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June 28, 2009

Prospectus Idol Entry

The First World Series Turncoat

by Matt Swartz

Thursday night, the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Philadelphia Phillies to take the three-game interleague series two games to one. Rematches of the previous year's World Series combatants have been a fascinating byproduct of interleague play. Even more fascinating is the role Pat Burrell plays in this one.

When interleague play began in 1997, many feared that it would take away from the excitement of the World Series. Previously, only the All-Star Game and the World Series allowed us, in a sense, to gauge which league was stronger. Otherwise, we could only speculate. But now, with hundreds of interleague matchups each regular season, the argument goes, we will have already seen which league is superior. Many argued that having the teams play each other during the regular season ruined the separation between the leagues and the intrigue of the build-up to the once-in-a-season opportunity the World Series presented.

However, one area in which interleague play has generated surprise excitement is World Series rematches. Since interleague play's inception, nine of the thirteen pairs of teams that have battled each other in the previous year's World Series have faced each other again the following regular season. Contrast this to actual World Series rematches. Since divisional play began in 1969, World Series opponents have rarely met again the following October. In fact, in the last fifty years, the only World Series rematch was in 1978 when the Yankees repeated their four games to two victory over the Dodgers. Thus, from 1959 until 1997 (the beginning of interleague play), rematches were essentially non-existent.

This season's interleague schedule gave us another World Series rematch in last week's Phillies-Rays series. Going into the series, the history of these rematches didn't look favorable to the Phillies. World Series losers have had the advantage in interleague play rematches, winning a combined 16 of 27 games going into the Phillies-Rays series in St. Petersburg. The Phillies started off bucking the trend, winning Tuesday night by a score of 10-1, but the Rays took the next two, winning Wednesday night by a score of 7-1 as well as the Thursday rubber match 10-4.

It has only been eight months, but a lot has happened to both the Phillies and the Rays since they last met. Thursday night's starter for the Rays was Andy Sonnanstine, who also started World Series Game Four, in which Jimmy Rollins led off with a double. Sonnanstine earned that Game Four start with a respectable 4.38 ERA and 3.0 SNLVAR in 2008. Rollins earned the opportunity to lead off with a WARP3 of 4.1 and an EqA of .286. However, in 2009, their fates have both reversed significantly. Sonnanstine has mustered an MLB-worst (among innings-qualifying pitchers) 6.60 ERA and 0.1 SNLVAR this year. And thanks to his MLB-worst (among plate-appearance-qualifying hitters) .254 OBP, as well as his -1.3 WARP and .208 EqA, Rollins was benched Thursday night, so Sonnanstine would not even get the opportunity to pitch to him again.

The teams themselves have changed a lot since October. The Phillies starter on Thursday night, Antonio Bastardo, was not even on the World Series roster. In fact, he didn't play at all for the Phillies in 2008, as he spent his year in the minors. Even more notable, he wasn't even on Baseball America's list of top-10 prospects for the Phillies. Bastardo's presence on the mound Thursday night was representative of how both teams have changed since October. The Phillies returned 19 of last year's 25-man World Series roster, and the Rays returned 18 of last year's squad.

There was one lineup change for both teams which turns out to be historically significant. Batting third as the Rays' DH Thursday night was the Phillies' 2008 starting left-fielder, Pat Burrell. Burrell is the first player in major league history to switch from the World Series winner to the loser and then play his old team the next year. (One player has switched from the loser to the winner and then played his old team the next year. Can you name him?)

Burrell's stay in Philadelphia was an interesting one. The Phillies drafted him with the first overall pick in 1998, and he garnered much fan attention as it was hoped that he would restore glory to a team that had been scorned by J.D. Drew, the first pick overall of the previous year's draft who refused to sign. Burrell was soon playing for Philadelphia, eventually breaking out in 2002 with a .318 EqA. Despite the fact that Burrell was a disappointment in 2003 with only a .250 EqA, many fans wanted him to succeed and cheered him on throughout his struggles. He eventually improved and became a consistent offensive contributor, with an EqA of .300 or above each year from 2005-2008.

