Wednesday, March 28, 2007

35 Reasons to Believe

The Phanatic Magazine continues its preseason coverage of the Phillies, profiling one player per day to get you set for the 2007 campaign. Our 35 straight days of Phillies coverage kicked off on February 25th, and will continue to roll until Opening Day on April 2nd. Then we will hand it over to Michael Rushton, who will provide an in-depth season preview before the first pitch is dealt.

By Michael Rushton
The Phanatic Magazine

Day 32 - Pat Burrell

If hindsight is 20/20, what is Pat Burrell, because the Phillies left fielder may still not be seeing things clearly.

Coming off a disastrous 2006 season, Burrell hasn't had a calm, relaxing spring either.

First came the verbal assaults from both Dallas Green and Mike Schmidt, coupled with the unkept secret that the Phillies tried -- and failed -- to move him in the offseason.

"When their careers are over, they are going to wonder how much they left on the table, how much they left on the field," Schmidt said in reference to Burrell and Cincinnati's Adam Dunn. "If only they had choked up with two strikes, spread their stances out. What they are doing now is not great. It is mediocrity."

All of that added fuel to the already popular winter discussions that the Phillies impending success hinged on Burrell's ability to protect last season's MVP, Ryan Howard, in the lineup.

Throw in a mix of back pains, numerous questions about Burrell's troublesome right foot and his brand-new contact lenses, and all of that about sums up the most talked about player this offseason.

Wouldn't it be great if Burrell's eyes were the only problem the slugger was having? If his dismal 2006 season, a campaign that saw him hit just .258 and strikeout 131 times in 144 games, was the product of poor vision only? Perhaps Burrell just couldn't see the runners on base, prompting him to bat just .222 last year with RISP.

But in fact, Burrell isn't even using the contacts.

"I could understand if I went to them and said, 'I'm not seeing anything,'" Burrell told "I never complained. This guy gave me a screening and said, 'You need to come in.' I said I'll try them. They don't help."

So it's not so early with Burrell, who has done little to silence his critics this spring. In 19 games so far, he is hitting just .204 (10-for-49) with three doubles, three homers and nine RBI. He has fanned 14 times as well, which is actually fewer than Howard and Chase Utley.

Burrell, though, feels he is coming along and is finally healthy. Maybe he just can't read the stat sheet.

"I think I'm progressing pretty good," said Burrell in an article on

"It's just a matter of being healthy," he later added in the story. "That's the whole key."

Still, it's Burrell's inconsistency that is most frustrating, especially to the fans. It may be easier to accept Burrell for what he is if he was always bad. But the left-fielder turns it on one year, and then off the next.

In 2005, he batted .281 with 32 homers and a career-high 117 RBI. In 2002, he blasted a personal best 37 homers.

Yet, he has batted more than .260 just twice in his seven-year career. He has also struck out 1,017 times to just 569 career walks.

Even in his biggest hindrance last year, he was madly inconsistent. With runners in scoring position, if I'm reading the stats correctly with my glasses on, Burrell hit .300 against lefties. However, he hit only .195 against right-handers.

Overall, only four of his 29 home runs last season came with runners in scoring position. Alarmingly, the only person not concerned about Burrell's RISP numbers is manager Charlie Manuel.

"When you look at that, people pick that out," manager Charlie Manuel told the Trenton Times in a Tuesday article. "But let me tell you something: that happens all the time. I guarantee you that some of the greatest hitters in the game didn't have a high percentage of knocking runners in from second base sometimes. Some of them, for their entire careers didn't have a high percentage and got away with it."

Predicting Burrell's season is near impossible, but his impact will be great. A 2005 Burrell batting fifth will no doubt vault the Phils to the top of the East. An '06 Burrell will make it that much harder and, depending on how you view the argument, could hurt Howard as well.

Some things are just tough to see.

Tomorrow: Jimmy Rollins

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