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« World Series Picks | Main | wOBA Leaders from 7th Inning On »

The Resurgence of Pat Burrell

By now, most people are familiar with the Pat Burrell's story of redemption. After winning the World Series with the Phillies in 2008, he was sent into free agency. Eventually, he signed on with the Tampa Bay Rays, the team he helped defeat in the Fall Classic. GM Andrew Friedman committed two years and $16 million to the right-handed slugger.

It seemed like a good fit at the time. Since he was in the American League and would be a designated hitter, Burrell's liability as a defender was nullified. All he needed to do was hit. And he didn't do that. At all. He finished the 2009 season with a .304 wOBA, 57 points below his career average -- easily the worst season of his career.

The Rays hoped it was simply a fluke season and that Burrell would be able to rebound in 2010. In 24 games with the Rays, Burrell hit for a paltry .282 wOBA and was quickly released. The Giants, with a need for a power bat in a shoddy outfield, had nothing to lose and took a flier on Burrell.

That seemed like a poor fit at the time. The spacious outfield in AT&T Park seemed like too much for the brick-footed Burrell to cover, and the fences too deep for him to deposit fly balls behind. Additionally, Burrell appeared to be in the last chapter of his Major League career -- at least as a starter.

Burrell quickly caught fire. Joining the team in early June, he finished the month with a 1.021 OPS, including five home runs and three doubles. Given the poor month of July he followed up with, his June production seemed fluky. However, in August and September, he hit six home runs apiece and drove in 35 combined runs.

What revived Burrell?

It appears to be that, in 2009, he was simply unable to hit soft pitches. As a Phillie, he had always been known for his ability to turn on an inside fastball. On the other hand, he was known for a "butt jut" on inside breaking balls. When he read the spin of an inside breaking ball, his feet would remain planted, but he would arch his back so that he almost looked like a backwards C at home plate.

In 2010, he regained his ability -- or timing, most likely -- to hit the soft stuff.

Burrell's in-play slug on soft pitches, 2009Burrell's in-play slug on soft pitches, 2010

As the heat maps above indicate, he hit the soft stuff almost anywhere it was thrown, but had significant improvement on inside pitches.

Oddly enough, almost all of his production the past two years has come against right-handed pitchers. Burrell's calling card as a Phillie was his ability to mash lefties. Since departing, his platoon splits have headed in the polar opposite direction.

Burrell's in-play slug vs. RHP soft pitches, 2010Burrell's in-play slug vs. LHP soft pitches, 2010Against right-handed pitching in 2010 (all types of pitches), Burrell's .399 wOBA ranked in the 98th percentile among Major League hitters with at least 100 plate appearances. Against lefties, his wOBA dropped to .297 in the 47th percentile. 

If the Texas Rangers are wondering how they should pitch Burrell in a key spot during the World Series, they should strongly consider going with harder stuff -- if possible, thrown by a left-hander.

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Reader Comments (1)

Wow... nice article... first time seeing slugging displayed that way... very informative and flat out cool.

October 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMacaroni and Cheese

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