Posted on: April 8, 2008 6:36 pm
Edited on: May 8, 2008 7:45 pm

Clarifying my thoughts on Burrell

Monday, I talked about Pat Burrell posting a 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio last year for the first time in his career, which happened to coincide with the best half of baseball -- .295 average, 19 home runs after the All-Star break -- he had ever played. I couldn't help but wonder if, given his hot start this year, it meant something.

Baseball Jones had this response:

After looking at his career stats (687 walks, 1141 strikeouts), I'm ready to conclude that Pat Burrell's 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio last year was just an aberration. I would also suggest that his low batting average came about not because of a poor first half, but because he's a career .259 hitter. Burrell brings consistent production, but if he's on my Fantasy team right now, I'm selling high and bringing in a player who will average more than just 129 hits and 500 at-bats per season.

My response:

"Makes sense. I pretty much came to the same conclusion, which is why I didn't end up with Burrell in any of my leagues. Until we get through a good portion of this season, though, there's room to wonder.

But you can't say his first half last year didn't drain his overall batting average. The Pat Burrell of last year's second half was not the same .259-hitting Pat Burrell of old. Now, if you want to argue that his great second half was simply a normalization to the mean, I can accept that argument and even agree that it's the more likely possibility. But I like to keep an open mind. Even veterans find ways to break out."

His response:

With Burrell, you know what you are going to get: 30 home runs, 95 RBI and a .260 average. It's hard to be angry with that stat line, but whether you own the Phillies or you only own a Fantasy team, carrying a guy who bats .215 in the first half and then .295 in the second half is very frustrating. I appreciate your efforts to come up with new ways to evaluate a player, but if I'm looking for a player to pick up, I prefer someone with a more reliable performance throughout the season.

If Burrell can stay healthy and get over 500 at-bats again, then we could see his numbers reach 35-40 HR and 110-120 RBI (aka, 2002 and 2005), which would put him back among the top outfielders in the game. At 31, Burrell may perform well for another five-plus years, but I'm guessing his best years are behind him. Unfortunately, I don't think last year's 1-to-1 ratio and a new approach can save him from that.

I figured I'd further this dialogue right in my blog:

First of all, you talk like Burrell always has such ridiculous first-and-second-half splits, but that's simply not the case. Normally, he's pretty consistent throughout the season, and you have to go all the way back to 2004 (when he hit .276 in the first half and .222 in the second) to find a split that's even close.

Secondly, let me throw out a list of names to you: Luis E. Gonzalez, Steve Finley, Jermaine Dye, Jim Edmonds. All became appreciably better at or beyond their 30th birthdays. Is such an achievement rare? Yes. But does it happen? Quite obviously.

I think you misinterpreted my tone. Or maybe I misrepresented it. Either way, I'll set the record straight here and now. I'm not saying you should rip apart your Fantasy roster trying to trade for Burrell. I haven't even seriously thought about trading for him myself. I'm simply saying it'll be interesting, from a Fantasy perspective, to see what his stats look like at the end of the season.

I try not to construct my Fantasy teams based on a series of guesses, meaning I don't look at a player, decide whether I like him or not, and consider the matter a closed case. If I did, I'd go into the season either overvaluing or undervaluing everyone in the league, which obviously wouldn't give me a realistic foundation for making transactions. Really, you could make an argument for or against every single player, and rather than dismiss either side entirely, you want to try to gauge the likelihood of each.

I like to think in terms of percentages. To use a more straightforward example than Burrell, let's try Pirates SS Jack Wilson. The argument for Wilson going into the season was obvious: He hit .409 with eight home runs over the final two months of last season. True? Yes. Meaningful? I'm sure someone could make the argument, but I imagine you, like me, see Wilson as nothing more than a miscast utility player and someone not worth owning outside of NL-only leagues. Let's set the likelihood of our argument at, say, 98 percent and the alternative at two percent.

I think you would also agree that the possibility of Burrell having an improved approach at the plate is significantly higher than the possibility of Wilson becoming a major Fantasy asset. Let's set the likelihood of my argument for Burrell at 20 percent -- still a low number, sure, but much higher than Wilson's two.

And then you have to consider a third factor. If the best-case-scenario -- a 20 percent chance for Burrell -- doesn't come to pass -- an 80 percent chance -- what exactly is the alternative? Just how low could a guy go? If you examine each player from that perspective, you can understand why I don't often draft rookies. Even if they have a 50 percent chance of meeting their potential right away -- which they usually don't -- they have a 50 percent chance of ending up another Alex Gordon, who was totally useless in mixed leagues as a rookie. The negative is too negative for me to invest a middle-round pick.

So then you have Burrell, whose 80 percent means he'll hit his usual .260 with 30 home runs. When you have a player who has an 80 percent chance of being useful and a 20 percent chance of being more, you'd agree he sounds like a nice guy to grab as your No. 4 outfielder, wouldn't you?

Look, I know I'm kind of going off on a tangent, so let me spell out my point as clearly as possible at the end here. I'm just saying you have to consider all of the possibilities. I'm not saying you have to accept this one on Burrell as likely -- heck, at 20 percent, I don't even accept it as likely -- but you can't just ignore a second half like he had last year, particularly when his good run just so happened to coincide with him evening out his walks and strikeouts for the first time in his career.

