by john on February 28 at 3:02AM

If you arrived in Philadelphia with no prior knowledge of the Phillies and/or Pat Burrell, turned on 610-WIP, you would likely get the impression that Burrell is one of the worst players in Major League Baseball. Philly fans’ disdain for Pat the Bat seems to grow every day. As the 2007 season approaches, and sports talk shows start to focus on baseball more and more, the anti-Burrell fervor is growing. Aside from the extremists who will always hate Pat for being a non-Philly type guy (you know, pretty boy vs. lunch pail guy), there are certainly those with legitimate concerns. Burrell is assigned the duty of protecting Ryan Howard, the reigning NL MVP, in the Phillies lineup. It’s a job in which he allegedly failed miserably in September 2006, perhaps costing the Phillies the NL wild card spot. Will 2007 be any different?

Well, for starters, is Pat Burrell really that bad? Since the Phillies’ move to Citizens Bank Park two seasons ago, Burrell has 61 HR and 212 RBI. Not too shabby. He has an OBP of .388 (very solid) and SLG of .503 (ditto). He has also whiffed 291 times (not so solid). On the surface, these are the kind of numbers that should force pitchers to give Ryan Howard lots of pitches to hit, or at least to give them pause at pitching around him. Still, last September, in the heat of a playoff race, nobody was pitching to Howard. Was Burrell really that bad in September? The answer is yes and no.

Burrell’s September 2006 numbers (2006 overall numbers in parentheses): .250 BA (.258) .407 OBP (.387) .474 SLG (.501) 5HR (29) 11 RBI (95). Let’s be honest, those numbers aren’t a big fall off, if even a fall off at all. Burrell’s reputation suffers from a couple of key strikeouts with runners in scoring position in games the Phillies lost. It’s that simple. Burrell wasn’t great in September, but he wasn’t awful. But he was awful in a couple of spots that Phillies fans have trouble forgetting. Accordingly, 610-WIP is flooded with legions of Burrell haters.

So, what of 2007? Burrell may very well be the key to the Phillies season. If he can provide protection for Howard, the Phillies are likely headed to the playoffs. If not, the calls to 610-WIP will just get angrier and angrier, and Charlie Manuel may end up on the chopping block. From this fan’s viewpoint, it is integral that Burrell get off to a strong start; he needs the confidence back in his swing. What Phillies fans don’t realize is that they need Pat Burrell, and Pat Burrell needs the fans. If Pat the Bat has a big April, it will go a long way towards erasing the bad taste of last September.

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