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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