When the Tampa Bay Rays signed LF/DH Pat Burrell to a 2-year $16 million contract this past off-season, I thought that the defending AL champs had gotten a steal – especially in comparison to the 3-year $31.5 million deal that his replacement in Philadelphia, Raul Ibanez, would garner from Burrell’s old team. And while I won’t make final judgments until these two contracts are completed, it’s looking like I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
While Ibanez was posting career-best numbers as a 37-year old Phillie, Burrell was doing the exact opposite in Tampa. His walk rate is below career norms, he’s striking out more often than he has in several seasons and his power has seemingly disappeared (.385 SLG? Who are you?).
To his credit, the guy isn’t making excuses for himself. But that also means that we don’t quite know if there’s something wrong that can be fixed during the off-season.
There are, however, potential explanations for his dip in performance that could portend a much better season in 2010:
- The talent gap between the AL East and NL East. Especially over the past few seasons, the quality of pitching in the NL East has been slightly underwhelming. Johan Santana didn’t enter the division until 2008 so the only top-level SP that Burrell had to face consistently over the last few seasons was John Smoltz. Now in the big boys league, he has to face the likes of C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. Can Burrell adjust to the higher quality pitching at the age of 33? I haven’t the faintest.
- Hiding an injury. You wouldn’t expect a player to have such a dramatic drop in power numbers from one season to another and especially not at Burrell’s age. This is a guy who had slugged over .500 from 2005-2008. How does he become a sub-.400 slugger seemingly overnight? If he had a serious injury, that would explain quite a lot.
- He’s done this before. The main reason why I don’t believe that Pat Burrell is washed up is because of his 2003 season. A year prior to that, the then-26-year old had a very strong line of .282/.376/.544 with 37 HRs. He had become on of the better offensive threats in the National League. But he followed it up with a very disappointing season where he batted .209/.309/.404 with 21 HRs. And despite a wrist injury in 2004, his numbers rebounded very well and he was a solid hitter for the rest of his stay in Philadelphia. No actual reason (none that I saw, anyway) was ever really given for his sharp drop in production in 2003.
I am not going to say that any of these potential reasons are correct because at this point, I have no way of knowing anything. But I will say that Burrell most likely is not done, simply because it’s rare for a 33 year old hitter to fall off such a steep cliff. There’s got to be a reason aside from “decline” that ruined Burrell’s 2009 season. I just don’t quite know what that reason may be.