By Tommy Rancel //
When Pat Burrell signed with the Tampa Bay Rays after the 2008 season, many saw a match made in heaven. The Rays needed a right-handed designated hitter who excelled against left-handed pitching but could also hold his own against righties. Burrell fit the bill.
Nearly 18 months, $16 million, and 572 plate appearances later, the perfect marriage ended in divorce. Burrell never adjusted to life as a DH, or in the American League, or both. In the end, “the Bat” hit 16 home runs in his year-plus with the Rays – or $1 million per HR. Not one of those homers came against a left-handed pitcher.
On May 15th, the Rays designated Burrell for assignment. A few days later, the San Francisco Giants signed Burrell to a pro-rated contract for the league minimum. With the Rays fronting the bill, the signing came with little risk to the Giants. So far, they have been handsomely rewarded for their small gamble.
In 96 plate appearance for the Rays in 2010, Burrell hit .202/.292/.333 with two home runs. As a member of the Giants, he has 104 plate appearances – hitting .286/.365/.484 with five home runs. Look at those slash lines again. Burrell was a .200 hitter with an OPS of .625 with Tampa Bay. In nearly an identical sample size with San Francisco, he sports an OPS of .849 – the production the Rays thought they would get.
It is hard to say what changed between the two coasts. In Tampa Bay, Burrell looked lost. He had no power and struck out 33% of the time. Although his batting average on balls in play was a reasonable .273 this year with the club, his .202 batting average was paltry. In San Francisco, he is back to spraying line drives across the diamond, and hitting a home run once every 18 at-bats.
There are a few theories as to why Burrell is producing for his new club. First, Burrell is playing in the outfield with the Giants. He has played 22 games in the field since joining the club. Of his 146 games with the Rays, he stepped on the field as a defender in just two of them. It has been suggested that some players have difficulty adjusting to a DH role.
Another more likely reason is the transition from American League to National League. Burrell would not be the first, nor the last, player to struggle after switching leagues – much less going to the AL East, the most top-heavy division in baseball. In early June, DRaysbay.com ran a story comparing hitters who switched leagues in the off-season. In their sample selection, players going from the AL to NL hit better than projected. Players moving from the NL to AL were right around average.
Whatever the real reason for Burrell’s resurgence in the senior circuit, you should take advantage. Currently, he is owned in less than 10% of leagues and is started in less than 2%. If you have an outfielder on the DL in a mixed-league, or if Burrell’s somehow unclaimed in your NL-only league, be sure to scoop him up.
For more on Pat Burrell and potential waiver wire pickups, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.