Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Third Base Domino Effect

With the Nationals dealing their third baseman Vinny Castilla to the Padres a few days ago, the possibility of changes at third for other teams are bound to happen. It is a simple matter of cause and effect - one deal gets made, others follow. The most obvious team impacted by this is San Diego (since we know Ryan Zimmerman will get the job in D.C.). The Padres have a new third baseman in Castilla, but what becomes of FA 3B Joe Randa and displaced starter/former top prospect Sean Burroughs.

I should say this off the bat – David Bell isn’t going anywhere. He’ll be a Phillie in 2006. Hopefully, the Phillies take note of his crazy left-right splits this year and find a third baseman who hits righties well to share the job with him.

Randa’s hits better against lefties than righties so he wouldn’t make a good match. Granted, Randa’s .264/.322/.452 line against righties is better than Bell’s .199/.260/.287 line, but that isn’t really saying much. That is really an awful, awful line. I’m astonished as to how poorly Bell hit righties this year even six weeks after the fact. It still hasn’t exactly sunk in yet. From 2002-2004, Bell hit just .235/.311/.352 against righties good for a meager .663 OPS. Compare that to his .853 OPS over the same period against lefties and you can see even more clearly why the platoon is a smart idea. I’m one of David Bell’s biggest supporters by the way, but that has to go out the widow when evaluating what realistic goals he can meet in 2006. This is an example of how stats can be useful – they don’t play favorites. Anyway, back on topic, the original point here is Joe Randa should not be the number one option to platoon with Bell in 2006, but should be one of the many guys considered. I think he may be done personally, but I thought that before this year and he was solid. Not the number one option, but an option.

San Diego’s surplus of third basemen now means that Sean Burroughs is in all likelihood the odd man out. Burroughs is a very interesting guy. He was the 9th overall pick in the 1998 draft and his early minor league statistics were eye popping. He developed consistently throughout his stint in the minors and finally got the call to the bigs to start the 2002 season. His 2003 season in the majors was above average: .286/.352/.402 with an OPS+ of 105. He even chipped in with 7 steals in 9 tries and 6 triples (good for 9th in the league). He seemed like a prospect destined for a long, successful major league stretch with plenty of room to grow.

Sean Burroughs - The Man In Question

John Sickels (minorleagueball.com), for my money the authority on minor league prospect evaluation, thought very highly of Burroughs as he was rising through the San Diego system. Sickels was not alone in his high praise for the kid. Scouts were nearly unanimous in agreement that Burroughs would be a player. Power was always the concern, but his sweet swing was too good to complain too much about. It was the picture perfect swing that was to led to doubles and good gap power. These stats and attributes are often the indictors for future homerun power as the player puts on strength and gains experience. It hasn’t happened yet for Burroughs. Sickels had this to say about him in a Prospects in the Year 2000 retrospective,

“[Burroughs is] not as good as he could be or should be. His power has not developed, and he looks like a player who simply topped out too early. Was in the book after hitting .359/.464/.479 in the Midwest League at age 18."

The book in the quote refers to the great prospect guide Sickels puts out every year and it comes highly recommended from me. It is by no means a big budget operation (his family helps with shipping, packaging, and the whole bit, its quite adorable really) and I’m all for supporting a man who puts so much time, effort, and passion into a product that captures the true essence of baseball player development. Sorry for the commercial, it won’t happen again. Back to Burroughs, I promise.

Sickels had Burroughs rated as the 9th best prospect in baseball in 2000, 11th in 2001, and 3rd in 2002. Baseball America had him 7th in 2000, 6th in 2001 and 4th in 2002. I mentioned it way back when talking about Eric Munson – just because a guy was once a highly thought of prospect doesn’t mean anything if he has proven to be a dud. The one thing that needs to be remembered and reevaluated perhaps is why the player was thought of so highly in the first place. Burroughs is a good defender at third, a good all-around athlete, he still has that pretty left-handed swing, and 2006 will only be his age 25 season.

I think there is a chance Sean Burroughs is a late bloomer and will develop at least into a league average starting third baseman somewhere down the line. He is a bit unconventional at third – more speed and athleticism than power. There is some hope that the power will develop, but even the most optimistic don’t think he’ll ever hit more than 20 homers in a season. This describes the future for Burroughs – I have to believe that the Phillies care more about 2006 than taking on a long-term project at third (and rightfully so). So is Sean Burroughs relevant to the discussion of Phillies third base platoon options at all? I tend to think so.

Not only do I think he’ll be at least an average third baseman in the future, but I think he’d be at least an average platoon partner for Bell now. Burroughs didn’t have a good 2005 season. He hit .250/.318/.299 for the year. That slugging percentage is beyond terrible. I don’t even know what that means. What is beyond terrible? I’ll tell you what. Sean Burroughs slugging percentage in 2005. Against righties, his stats look ok at first - .270 average (not bad), .343 OBP (solid enough), but then it all comes apart with the disastrous .319 SLG. The guy had no power in 2005. Okay, he had 1 homerun. So he had a teeny tiny bit of power in 2005. Not good enough. His OPS against righties was .662 – better than Bell’s .547, but worst than Randa’s .766.

I am not making a convincing argument here. The bit of hope I cling on to lies in the 2002-2004 splits: Burroughs numbers then were serviceable - .295/.356/.377 against righties. That’s a .733 OPS – better than Bell’s .663 and comparable to Randa’s slightly better .766. Factoring in the 11-year age gap between Randa and Burroughs, I think we can give Sean the benefit of the doubt.

Burroughs is arbitration eligible for the second time this offseason. He made $1,675,000 last season and would get a similar amount if tendered (as expected) by the Padres. I have no idea what the Padres would look for in a trade for him, although, after the Castilla deal, Pads GM Kevin Towers openly admitted they lost a great deal of bargaining power over other teams when they start offering Burroughs around. There is always the possibility he returns to the Padres in a backup role, something Towers also touched on in the news conference after trade. I’m not sure if Sean Burroughs is the answer for the 2006 Phillies, but his is a name that should be discussed. Burroughs via trade and Randa via the free agent market – put them both on the long list of potential 2006 Philadelphia Phillies.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe this is a stupid question, but ill ask it anyway. its hard to tell from this picture, but burrough seems to be a big guy; almost a thome body shape. his OBP seems decent enough so he's making contact with the ball. why isnt there any power behind his swing? is there any way he could learn power?

7:04 PM  

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