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December 26 2006

If anyone out there holds onto hope that Pat-the-Bat is headed out of town, or even that Burrell-bashing is a fading phenomenon, I have some bad news for you.  The two go hand-in-hand and both Burrell and the bashers are here to stay.  Some have taken the Conine trade as a chance to remind us all of how mightily Burrell struggled in the five-hole and how lucky we all were to have Conine around to protect Howard and save the city.

The problem, of course, is that Burrell's numbers as a five-hitter were just so much better than Conine's last year.  With the Phillies last season, Conine got 73 at-bats as a #5 hitter, hitting 274/312/397, while Burrell hit a more impressive 257/391/527 in 148 at-bats.

Burrell certainly looks bad at the plate when he's in a slump.  And he strikes out a lot.  But he's far from a bad five-hitter.  The question I wanted to answer was whether or not he was the best in the league.

And, it turns out, he's not.  Last year he was about the fifth-best.  In the NL last season there were 25 players who got 150 or more plate appearances as a five hitter.  Using runs created per 27 outs as the measure, Burrell's fellow Phil Ryan Howard was clearly the best in the league, with a handful of other guys producing more offense than Burrell.

 

RC/27, #5 hitters with 150 PA
Rank Player AB RC/27
1 R Howard 234 8.58
2 R Durham 319 8.25
3 B McCann 284 8.03
4 G Atkins 183 7.96
5 P Burrell 148 7.67

And here's what it looks like if you use OPS:

 

OPS, #5 hitters with 150 PA
Rank Player AB OPS
1 R Howard 234 1.034
2 R Durham 319 .988
3 B McCann 284 .966
4 G Atkins 183 .946
5 C Jackson 219 .932
6 P Burrell 148 .918
6 A Gonzalez 302 .918

Conine also got significant at-bats with the Orioles last season as a five hitter and struggled horribly, hitting just 227/256/320 in 75 at-bats with Baltimore.  He was clearly worse than Burrell in his time with the Phillies, but his numbers for the season overall as a #5 wound up looking downright wretched.  In 2006, for all players in either league who got 150 or more plate appearances as a #5 hitter, using runs created per 27 outs, Burrell's 7.67 was tenth-best while Conine's awful 3.28 was 45th of 46.

The whole thing is overrated.  I don't believe it matters much who hits behind Ryan Howard.  I think it's hard to argue that the way the team mismanaged the five-hole cost the Phillies even a single game last season.  But the Phillies made a bad decision when they moved Burrell out and put Conine in and it needs to be recognized as exactly that. 

Worse still, after they did it they blamed Burrell at the same time they were trying to trade him.

Mike Gonzalez says he did not take a physical with the Yankees.  Rumors abound of a trade that would send him to New York and Adam LaRoche to the Pirates.

This article makes the case the Pirates are doing the right thing in not trying to deal for Lieber.

The Rangers, sometimes mentioned as a possible trading partner with the Phillies, acquired Brandon McCarthy from the White Sox.  Akinori Otsuka, who saved 32 games while throwing to a 2.11 ERA last season for Texas, is guessed to be a player the Phils had interest in.  The Rangers look to have solved some of their problems in the areas where the Phillies could have helped them most, center field and starting pitching.  The Diamondbacks may be in discussion with the Rangers about a possible Otsuka deal.

Nick Punto may be going over to Pat Burrell's house for New Year's Eve.  This is, no doubt, the kind of thing that Dallas Green fears most.

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