What can we learn from Pat the Bat?

Matt Klaassen on The Mysterious Case of Pat the Bat:

    Just over a year ago many (myself included) were lauding the Rays for their contract with a good hitter whose defensive problems would be rendered irrelevant in the AL as he filled their Cliff Floyd-sized hole at DH. The Phillies did not offer Burrell arbitration, and so the Rays didn’t have to give up draft picks. A win-win for the Rays. Now that they’ve basically admitted that it didn’t work out, what can we make of them, and, of course, “us” (the community of internet baseball bloggers who have nothing in common)?


    This isn’t to say that the Rays front office or their internet admirers are above reproach when they or “we” turn out to be wrong about something. A miss is a miss. The point is that while the tone of some analysts may seem certain, implicit in the good work is the assumption that we are working with “densities of probabilities,” and that inevitably, one will be wrong about (many) things (not me, of course, but everyone else). The goal is to be right more often than wrong. I think it’s safe to say that despite how the Burrell contract worked out, over the last few years, the Rays have accomplished that.

There will be misses. No general manager is going to bat a thousand, ever.

When you buy into older players, you're buying into a declining market. But here were Burrell's adjusted OPS's in the four seasons before the Rays signed him: 128, 122, 128, 125. In those four seasons he averaged 152 games played. In the two seasons since, he's played 146 games with a .218/.311/.361 line. You can talk about sluggardly sluggers in their 30s and the difference between the leagues all week long, but you still won't have explained one-fourth of Burrell's shocking decline. Or made the Rays feel better about utterly wasting $16 million.

Except the Rays are, I think, smart enough to know that sometimes $16 million doesn't buy a single victory, but instead is simply the cost of doing business.