That's all for now.
Category: MLB
Posted on: April 7, 2008 11:13 pm
Edited on: May 8, 2008 7:45 pm

Same old Burrell?

Sometimes I need to take my own advice.

A quick look at Pat Burrell's stats last year makes you think he had a typical Pat Burrell year. He hit .256 with 30 home runs -- nothing special there, right?


His low batting average came about because of a particularly poor first half, but he hit .295 in the second half, and his peripheral stats during that time -- during the whole season, really -- indicate that he changed something in his approach at the plate.

He finished with 114 walks and 120 strikeouts -- a 1-to-1 ratio.

Only a few players in baseball put up a 1-to-1 ratio on a yearly basis. I'll list some of them off the top of my head:

Manny Ramirez
Lance Berkman
Carlos N. Lee
Chipper Jones
Gary Sheffield
J.D. Drew
Hideki Matsui
Travis Hafner
David Ortiz
Frank Thomas
Nick Johnson
Conor Jackson
Brian Roberts
Jose B. Reyes
Vladimir Guerrero
Nick Swisher

OK, so there's a few less-than-elite types mixed in there, but for the most part, Burrell is in some pretty good company. But here's the thing: He joined that list for the first time last year. Before then, he had always whiffed at an Adam Dunn-like rate.

I originally made this observation in the offseason, but then, seeing no one else buying into it, quickly dismissed it as nothing more than a statistical anomaly. I didn't end up drafting Burrell in any of my leagues.

So far this season, after going deep twice Monday, Burrell is hitting .435 with three home runs.

And you guessed it: four walks and four strikeouts.

Maybe I'm making too much of the ratio. Maybe he's just beginning the season on a hot streak. But maybe that second half was legit. The ratio sure says something to support it.

I'll never claim I can predict the future for any player, but right now, I wish I had nabbed Burrell in at least one of my Fantasy leagues so I could see first hand if I was right in the first place.

That's all for now.
Category: MLB
Posted on: March 12, 2008 2:19 am
Edited on: May 8, 2008 7:57 pm

OCD over OBP

Checked my e-mail today and found one I rather liked. It comes to us from Tony Weaver in Sarasota, Fla.:

"My leagues are all 5X5 Rotisserie with on-base percentage as a category instead of batting average. Since walks come into play with OBP, is there any players you would shoot up or down the tiers (see March 5 post) that come to mind? Thanks for your help!"

See kids? You don't necessarily send those e-mails into a black hole. Not necessarily.

Tony actually hit on a subject close to my heart, and I applaud his league for replacing batting average with on-base percentage. I think the latter gives a more accurate assessment of a player's ability and real-life worth (which Fantasy should attempt to model as closely as possible). Now if only his league could replace home runs with slugging percentage. Then, it'd really be cooking.

I love walks. I pay close attention to them and tend to factor them into my player rankings even in standard Rotisserie. You might call such behavior a bias of some sort, but I think players with good plate discipline tend to become good players sooner, remain good players longer, and post good numbers more consistently.

In leagues that count walks, I often try to draft only the players listed here. I don't do anything stupid, obviously, but I end up with a lot more hits than misses. And if you're like me, you'll often find yourself in leagues where your competitors hardly adjust their rankings for the walk. If so, you shouldn't either. You want to maximize value whenever possible, after all. Just make sure you know how late is too late, or someone else in your league will steal a player from you without even recognizing his true value. Talk about frustrating.

Now, I don't have an exact cutoff for the players on this list. I won't say everyone listed here walks a certain number of times per at-bat or anything like that. But from what I've noticed, these players stand out as the ones that walk most often at their positions. If you want to suggest one or two that I missed, feel free. Hey, I want to know about them for my own Fantasy purposes.

Oh, and just to keep the list from becoming too crowded, I omitted anyone I named in "The Elite" tier at his particular position. The Elite is the elite no matter the format.

I present to you the OBP All-Stars (or at least guys who walk a lot):

Catcher (The Elite: Victor Martinez, Russell Martin)
Joe Mauer, Jorge Posada, Jason Varitek, Carlos Ruiz, Gregg Zaun, Chris Iannetta

First Base/DH (The Elite: Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz)
Ryan Howard, Lance Berkman, Travis Hafner, Gary Sheffield, Jim Thome, Todd Helton, Nick Swisher, Kevin Youkilis, Nick Johnson, Frank Thomas, Daric Barton

Second Base (The Elite: Chase Utley)
B.J. Upton, Brian Roberts, Rickie Weeks, Kelly Johnson, Jeff Kent

Third Base (The Elite: Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, Miguel Cabrera)
Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus

Shortstop (The Elite: Hanley Ramirez, Jose B. Reyes, Jimmy Rollins)
Derek Jeter, Carlos Guillen, Stephen Drew (But each is a reach just to give shortstop some candidates. Guess I have another reason to target the Big Three this year.)

Outfield (The Elite: Matt Holliday, Vladimir Guerrero)
Lance Berkman, Grady Sizemore, Manny Ramirez, Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn, Nick Swisher, Brad Hawpe, Jason Bay, Pat Burrell, Jack Cust, J.D. Drew, Milton Bradley, Luke Scott

That's all for now.
Category: MLB
Tags: OBP, tiers, walks
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com