Monday, February 12, 2007

Let's be fair

I don't want to paint Pat Burrell as a sabermetric pin-up. His EqA last season was .297, which is good but not great and didn't even make him one of the top-5 left fielders in the majors, not to mention outfielders. As opposed to a lot of high-K guys like Dunn and Abreu, his strikeouts aren't always due to selectivity as much as an inability (as you stated) to lay off low-and-away sliders. The opening of the hip thing is clearly a problem, and he's a horrible fielder, and he's overpaid.


I hope that clears up all of those points, because there's a really big one here we need to deal with:

If Pat Burrell "sucks" in any sense of the word, it's in no small part because everyone in the Phillies organization, the local sports media, and the city as a whole has fucked with this kid since he made the mistake of having an exceptional sophomore season.

You said, yourself, that Schmidt worked with him personally after his breakout year. What do you think they "worked" on, exactly? Well, I wasn't there, but I bet you it had something to do with strikeouts. I say this, because it's about the only thing people have talked about since Burrell arrived on the stage. I get it: When you strike out a lot, particularly swinging (as Burrell often does), you kind of look like a jackass. It's the nature of the game. You know when you don't look like a jackass? Bombing a fucking three-run homer two innings later because the terrified pitcher who got you to chase that slider also showed you pretty much his entire arsenal due to the fact that you took some pitches and had a long at-bat. Say what you want about Burrell, but he wears the shit out of pitchers. And did the Phillies, who had just decided to overpay this young gentleman, say to themselves, "Well, that's the way it is; if he gets better, that's gravy!" No, they didn't fucking say that! Instead, they had someone with all the makings of a bad hitting instructor (great hitters like Schmidt often make the worst teachers, because so much of what they were able to do was due to talent instead of technique; I think this has been borne out in his case, particularly) fuck around with his kid and make him worry about not striking out or hitting it the other way, or whatever, instead of just telling him to pick a spot in the parking lot beyond left field and try and hit it there every time he's up at bat. The kid was a power hitter with good-to-great plate discipline, and they worried about the fact that he was going to punch out 150 times a season.

So the fuck what.

Well, now you've got an overpaid headcase who's surly with teammates and the media and in general wishes he could bring an assault rifle with him out to left field (we're not even going to bring up the Bowa thing ... didn't everyone hate Bowa?). You mean to tell me he might not be inspired to do Philly proud? I am absolutely blown away by that. Philly fans, honestly, can treat their athletes however they want to; I just think it's entertaining that every time a really good, young athlete comes through that city, you know there's at least a 40 percent chance that he's going to be a shell of a human being in three years. They can't all be as tough as ol' Ronnie Hextall. And, no matter what you say, or whatever RISP numbers you pull up (you're right, totally flukey, in part because horseshit, unhelpful stats like those tend to have extremely small sample sizes), he is absolutely not playing badly. He is still an above-average hitter for the Phillies who is responsible for many more runs than he costs the team in the field or by not getting a hit when there's a runner on third with one out.

Getting back to the actual baseball talk here, my issue isn't with Schmidt, who seems like a nice enough guy when he isn't being portrayed by the local media as a crotchety old ballplayer who spits sour grape juice all over younger players. My issue is with the prevailing thought in baseball that a strikeout demands nothing less than Yubitsume, and that any player who strikes out a ton is somehow hurting himself. It is dumb, and it drives me crazy. As displayed by the list of last year's NL strikeout leaders, oftentimes the best hitters in baseball are also the ones who strike out the most, either because that's the price one pays for having a longer, more powerful swing (Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn) or because they're so willing to get themselves in to two-strike counts that a certain percentage of those situations have to end up with collars (Bob Abreu, Travis Hafner).

Folks, I'm not saying that strikeouts are great, or should be encouraged. I'm saying that, almost universally, strikeouts are no different than grounding out to the shortstop. And don't even bother with the "not advancing runners," stuff, because you also can't ground into a double play by striking out. The goal of every hitter should be to make fewer outs, period. As long as you're making an out, it's bad; it doesn't really matter how it looks.

Anyway, you're telling me that Schmidt is responsible (possibly) for your conception does not make me any more likely to not kick him in the nuts if I ever see him.

Post Script: I just want to explain my calling RISP "horseshit." The problem with a stat like RISP averages is the same as the problem with batting average in general: When you have runners on base, getting a hit isn't the only positive thing a hitter can do. It's incomplete data. It doesn't measure the number of times someone drew a walk, which extended the rally, or the number of sac flies. Like many aspects of old-fashioned baseball statistic-gathering, it is a sideways glance instead of an adoring gaze. And the sample size, on an annual basis, is too small to suggest anything more than the possibility of there being a problem or a positive attribute.

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