Unfortunately, through his Phillies tenure, Burrell was a streaky hitter and some fans lost their patience. Burrell became something of a lightning rod-a folk hero to sabermetricians, getting at least 98 walks each year from 2005 to 2008 with OBPs between .367 and .400, but a frustrating hitter who to some fans looked at more third strikes than anybody, played shaky defense, and was horrible running the bases. But Burrell never spoke badly about the city, eventually fulfilling his prophecy, hitting a double off the top of the wall late in World Series Game Five (Part B!). It was his pinch runner who eventually scored the winning run that clinched the Phillies' first title since 1980. Even the angriest of Nega-delphians slowly turned around to Burrell, and he was given the opportunity to lead the Championship Parade atop the Budweiser Clydesdale carriage.

But as Tom Hanks noted in "A League of Their Own," there's no crying in baseball, and little room for sentimentality either. In the off-season, the Phillies' management determined that it was best to let Burrell go. Despite his role in the World Series victory and leading the ensuing parade, the Phillies let Burrell leave via free agency and replaced him with Raul Ibanez who has amassed a .339 EqA (compared to Burrell's .259). The Rays jumped at the opportunity to improve their right-handed power hitting, adding Burrell to a left-leaning lineup that had been vulnerable to the Phillies who won three World Series games started by lefties.

Burrell did have the opportunity to play against the Phillies during the 2009 On-Deck Series before the season began. The first of the two games was dubbed Pat Burrell Appreciation Night at Citizens Bank Park. Burrell even hit a homerun against Cole Hamels to lead off the second of the two exhibition games. The Phillies fans in Citizens Bank Park cheered. Pause for a moment to consider the oddity of that. Cole Hamels, certainly a folk hero of his own, surrendered a homerun. It was only an exhibition, but the Philadelphia fans, often maligned as the worst fans in the country, cheered an opponent's home run! After a decade of playing for the Phillies, Burrell had become a Philadelphian. Despite the years of frustration, Phillies fans all knew the name of his English Bulldog: Elvis, who joined Burrell atop the Clydesdale carriage that led the parade. They were both their own. Not only did Phillies fans cheer Burrell when he arrived in Philadelphia earlier this season to receive his World Series ring, but the Phillies honored his dog Elvis Thursday night before the rubber game, giving him a Championship Medallion to wear around his neck.

Although Burrell has struggled with injuries and a power outage this year, hitting just one homerun coming into the rematch series with his former teammates, he certainly had an incentive to perform against the team that replaced him. In Tuesday night's game, Burrell went 0 for 3 with a walk, but on Wednesday night's game, Burrell went 1 for 4 with a two-run homerun in the first inning, scoring and knocking in another in the eighth.

But it was his performance in Thursday night's game that showed us just what Pat Burrell brings to the table and in exactly the manner that was frequently lost on fans. On Thursday night, Burrell went 2 for 4 with a double and a walk. His sixth inning walk was the plate appearance that typified Pat Burrell. Phillies pitcher Chad Durbin was ahead in the count 0-2, but Burrell fought back and drew a walk. The Rays, who were leading the game 6-4 at that point, now had men on first and second with one out, and therefore Carlos Pena's subsequent fly out did not end the inning. The Rays went on to ice the game with a 3-spot in that inning. Most Phillies fans did not notice little things like this while he was in Philadelphia, but these walks were what made Burrell a sabermetric hero to the more enlightened members of the Phillies community. The difference Thursday night was that he did it to help defeat his old team.

In reference to our tendency to root for the same team as the cast changes, Jerry Seinfeld once noted that we were effectively "rooting for laundry." Still, something about Burrell's sixth inning walk sure made Phillies fans feel like they had won for just a second. They still keep rooting for him...especially since he's in the other league.

Matt Swartz is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matt's other articles. You can contact Matt by clicking here

29 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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amazin_mess

Solid. Thumbs up.

Jun 28, 2009 09:03 AM
rating: 0
 
strupp

I had to reread the article to decide a thumbs up/down vote... I'm goign thumbs up just for the ballsy decision to go away from the traditional recap and steer it towards Pat Burrell and the World Series aspect.

