson.




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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

31 Responses to “The Return of Pat the Bat”

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  1. Aaron B. says:

    Dude also has an uncharacteristically high BABIP with the Giants (.330 v .298 for his career; also hasn’t cracked a .300 BABIP since 2005). Still, he’s been a welcomed addition for the Giants and I’m definitely eating crow over his signing.

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  2. Fergie348 says:

    I don’t know what happened in TB, I don’t follow the A.L. much but since he and Posey arrived the Giants lineup has looked much different.

    Unlike the vast majority of their lineup, Burrell is a patient hitter in all conditions. He looks for a pitch and unless he gets it (or there are 2 strikes) he doesn’t swing the bat. His OSwing% is a good 5% lower (22.2%) than any other G’s regular, the perfect antidote to Pablo (I swing at absolutely everything) Sandoval.

    Without Burrell, Huff and Posey (and to a certain degree, Torres), this team is a breeze for vet pitchers. You don’t have to throw most of ‘em a strike – they’ll get themselves out for the most part. Not Pat. He waits for a pitch he can drive, and lately he hasn’t been missing it.

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    • Matt L says:

      I know I’m nitpicking, but Torres to EVERY degree has been a difficult out for all pitchers.

      He has the second-lowest O-Swing% of Giants regulars (27.7%) to go along with a 11.1 BB%, .213 ISO, .876 OPS, that amounts to a .386 wOBA.

      All he’s done this year is the best leadoff man in baseball.

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  3. DavidCEisen says:

    Pat the (streaking) Bat.

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  4. hunterfan says:

    I was hoping for a better analysis of why PtB is so much better…not just stats that prove he is. I already knew that.

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    • tyler says:

      LMAO you expected a scouting report? this is fangraphs. all they know how to do is interpret data

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      • Ryan S says:

        I think what @hunterfan is saying is that he expected something like “Pat is swinging at less balls outside the zone” or “He’s trading some more strikeouts for more power (ISO)”.

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      • Complete Jerk says:

        I bet he really wanted to hear that Pat was swinging at fewer balls outside the zone, though.

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  5. Jim Lahey says:

    I don’t think the question is why is he doing better, but why was he so bad for TB despite it seeming like a perfect fit for him?

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    • Jamie says:

      Have you seen the Trop? I would find that to be a really depressing workplace. Going from there to AT&T Park would be like moving from Chotchke’s to Flinger’s.

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  6. brendan says:

    timely article. burrell has two HRs today vs. cubs, one a grand slam. probably will be lifted for defense next inning.

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  7. Nate says:

    And he adds 2 more HR including GS today!

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  8. jwb says:

    And right on cue, Burrell hits a grand slam. . .

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  9. TexasRanger says:

    Pat Burrell says ZiPs can take its ROS projection and shove it!

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  10. Steve says:

    I don’t know how much it matters but he grew up in Northern California so he might feel more comfortable. The question I find interesting to ponder is what kind of offers is he going to get on the FA market assuming he keeps playing the way he’s been playing?

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    • merizobeach says:

      That is an interesting question that applies to Burrell and Huff both, and possibly also Uribe. All of them have found the fountain of youth this year, Uribe for the second straight year. Will some club offer them one or more of them a guaranteed multi-year deal? If Sabean’s decisions were mine to make, I’d certainly offer them another year and consider a vesting option for a second. But for how much??

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  11. GiantsPaul says:

    I think that if Giants sign Huff for 2 yrs plus vesting option, then Pat will come back and sign cheaper here, then elsewhere. They make a great tag team. The Wild Kingdom defense, Great idea by Burrell.

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  12. Sandy Kazmir says:

    Perhaps playing in the AL East has more to do with it than anything. The NL West is a far cry from the toughest division that we’ve seen in years.

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    • Matt says:

      The NL West is always a tough division. Have you noticed how nearly every season there’s usually four teams above .500 and only one ‘laugher’ team (ARI this year.) Plus, in my life time, every single team in the division has gone to a World Series. I don’t know if you can say that about any other division.

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    • Sean says:

      Yeah, some of the best pitchers in baseball being in the NL West must be the reason why Burrell is hitting so well… the NL West hasn’t been garbage lately like all the east coast minds have assumed the last few years.

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  13. jim baumohl says:

    the sophisticated metrics aside, two points seem worth noting. first, burrell has always claimed that he feels more involved in the game when he plays in the field. second, his defensive liabilities are overstated. yes, he’s slow and thus has limited range; but he catches what he gets to, fields balls on the ground reliably, has a pretty strong and quite accurate arm, and rarely throws to the wrong base or misses the cutoff. as a hitter, he has funks in which he just doesn’t seem to see the ball well and takes a lot of third strikes, but he can also carry a team for a week, as the giants are discovering. i’m not surprised to see him help the giants.

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  14. Alvin says:

    I’m sure there’s also many factors you can’t simply put into charts or graphs such as the fact that the Giants are the team he grew up rooting for. I’m sure that as a kid, he pictured himself playing for the Giants and now that he is, he’s doing his best to make sure they win their first championship in San Francisco.

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  15. Nylund says:

    Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff played college ball together in Florida. They go way back together. Apparently they’re both really happy, enjoy the team, and enjoy playing together again.

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  16. Jaryl says:

    Now add Guillen into that mix…

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  17. I think since human beings are creatures of habit, it’s simply a matter of rhythm. One of those things not easily measured by statistics.

    The best arguments posed thus far, in my view, is that Burrell is playing the field again, and he is facing pitchers he is more familiar with. And, it’s quite possible he made a couple of adjustments under new hitting coaches.

    It may also add credence to the fact that National League pitchers are not as good as American League pitchers on the whole, but I will not go that far.

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  18. Slash78 says:

    While AT&T has never had the rep as a hitter’s ballpark, for Pat Burrell it always has been. He’s always had a higher AVG and a better BB/SO ratio there compared to most other ballparks.

    On the other hand there is only one AL park he’s got over a .750 OPS in.

    The Giants should have signed him after 2008. He would have been a much better investment then Edgar Renteria. And they would have saved a few million in the deal.

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  19. Greg Wurz says:

    For his career, Pat Burrell is batting .200 as a pinch hitter. In Tampa, he was a DH which is essentially pinch hitting 4 times a game. Some guys don’t thrive in that role and Burrell appears to be one of those guys. I don’t know that this means the Giants should sign him to any big dollar long-term deals but I bet he can keep it up through the post-season.

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