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May 16, 2000

From The Mailbag

Pat Burrell, Park Effects, and Rohypnol

by Baseball Prospectus

Pat Burrell

The recent injury to Rico Brogna highlights a baseball development that, until now, has been only surmised: Terry Francona and the Phillies front office are hopped up on goofballs. Are they waiting for Ron Gant to break his leg before announcing that Kevin Sefcik will now be the full-time starter because he can save eight runs a game purely by virtue of his glove?

Has anyone told Francona that Pat Burrell is not hitting .200 in Triple-A anymore?

--Brian

Brian,

While I have no intentions of denying the fact that the operations of the Phillies' front office are often strange, mysterious and somewhat disconnected from petty matters like reality, evidence and logic, there may be some method to this particular madness.

The current party line is that Burrell was not called up because he hadn't played first base at all this year. At the time the roster move was made, the Phillies were still thinking that Brogna could be back fairly quickly, possibly as soon as a month from now. What they did not want was to bring Burrell up, have him struggle defensively due to unfamiliarity with the position (since he's only played about a year's worth of first base and none since September) and then send him down again after a few weeks, leaving him discouraged.

Personally I think they're overstating the risk, since a player with the talent and work ethic that Burrell exhibits tends to sort himself out in short order, even if he has initial struggles. And of course the assumption that Brogna would be a more valuable player to the team than Burrell is, to put it politely, somewhat dubious to begin with.

There's also a second, less obvious, factor at work here, namely some financial issues. Most players are not arbitration-eligible until after their third full season, but every year a small group of players with between two and three years of service time (the top 17% in terms of time on the major-league roster) are eligible as "Super Two" players.

If Burrell were to come up now and play well enough to stick around for good (the opposite extreme from the official concern) then there's a very good chance he could sneak into that classification after the 2002 season when the contract he signed after being drafted runs out. The Phillies are already making noises about being concerned about finances at that point since Scott Rolen will be eligible for free agency after that season and Bobby Abreu will be coming off his current contract and will likely be looking for a big raise over the $6 million he'll make in 2002. Given that recent developments have probably doomed them to playing at the Vet through at least 2003, they probably expect to be extremely pinched for cash at that point (although they really need to talk to Detroit about the blind assumption that a new mallpark means buckets of cash even if the team is lousy). Avoiding arbitration with Burrell would be a desirable result from a financial standpoint.

All that said, I fully expect to see Burrell called up in about a month. The telling factor is that he is, as of yesterday, Scranton's regular first baseman. If the Phillies had no intention of playing him at first base in the majors then Gene Schall would likely have taken over. By keeping Burrell at Triple-A for a little while longer they deal with the official concern of getting him reacclimated to first base outside the spotlight of the major leagues, and they also substantially reduce the risk of him being a "Super 2." It's not entirely fair to Burrell, but it really is business as usual for the majors.

Thanks for dropping us the note. We always appreciate hearing from our readers.

--Jeff Hildebrand

Park Effects

I was perusing my BP 2000 again last night and noticed something I think is kind of peculiar. I read the article and stats regarding relievers with great interest. Your system of determining the worth of a reliever seems to be the fairest yet. However, in the statistical analysis of each team, you have Wrigley Field as having a -1.8% effect. In the organizational analysis you state that Wrigley is a good hitters' park increasing runs 13% (or close to that). Further, today I read your Support-Neutral information on Starters and, again, for Wrigley you have -1.8%. What is the difference here? Now, I should go through all the parks and see if there is a difference that I should have already figured out, but it did not really dawn on me as surprising until today as I enjoyed your Web site. Please let me know why those numbers do not jibe.

Keep up the good work. Your new methods of analyzing stats assures me that I will always have new and interesting baseball material to read.

--Dale

Dale,

Thanks very much for the interest and the kind words. Wrigley ended up as a slight pitchers' park in the SNWL and reliever numbers only after taking the presence or absence of the DH rule into account. The DH is something that's usually treated separately from other influences of the park, but I combine the two. The full story:

         R/IP Home     R/IP Road    Ratio
1999      .6148          .5770      1.066
1998      .5565          .5438      1.023
------------------------------------------
2-YEAR AVERAGE                      1.044

Adjusting the numbers so that league park-adjusted runs add up to actual league runs, the Wrigley factor is reduced from +4.4% to +1.3%. Incorporating the effect of the nine-on-nine baseball rules played at Wrigley, it gets further reduced to -1.85%.