Jun 28, 2009 09:46 AM
rating: 1
 
dcarroll

I really liked what Matt did here. His article had a strong narrative that simultaneously shed light on Pat Burrell, the game on Thursday, and a good deal of baseball history. I also enjoyed the writing style, especially the references to Elvis and Seinfeld.

I have one quibble. Although it is true that there have been few WS rematches since 1959, there were a number in the 1950s, including one in 1958. But I get the point.

Jun 28, 2009 10:08 AM
rating: 1
 
Matt Swartz

Yeah, divisional play really introduced a lot of randomness to the World Series. The best team usually won the 162-game season in each league, but not necessarily the 5-game or 7-game LCS.

Jun 28, 2009 11:30 AM
rating: 0
 
Dr. Dave

Solid, and (unlike most entries this week) coherent. I only stumbled at "eventually fulfilling his prophesy". Huh?

Jun 28, 2009 10:09 AM
rating: 1
 
Matt Swartz

Burrell was supposed to lead the team to a championship. Ever since he was drafted, he was supposed to be a messiah for Philadelphia, and he went through somewhat of a tragic hero cycle in Philly where he was first lauded as the best young player in the league, then criticized as a failure, then criticized as not trying hard enough, then got the big hit in the World Series clinching win and led the parade. It was something you could write a movie about. It was as though the tragic hero had fulfilled his prophecy.

Jun 28, 2009 11:32 AM
rating: 2
 
Dr. Dave

Fine, except that you didn't mention that in the article. It seems an odd thing to expect a random reader to know.

Jun 28, 2009 12:05 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

I liked the article, though for some reason, it came across as more of a game preview or series preview type of article than a game recap. It was quite a focused, self-contained piece and gave a lot of background to the matchup itself.

Jun 28, 2009 10:35 AM
rating: -1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Thumbs up and my second favorite of the week.

Jun 28, 2009 20:47 PM
rating: -1
 
kmbart

Not impressed. I've read this same story about Burrell's TTO value being unappreciated a dozen times (or more) in the last five years in the local newspapers here in the Philly metro area. The Philadelphia phans did welcome back Pat, but they remain boo-birds for Rolen, J.D. Drew (and his little brother), Barajas, and the rest of the non-WS-winners who return. Burrell gets a pass because he 1) never bad-mouthed the phans, 2) never made excuses, and 3) the Phillies won the World Series.

I've enjoyed Matt's writing in his previous pieces, but this one seemed to lose its focus, despite the short turnaround, which I would have thought made keeping on topic easier. BTW, why was this titled "The First World Series"? And who was the player who went "loser to winner"?

Jun 28, 2009 11:24 AM
rating: -3
 
Matt Swartz

Burrell hardly got a pass while he was here. Constant personal attacks way moreso than any of the other guys you mentioned. He is remembered nostalgically because of WS naturally, but guys like Schilling certainly were cheered in Philly, as was Mitch Williams.

The title of the piece was supposed to be:
'The First World Series "Turncoat."'
but I think the quotation marks turned off the auto-title. Is there a way to fix this?

Jun 28, 2009 11:37 AM
rating: 2
 
kmbart

The word "Turncoat" is certainly an essential part of the title for this piece (gotta get that fixed, folks). That said, Burrell was hardly a turncoat - he all but begged the team to bring him back, but the front office had already decided to go with a different player, Ibanez as it turned out.

Can't argue with your assertion that Pat got his share of boos during his tenure in Philly, but I was speaking in regard to his reception upon return. Mitchie-Poo went from jeered to cheered (IMHO) because he stood up and took the questions after the game, then all through the winter, then when he came back with the Astros, and finally when he hung up his spikes and picked up a microphone. Schilling spoke for a lot of Phillies phans when he criticized management's commitment, but that punched his ticket out of town.

And you still didn't tell us who the loser-to-winner was ...

Jun 28, 2009 12:32 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Swartz

Yeah, I was joking when I called him a turncoat, hence the quotes, and hence the title being written wrong.

