Now a hitting coach, Pat Burrell wonders how much better 2020 data would have made him

Now a hitting coach, Pat Burrell wonders how much better 2020 data would have made him

Pat Burrell was gearing up for his first season as a Single A hitting coach in the San Francisco Giants' farm system before the world changed. Now, like most of us, he's been relegated to communicating with coworkers via Zoom meetings.

"Obviously, the first year I try it there's this pandemic that shuts the whole world down, but hopefully we'll get back to work," he said to NBC Sports Bay Area this week.

Burrell always thought he wanted to be back in uniform at some point but wasn't interested in all the travel. He lives only 20 minutes away from the complex of the San Jose Giants, the Class A Advanced team he joined this season as hitting coach.

Burrell sought out the coaching job. He knew it was on him to put his name out there. He received a call on Christmas Eve asking if he was interested in the San Jose gig and he saw it as the perfect opportunity.

It will be an interesting transition for Burrell, who did some scouting for the Giants after his playing days ended in 2011. League-wide, offensive philosophies are different now than when Burrell played. He referred to his era as "a different generation." I don't know about you, but when I think of a different generation I think of the '70s and '80s, not 2008. Time flies.

"We think we knew a lot about hitting when we were players and what we see a lot of times is pretty true. However, in my experience, what I thought I was doing as a hitter did not match up with what reality was," Burrell said. 

"My thoughts as a hitter, what I was trying to do physically, it just wasn't the facts. It doesn't really matter what we think, it's about what we do. A lot of hitters in our generation had the thoughts of swinging down on the baseball. We weren't doing that, we just had to tell ourselves that so that we weren't popping up on every pitch. In essence, we were actually swinging a little bit uphill to meet the angle of the pitch. When you dive into the whole scenario of what's changed, it's kind of fun to be a part of the transition that's going on right now.

"There was a lot more gut feeling (when I played), the eye test. But the game has changed and you have to be open towards it. A lot of the stuff that I've learned about the mechanics of hitting, how the body moves and all the stuff that goes along with it, it's been fantastic, I had no idea. Part of me wonders if I would have known all of this as a hitter, would I have been a better player? I don't know, I like to think so. ... No one in my generation knew all that information and it's here."

Several Phillies from 2000-2010 would have been better received in 2020. If Bobby Abreu was here now putting up the offensive numbers he posted from 1998-2006 he'd be revered. If Burrell was rattling off seasons now of .390 on-base percentages with 30+ home runs, many fans would be looking past the batting average and identifying his value.

Our perspectives have changed. Burrell in 2008 hit .250/.367/.507 with 33 home runs, 33 doubles and an OPS 25% better than the league average.

Bryce Harper in 2019 hit .260/.372/.510 with 35 homers, 36 doubles and an OPS 25 percent better than the league average.

Think about how they were received. It was almost the same offensive season, viewed in totally different ways 11 years apart.

In the Giants' system, Burrell is reunited with Gabe Kapler, his teammate in 2009 and 2010 with the Tampa Bay Rays. After nine years with the Phillies, Burrell spent a season plus a month in Tampa before signing with the Giants in May 2010 and ultimately winning his second World Series that year.

"I actually got a funny picture," Burrell said. "My mom somehow, I don't know what she was looking through but she found a picture of [Kapler] and I before a game in Tampa, whether it was '09 or spring training of '10, we're standing on the line before a game stretching in our Tampa Bay uniforms. So I sent it to Gabe and we chuckled back and forth. 

"We had conversations about post-playing stuff but it wasn't very in-depth. I always knew he'd be a part of the game and I knew I'd be doing something. ... When he got hired, we did play Pickleball down here one day, which was fun.

Burrell and Kapler teamed up and from the sounds of it, they were victorious. Burrell is a Machine, some have said.

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Zack Wheeler is all in to play in 2020 ... for now

Zack Wheeler is all in to play in 2020 ... for now

Zack Wheeler is all in.

For now.

The Phillies' big off-season acquisition on Sunday said he was committed to pitching this season, but he left the door open wide enough to back out.

"Yeah, definitely," Wheeler said when asked if he had considered opting out of the season like several other prominent big leaguers have done.

"We just have to see how things are here at the field and at the stadium. I'm happy with what I see so far. But things could change, especially once our baby's born. I always think about what's going on around me. Is it safe? Is it OK? Literally every single day. I have to just ask myself that. I'm going to continue to keep asking myself that every day."

Wheeler's wife, Dominique, is due to give birth to the couple's first child in about three weeks.

That's an anxious time to begin with.

Now, add in a pandemic.


"It's a very difficult decision," Wheeler said. "It's something that is still playing in my head. I have to be very careful here at the field, outside of the field, wherever I go. The baby's and Dominique's health is most important to me. So whatever I can do to make sure they are safe, that is the No. 1 goal for me. Baseball comes after that."