I hope that's clear, and thanks again for writing.

--Michael Wolverton

Dustin Hermanson

I'm a big Dustin Hermanson fan but I'm a little concerned about his strikeout numbers this year. Through 35 innings he only has 13 strikeouts. All of his other stats are fine but should I be worried about an injury or something, or is it still too soon to tell?

--Paul

Paul,

Offhand, I'd say you need to worry most about injury. Injury to Ugueth Urbina, that is.

Seriously, you never can tell with pitchers, but as you know, Hermanson has been excellent since being traded to Montreal. It is still so early in the season that I don't think this is anything for you to worry about.

--Dave Pease

Any comments or analysis on Felipe Alou using his "ace" Dustin Hermanson as the closer while Urbina is out? Is Hermanson more valuable as a starter or closer? The Expos comments that they have Tony Armas and other minor-league pitchers available to take Hermanson's rotation spot strikes me as putting the cart before the horse. It is harder for a young pitcher to be immediately successful as a starter than a reliever when he gets the call. Whereas, Hermanson is an established major-league starter and his prowess as a closer is unkown.

--Jeff P.

Jeff,

As you can probably guess, we think it's a borderline insane idea.

At this point, I think it's likely that Hermanson will be successful in any role his team puts him in. Remember, the last time he was pitching relief with regularity was when he was in San Diego, where he walked 22 in 31 2/3 innings of work in 1995. Obviously, he isn't the same pitcher; he still has the great stuff, but he's sharpened his control since then. So if he's used in the closer spot, I don't see why he wouldn't be successful.

That being said... the Expos need their most consistent starter to be their closer like the world needs another Elian Gonzalez story. Where's Steve Kline when you need him? Heck, didn't the Cubbies just cut Bobby Ayala?

We buy into the closer role as much as we buy into a guy who can't reliably be counted on to pitch five or six innings deep into a game with any quality. Pitchers like this probably exist, and it is to their teams' advantage to use them in a more limited scope. But Hermanson has already proven he's a major-league starter. Let him keep starting, push Kline into the closer role if you must have a rigidly defined fireman, and have Armas pitch long relief. That plan makes a lot more sense to us.

--Dave Pease

Rohypnol

I understand that he was trying to be funny, but that's the reason why Jeff Bower's comment that "It's only a matter of time until Oakland's heavy lumber breaks loose and starts scoring as often as a male escort armed with Rohypnol" was very offensive. Just consider this statement from the perspective of someone who has been raped by someone using this drug. I don't think that they feel "scored" upon.

--Rob

Rob,

It's one thing to push the envelope, and another to step over the line--which a few of you have let me know loud and clear was the case here.

The jab was directed at escort services and the folks that support that very shady industry, and was not intended to make light of date rape. My sincerest apologies to you and anyone else who found the remarks offensive.

--Jeff Bower

Statistics

I was curious if there was an electronic version of statistics books out there, with complete career numbers, etc. I'm looking for a way to do my own analyses and playing with the numbers and wonder where I get the data for it.

--Dave

Dave,

Two good places for finding statistics on the web are

  • Doug's NBA & MLB Stats Home Page

    Doug Steele has been updating his stats daily since 1994, and has them freely available for download here. We don't really know who he is or why he does this, but he's a machine, and we've used these numbers on countless occasions.

  • The Baseball Archive

    The folks at the Baseball Archive have something that's right down your alley: stats matrixes that go back over a century. You can download these (again, for free), plug them in to your favorite spreadsheet, and go to town.

Thanks for reading,

--Dave Pease

Daily Updates

I enjoy your website, but its not updated on a daily basis! Why? I'll check back in a few days, hopefully it will be updated.

--JGPRIMEX

JGPRIMEX,

Ever since the advent of Mighty Joe Sheehan's Daily Prospectus, we've had daily updates from Monday through Friday.

We're doing our best to get content up in a timely and consistent fashion. When we started baseballprospectus.com in 1996, we were lucky to get four pieces up every two weeks; now, we post that on a good day.

A note to everyone: thanks for reading, and for your feedback. We can't answer every note, but we read and appreciate them all.

--Dave Pease

We'd love to hear your thoughts on anything baseball-related at info@baseballprospectus.com. We'll publish the best of what we get periodically at www.baseballprospectus.com.

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