Tuesday, June 06, 2006

To Hustle Or Not

It might not be up there with pointing to centerfield and calling your shot, but the legend of Chase Utley continues to grow in small, indelible increments.

I did not watch last night's game after the first inning but I have since watched replays of the seventh inning during which Utley beat the throw to first on a ground ball to second and Jimmy Rollins scored all the way from second base on the same play. Utley routinely busts it down the line on every ball he hits and, like last night, occasionally beats the throw. Do more than a few players in all of baseball hustle as much as Chase? For his part, Jimmy has scored in two consecutive games by hustling, but, alas, he is just as likely to take a right turn mid-way down the first base path on a routine grounder, too.

Following Sunday's collision at home plate in which Utley lowered his shoulder, bowled over the Dodger catcher and scored the eventual winning run of that game, we have come to expect this sort of all-out abandon from the young second baseman. Utley doesn't know any other way to approach the game; he is unable to take off a single play.

Then there is Pat Burrell. On Pat’s first plate appearance last night he appeared to be taking off the entire AB. With Rollins on third and two outs, Burrell took every pitch but the last one, on which he grounded out. A runner in scoring position and Burrell swings at one pitch. But wait; it gets worse. An avid commenter on this and other blogs sent us all an email this morning, the subject line of which was: Pat the Bat.

It's nice to watch your cleanup hitter. After being called out on strikes in a key situation, he was tossed for arguing. LA and others say it was a missed call, but they all miss the point. It takes three strikes to strike out.

Here's Burrell's game [last night]:

He came to bat 4 times.
Each time he came to bat, the Phillies had 2 men on base. That's 8 baserunners to be driven in in a close game against the league's best pitcher.
That pitcher threw a total of 16 pitches to Burrell during those 4 ABs.
Pat Burrell swung at 3 of them. He looked at 13 pitches. No swings and a miss, no foul balls.
He grounded out 3 times, including a GIDP.
He was called out on strikes the other time.

This is your cleanup hitter, not your leadoff man. He is being paid to HIT.
He has one of the league's HR leaders hitting behind him, so opposing pitchers are NOT pitching around him. They are throwing strikes. They are not going to walk him.

At times like this, CM should be starting Dellucci a few games until Burrell figures it out.

Then, there is Bobby Abreu. I have finally come to the conclusion the Phillies should trade him if the right deal comes along. I don’t care how many bases on balls he draws, what his OBP is this season or what his lifetime batting average is. I have had enough of Bobby.

On Sunday, Abreu was literally adjusting his jock strap when he took the first pitch of his game for a strike. Now, everyone knows Bobby rarely swings at the first pitch anyway, but this was ridiculous. He proceeded to strike out that AB and not for one moment did he look the least bit ready or interested. Late in Sunday's game, he pulled up short chasing a foul ball toward the right field line and stands with the Phils leading 6-4. He was nowhere near the seats when he gave up on the ball. [For an example of how to make that play, look no further than the Diamondback's Shawn Green, who made a terrific sliding catch of a foul ball in last night's game.]

Last night in the first inning with Rollins on third base and one out, Bobby drew a walk against Brandon Webb, one of the best pitchers in the National League this season. Rollins had already stolen two bases in the inning and the Phils looked poised to take an early lead against Webb, who began the night 8-0. Abreu did his best to stifle the threat by being picked off first base and Burrell finished it off by grounding out.

I’ve grown weary of Bobby’s act, and, frankly, with Utley providing us with a daily reminder of what hustle can do, maybe the Phillies’ front office will have reached a similar conclusion. It isn’t going to get any better with Bobby or Pat and I’d rather see Dave Dellucci or Shane Victorino, both of whom hustle, playing more regularly instead of the Phillies current corner outfielders.


J. Weitzel said...

The thought of Pat Burrell lumbering around the bases and outfield in 2008 is enough to make his trade a No. 1 priority for Pat Gillick. He's getting his leg wrapped after every game these days, with problems with his foot, ankle and knee. Abreu still contributes in a significant way, but Burrell is beginning to slide into a real slump. He can't leg out many doubles anymore. He isn't swinging. His last homer was May 26.

Could the Phillies pick up a poor-fielding right-handed left-fielder to platoon with Dellucci, then move Rowand into the cleanup spot against LHP? I think they could, without missing a whole lot of production. Across baseball, teams have players like Dellucci who aren't playing.

RickSchuBlues said...

Couldn't agree more. Those two guys are hitting third and fourth and they clearly have no desire to live up to the importance of their roles in the lineup. Instead of looking to drive runners in, they stand up there like mannekins and try to get walks. I don't want to hear the crap argument that they're just selective. You can expand your strike zone to some degree if you are concerned at all about getting the job done yourself. Abreu and Burrell are pure anathema to the spirit that guys like Utley and Rowand are attempting to have "rub off", and they are absolutely constraining this team's ability to move forward.

nat said...

At least Abreu contributes something to the offense and comes to the plate with an idea of what he wants to do, even if that is just drawing a walk. Burrell on the other hand never seems to have a plan. If he so much as adjusted his jock while at the plate, he would show more preparation to hit than he has lately.

In fairness I should note that the Phils did manage to get a run across during Burrell’s GIDP last night. But since May 27, The Phillies "cleanup" hitter is 3 for 30, all singles, with 4 walks and 10 Ks. Somehow he has managed to knock in 4 and score twice in those showings at the plate.

In that same period, the much maligned Jimmy Rollins is 14 for 45 with 4 doubles, 3 walks and 6 Ks. Not that those numbers are great, either, but with all the hand-wringing over the lead-off spot, the lack of production from the No. 4 spot seems to be getting overlooked.

For another comparison, check Howard over that period: 7 for 34, 5 homers, 10 RBI. He has 3 more Ks than Burrell, but also three more walks.

Small sample sizes, I know. But with Burrell, we actually have the large sample size of his career to look at which shows that he tends to fall into extended funks that bring the phrase “teats on a bull” to mind while he’s at the plate. When he gets in one of these phases, he should not be batting clean-up, especially when you have a guy putting up numbers that would be respectable for that spot in the order.

The Phillies could trade either Abreu or Burrell as far as I’m concerned, provided they get something useful in return, but they would miss Abreu more. And we haven’t even compared their fielding abilities. Abreu may never run into a wall chasing a fly, but at least he can run.

Rev. Smokin Steve said...

I would totally prefer to see Burrell go over Abreu.

His penchant for not swinging when runners are in position has driven me crazy for years.

Chase Utley day by day is becoming one of my all-time favorites. He gets you 10 extra hits a year just by hustling. I love that.

Tom Goodman said...

Burrell's stock cannot be that hight right now, but a few teams will look at his rbi total from last season and his projected ones from this year and figure he can contribute; and they may be right.