I must assume unless otherwise informed that Pat Burrell acquired the nickname Pat the Bat for his prowess at the plate not in the field. So imagine my surprise over the last two or three seasons to watch him develop into a very decent left fielder, fearless and powerful of arm, and an utterly confused hitter, tentative and prone to pulling off the ball.
Two years ago Pat, then 25 years old, hit .282, slugged 37 homers and drove in 116 runs. Great things were predicted for him. Then, everything fell apart. The next season his average plummeted to .209, his home runs dropped to 21 and his rbi total sank to 64. Everyone had a theory on what went wrong and none of these helped. At times Burrell looked so confused at the plate it was painful to watch. Everyone, even the batting practice pitchers, knew to keep the ball low and away. Larry Bowa sat Pat from time to time, further undermining his confidence and souring their relationship.
At the start of the 2004 season Pat returned a new man. During the first two months of the season he hit over .300, drove in runs and seemed to regain his confidence. But the occasional at-bat during April and May showed flashes of his past nightmares and, inexorably, his average began to decline, the power figures dropped and the strikeouts starting coming in bunches again. The one number that defied gravity was his rbi total, which remained among the league leaders.
Throughout his woes Pat developed three bad habits. The first was to simultaneously raise his arms, rock backward slightly on the balls of his feet and suck in his midsection, presumably backing off a pitch he believed was inside or at least trying to persuade the umpire it was. More often than not he seemed to be persuading himself not the umpire; and more often than not he was mistaken. The second was to lunge awkwardly for pitches clearly out of the strike zone, literally flailing at pitches no one could hit. The third was to take an inordinate number of strikes, suggesting that he was guessing quite a lot, mostly incorrectly.
It is difficult to know how players of his caliber fall into such bad habits. One thing is clear, however; neither he nor anyone around him seems able to come up with a solution. The Phillies will stick with Pat at least another season. After all, a little more than half way through 2004 he has driven in 62 runs. But if the average and power figures continue their descent into next season, look for the Phils to try and move Pat for some young arm also bright of promise but in need of some reclamation and a change of scenery.