Wheeler has expressed his concerns to team officials, including manager Joe Girardi.

Frankly, every person affiliated with the club has the same concerns about the health and safety of their families.

"We've chit-chatted here and there," Wheeler said. "I think they know what position I'm in. I think we are going to sit down and talk about that. But we haven't done it yet. I've been happy with what's gone on so far here (with health and safety protocols). 

"But, yeah, I'm definitely going to sit down with Joe and whoever else just to reiterate that. I'll let them know how I am feeling. Joe's a family guy. Family comes first to him. That's the first thing he told me when I talked to him on the phone right after I signed. 'Family is first.' I know he recognizes that. He knows the situation I'm in. He loves his kids. He's a good guy. He is one of the reasons why I signed here."

There are a number of players in MLB whose wives are expecting. Mike Trout is one and he has expressed reservations about playing and compromising his family's safety.

Wheeler was asked if he believed MLB should step in and make a blanket decision for players whose wives are pregnant.

"Maybe they could have put that label on guys with pregnant wives. I do believe that," Wheeler said. "I think they did a nice job with everything else. But there are a lot of guys with pregnant wives right now, whether it's later on in the pregnancy, early on in the pregnancy, they are at risk. It's a very serious thing as we all know. Maybe they should have thought about that a little bit more. I don't know. Like I said, I can only worry about myself and do as much as I can personally to protect my wife."

Wheeler signed a five-year, $118 million contract in December.

Players who opt out of the season do not get paid their prorated salaries unless they have an underlying health condition that makes playing too risky.

Baseball-wise, Wheeler is on a good track. During the shutdown, he maintained his throwing program back home in Georgia. He got up to 80 pitches in his bullpen sessions at home and faced hitters in camp on Saturday. With the uncertainty surrounding Aaron Nola — he's throwing at a nearby facility but has not joined the team for official workouts — Wheeler could end up starting the season opener July 23 or 24.

That is, if the virus allows for a season opener. 

And all is well at home.

Wheeler expects to take the permitted three days paternity leave once the baby arrives. Then he will need to go through testing and health protocols before rejoining the team. He estimated that he would miss at least a start, maybe two.

The Phillies are prepared for sudden changes in their pitching rotations. Girardi said he'll have relievers piggybacked with each starter and a five-man starting staff with the backup club in Lehigh Valley.

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COVID-19 cases and player opt-outs mounting across MLB

COVID-19 cases and player opt-outs mounting across MLB

The Phillies have four players on the COVID-19 injured list (Hector Neris, Ranger Suarez, Scott Kingery and Tommy Hunter) and three more who have yet to arrive in camp because of coronavirus protocols (Aaron Nola, Adam Haseley and Christian Bethancourt).

We’re already seeing how unsteady and unpredictable this 60-game season will be. Nola is the Phillies’ best starting pitcher and Neris is their best reliever. Kingery is their starting second baseman. Haseley was set to start or split time in center field. Suarez was in the race for the fifth starter’s job.

So much for the Phillies would change without them, and it’s reasonable to expect at least a few of them will miss time early in the season. Phillies lefty Cole Irvin said Saturday he thinks it could take pitchers up to six weeks to return from coronavirus because it would require two weeks of quarantine, then the resumption of throwing, then a few bullpen sessions. The severity of cases varies, but it looks like it will generally cost pitchers more time than position players.

The best hitter in the NL East, Freddie Freeman, is also dealing with COVID-19 and is not feeling well at all right now, according to his wife Chelsea. Braves manager Brian Snitker told reporters Saturday "it will be a while 'til we can get him back." It totally changes the Braves’ equation and 2020 chances if their rock is missing for a third of the season.

Will Smith, Atlanta’s top-tier lefty reliever signed to a three-year, $39 million in the offseason, also tested positive. Then on Saturday, Braves starting pitcher Felix Hernandez opted out of the season, as did their first base coach Eric Young Sr. Four Marlins players tested positive as well.

Yankees All-Star infielder D.J. LeMahieu tested positive.  So did Royals catcher Salvador Perez, Twins slugger Miguel Sano, Padres outfielder Tommy Pham and Indians speedster Delino DeShields Jr. Last week, Charlie Blackmon tested positive. There are at least another dozen known or suspected cases around the league with more, surely, to come.

On Friday, Mike Trout said "Honestly, I still don’t feel comfortable" about the season ahead with a pregnant wife.

On Saturday, Dodgers left-hander David Price opted out of the season because of health and family concerns, joining King Felix, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Leake and Joe Ross. Buster Posey is reportedly mulling the decision too.

Other than that ... decent first weekend of camp?

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