Pat Burrell remains a productive player.
This article originally appeared on CreativeSports.com.
Oh man. We just flipped our Boston Red Sox calendar and the picture of Big Papi tells us it’s August. That means less than eight weeks remain in the 2006 regular season. It’s home stretch time, baby. But first, we’ve got to get through the dog days of summer. Let’s try to beat the heat by putting Pat the Bat Burrell of the Philadelphia Phillies under the microscope in the latest installment of our Player Profiles series.
Burrell was one of the most celebrated players college baseball has ever produced, racking up unprecedented achievements for a tradition-rich Miami baseball program (like becoming the school’s first freshman to lead the NCAA in hitting). His brilliant collegiate career earned him the honour of being picked first overall in the 1998 MLB draft. But has Burrell delivered on all that tremendous promise?
Certainly, had he remained at third base, his position in college and where his boyhood idol George Brett played, he’d be one of the most valuable Fantasy commodities in baseball. As it is, Burrell has carved out a very strong career for himself, especially when compared to other players who went first overall. Take, for instance, the careers of the players who bookended Burrell’s selection. In 1997, Matt Anderson went first overall, and he was a colossal disappointment and two years later, Josh Hamilton was the top pick, and for different reasons, he too has been a complete bust to date.
However, in taking a look at Burrell’s career track, there are some concerns over his ability to maintain production levels into his 30s (he turns 30 in October). Check out some of the names most associated with Burrell at baseball-reference.com: Tony Conigliaro, Gil Hodges, Pete Incaviglia, Ben Grieve, Phil Plantier. If there’s a common thread there (throw out Conigliaro, as his career was cut short by injury), it’s that besides Hodges, who enjoyed a very strong 18-year career, almost all the players most similar to Burrell did not age well, and experienced a rapid fall in production.
Now that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it’s certainly food for thought for those of you in dynasty leagues.
If anything, Burrell is showing signs that he’s still improving as a player, in this, his seventh major league season. While his batting average is down 20+ points from last season, he’s averaging a home run every 14.4 at-bats, the best rate of his career. Burrell is also showing greater patience (.162 walks per plate appearance) and strike zone judgment (.7 BB/K ratio) than we’ve ever seen from him before, all very promising signs for a monster season in 2007 perhaps.
But there’s a more immediate concern on the horizon, especially for owners of Burrell who are playing in redraft leagues. In the past couple of weeks, Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel has been sitting Burrell against righties in favour of David Dellucci. Now we’re sure we don’t need to tell you what this can do for his value should a straight platoon emerge, something Manuel has suggested is a possibility.
Burrell is on pace for his best power season since 2002, heading for 81 runs, 35 homers and 109 RBI, and considering he tends to be a better second-half player, chances are — given normal playing time — Burrell will surpass those projections. But obviously he doesn’t stand a chance of getting anywhere near them if Dellucci keeps eating away at his PT. Watch the situation closely, and those in redraft leagues might consider dealing Burrell (if your trade deadline has yet to pass) to a team in your league weak in homers.
Burrell has a classic slugger’s build at 6’4″, 234 pounds. There are plenty of teams that would kill for a masher like this to plop into the middle of their order, his defensive shortcomings notwithstanding (and those of you who watched Saturday’s game got an eyeful of Burrell’s lacklustre glove work in the outfield). In fact, plenty of rumours swirled all year about Burrell being shipped here or there. The Yanks were said to be interested in a much bigger deal that would have sent A-Rod to Philly before ultimately getting Bobby Abreu in a scaled down trade, and Philadelphia reportedly talked to Baltimore, but Burrell said he’d exercise his no-trade clause before going to an Oriole squad that’s even worse than Philly.
If the Phils are serious about moving Burrell, it won’t be easy. He makes $9.75 million this year, is due $13 million next year and $17 million in 2008, and of course, as mentioned, he has a no-trade clause. So don’t expect anything to happen until the offseason, if at all.
Burrell’s strengths are power, of course, and his ability to draw a walk. He strikes out a lot, but as mentioned, he will draw his share of walks as well. Where he’s showing vulnerability this year is in his platoon splits: under .240 against righties, but .315 vs. lefties, hence the recent bench time he’s seen against right-handed pitching. Of course, you can’t have a guy making almost $10 million sitting on the bench about 75 per cent of the time. Even the Yankees don’t do that.
Burrell will never hit .300 unless he becomes a better two-strike hitter. This year, he’s hitting .231 when the count is full, .200 when it’s 2-2, .146 when it’s 1-2 and .056 when in an 0-2 hole. He’s at his best attacking the first pitch, batting .375 when he does so.
The bottom line with Pat the Bat is you need to watch this platoon situation closely over the next couple of weeks. For those of you in dynasty leagues, watch for any signs that Burrell is heading into decline as he reaches and passes 30 (increased strikeouts, declining batting average, declining double and home run numbers) and be prepared to sell if you think it’s a trend as opposed to a slump. The man’s enjoyed a very fine big league career, but with lifetime totals still south of 500 runs, 200 homers, 625 RBI and a career BA under .260, he’s got a very, very long way to go before we can utter his name in any Cooperstown discussion.
NEXT: Spikes Up returns August 14. Basketball fans should check out Three in the Key, next appearing Thursday.