I think people had some fun guessing a couple weeks ago as to who the second pitcher to be traded midseason and win a WS game, and so I'm gonna let people try and guess about the loser-to-winner player was for a little while :-)

Jun 28, 2009 12:35 PM
rating: 2
 
dcarroll

Edgar Renteria?

Jun 28, 2009 13:44 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Swartz

You got it!

Jun 28, 2009 14:27 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

I was going to guess Marian Hossa!

Jun 28, 2009 15:23 PM
rating: 1
 
dsc250

That title makes a huge difference and needs to be changed immediately. You're at a bit of a disadvantage until the BP folks do, as the title on the main page doesn't really entice people to read it (and then if you do click on it it's mighty confusing). BP - fix this!

Jun 29, 2009 03:35 AM
rating: 2
 
dsc250

Glad it's corrected, although still missing the pretty-essential quotation marks around "turncoat."

Jun 29, 2009 09:18 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Just wasn't something that would work out well within our CMS, but the irony's been hashed here more than enough, I suspect.

Jun 29, 2009 14:40 PM
 
jtrichey

This did seem to be kind of all over the place. I am glad it is not just a newspaper recap though. This is the first one I've read, so we'll see how it stacks up to the others.

Jun 28, 2009 11:38 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

As for the article - it's good, but not great. The meandering in the early part did not flow well. The choppiness led me to think that it was written over a number of sittings. Once the Burrell aspect took over, the rest of the article went well.
Once more, Matt Swartz brought something interesting to the table, but could better edit his own work.

Jun 28, 2009 15:25 PM
rating: 0
 
lbihced
(744)

As a life long Philadelphia area resident and Phillies fan I enjoyed the article. It was well written and filled with a lot of facts, my kind of article. I'm not so sure how interesting it will be to fans across the country. I don't agree witht the statement that the Rays " jumped" at the chance to sign Burrell and though Burrell was well liked by the fans especially at the end of his stay I remember a lot of boos and his performance being sub- par for a some time. I will agree that Pat treated the fans better than the fans treated him. A class guy for sure.

Jun 28, 2009 15:29 PM
rating: 1
 
John Carter

Nice job of taking the bad pitching match-up from the ideal team match-up and making it interesting. Nice job of pointing out the historical significance of that team match-up. Those were some interesting facts.

I would prefer Matt to edit out all the repeated tidbits in his writing. Twice I read that the teams have changed a lot since October. Twice I read that Burrell led the championship parade, and twice I read that he is a Sabermetric hero.

That the Phillies and Rays have changed 6 or 7 players on their 25 man roster needs to be put in perspective. I'm not at all sure that is more than usual - even for World Series contestants.

The Seinfield quote is great, but overall the final two paragraphs are weak. Burrell's performance in the third game was not worthy of a climax of a long article. No discussion in the article is made until the conclusion that the Phillies phans were still rooting for Burrell. I understand from previous comments, you are a Phillies phan. Perhaps, your article should have been tied in some anecdotes about actual phans rooting for him - even if it is yourself.

Jun 28, 2009 21:39 PM
rating: -3
 
LindInMoskva

I would have picked a single theme, eliminating the paragraphs about interleague play, the stuff about Sonnastine and Bastardo, and spent more time on Pat.

Pat hit .215/.313/.413 in the second half of 08. and .071/.316/.143 in the world series. I thought that would have made a nice angle.

The comments from Matt about the city's expectations of Pat the bat early in the career maybe with a few comments about Scott Rolen not living up to his expectations of becoming Mike Schmidt would have been interesting in the article itself.

I think that this piece could have been more interesting playing up his disappointing 2nd half of 08 and 1st half of 09 (injury?). Some more on how despite being productive he was never seen as the star he could have (should have) been. As with most articles in BP there is little or no mention of defense, which I believe was a motivator for not retaining him.

Jun 29, 2009 04:59 AM
rating: -1
 
Richard Bergstrom

I think signing Ibanez shows how much the Phillies were motivateed by defense, or a lack thereof.

Jun 29, 2009 12:19 PM
rating: 0
 
Morley

Matt---Another great article. Comments by Bergstrom and hotstatrat are just nitpicking. Keep up the good work!

Jun 30, 2009 11:24 AM
rating: 1
 
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