Using Early Season Data: A Look at Pat Burrell

Consider this a continuation from this morning's article. Now that we have an understanding of how to analyze players this early in the season, let's try it out and see what we can learn. Of all the questions I suggested in the earlier post, I'd like to focus on one in particular: what value can we expect from Pat Burrell this season? Will he rebound or is he going to provide us with another sub-replacement level performance?*

*Spoiler alert: I'm not going to come up with a definitive answer by the end of this post. I don't want to sound like a broken record, but all the stipulations I mentioned this morning obviously apply here. Small sample sizes, statistics haven't stabilized yet, yadda yadda yadda.

If you're reading this, you should already be familiar with Burrell's situation. Brought in as an expensive, lefty-mashing designated hitter, Burrell flopped last season for the Rays, hitting only 14 home runs while posting a below average Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) of .304. The Rays are looking to contend this season and can't afford to have a black hole as their designated hitter again, but Burrell dealt with neck injuries last season that may have dampened his production. On the other hand, Burrell also possesses "old player skills" and could have begun aging, or he may not be cut out for the stiffer competition in the American League. There are many variables to deal with and lots of uncertainty, so the Rays are stuck in a pickle. If they come to a conclusion too quickly, they risk eating his contract while releasing a player that still has talent; if they move too slowly, they handicap their roster and reduce their odds of reaching the playoffs. It's a tough decision and one that will require lots and lots of scouting information and small sample size data crunching.

So in other word, no pressure. Again, when evaluating batters this early in the season, the statistics we want to pay most attention to are Swing%, Contact%, LD%, and Strikeout Rate. Let's start by looking at Pat the Bat's plate discipline numbers:

O-Swing%

Z-Swing%

Swing%

2008

20.10%

64.10%

42.00%

2009

22.70%

61.70%

41.80%

2010

28.60%

66.70%

45.60%

O-Contact%

Z-Contact%

Contact%

Zone%

2008

66.50%

86.00%

81.30%

49.70%

2009

55.60%

88.20%

79.10%

48.80%

2010

77.80%

79.40%

78.90%

44.70%

For reference, "O-" means "Outside of Zone" and "Z-" means "Inside of Zone"

I've italicized the two numbers that have the most predictive value going forward: Swing% and Contact%. Overall, Burrell is swinging at more pitches while making less contact - not a good sign. Even more troubling, Burrell is swinging at more pitches outside of the zone and making more contact with them, while making less contact with pitches inside of the zone. Is Burrell merely pressing, eager to get off to a good start and therefore swinging at more pitches? It's entirely possible, although it is worrying to see that Burrell has become less and less selective over each of the last few years. Since Burrell only has 30 PA so far this season, another week could change these numbers, but it's definitely something to keep an eye on. Considering that Burrell also currently has a less than stellar LD% (11.1%) and strikeout rate (33.3%), it's not encouraging to say the least.

Scouting-wise, I personally feel torn about Burrell. There have been some games where I've thought that Burrell's swing looked good and he made some solid contact despite making outs, but there have also been games where I've cursed at the screen and thought he looked like dead weight. I think there's still hope for him, but he may not be given the longest leash with Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac both looking for playing time. Maddon has already benched Burrell once against lefties, so Burrell had better start improving his plate discipline if he wants to keep getting at bats.

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