I posted that comment in an MLBTradeRumors.com article upon the news of Pat Burrell’s retirement. Burrell, like Drew, was a top 2 overall pick in the amateur draft. Burrell, like Drew, had played in the majors for over a decade predominantly in the National League. Both had played for championship teams. Yet this statement was met with much scorn. The crux of my argument centered on (1) Burrell was noticeably healthier, and (2) the expectations of Burrell, as Burrell was constantly thought of to hit 3rd or 4th or 5th to drive in massive amounts of runs. Burrell played in 140+ games 7 seasons to Drew’s 2 seasons. Burrell had 7 seasons of 80+ RBIs & 9 seasons of 20+ HRs. Drew has (being that he is still active) 2 seasons of 80+ RBIs & 5 seasons of 20+ HRs. Easy enough, so how had Burrell received $30,000,000 less? The answer has to be beyond JD Drew’s agent Scott Boras, considered the best agent in all of baseball.
Sabermetrics tells another story, and people were happy to point it out: Burrell has a career 21.9 WAR in 1640 games; Drew has a career 47.6 WAR in 1566 games. Metrics showed Drew played tremendously better defense & was a much better baserunner. I did not understand how a highly calculated system could be more wrong; how do “advanced” metrics show such appalling numbers for a 5th place hitter for two World Series teams? How do “advanced” metrics show Burrell played poorly when he did his job year-in year-out? Burrell was expected to have copious amounts of RBIs and he did. Drew seemingly bounced around to whatever team gave him the most money; Drew didn’t even sign when he was the #1 overall pick! How can advanced stats show Drew has had THAT much of a better career when no team has relied upon him to be a centerpiece? No lineup built around or asking Drew to be an important cog won the championship — what are “advanced” metrics telling us??
* David O’Brien (Atlanta Journal Constitution): “I’d have to go with Burrell’s career over J.D. Drew’s, because of health. Drew has played more than 140 games only twice.”
* Jayson Stark (Senior Baseball Writer for ESPN): “Tough call. At least Burrell was always into it!”
* Mychael Urban (Radio host): “Drew’s career isn’t over, is it? But if I had to make a call now, Pat’s had a better run. By a mile.”
And this was a turning point for me in using “advanced” metrics. Burrell hit 3rd, 4th or 5th 70.8% of the 1529 games he started. Drew hit 3rd, 4th or 5th 50.5% of the 1393 games he has started. Thus, Burrell was relied upon more. Both are power hitters expected to drive in runs. Raw stats, in this isolated argument, are showing Burrell as a better player while metrics are showing Drew far superior. The true answer, of course, is subjective but if lineup placement is any indication, Burrell had a bigger role & impact.
Keeping in mind the old adage “Numbers can be deceiving”, metrics need to be used carefully when calculating impact just as raw stats need to — neither tell the whole story nor should be used as an end-all-be-all. Burrell & Drew have played predominantly in the National League. What is the importance of lineup placement in the National League? How can raw stats & metrics be used to create/understand the most consistent-scoring lineup possible when a National League team has to deal with the impending out of the pitchers spot?
Why did Pat Burrell hit in the middle of the lineup 70.8%, 20% more of the time than JD Drew if all metrics indicate JD Drew the superior player? How good of an agent is Scott Boras?