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Billy Burns Watch: Still An Exciting Enigma

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One strike and ... one ball?
One strike and ... one ball?
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

First of all, I think there is a misconception that I am anti-Burns when nothing could be farther from the truth. I love Burns, both as a fan and also as a "reporter" (I interviewed Burns at spring training in 2014 and he could not have been nicer), and I think he has provided one of the feel-goodiest of the feel-good stories this season has had to offer anyone whose surname is not Brooks.

I have always championed Burns as likely being a solid "4th outfielder," even back when the A's acquired him and there was much skepticism around whether he had big league potential at all. The question is whether he will emerge as a legitimate every day CFer and the early answer was "yes, yes, and YES!!!"

To clarify where I stand on Burns, I like him and believe he will prove to be at worst a valuable 4th outfielder. I just also see him as having real potential to flame out from the player he was in May and June -- which was not only a terrific every day CFer, but arguably in the conversation for Rookie of the Year.

My concerns have centered largely around Burns' low walk rates and his vulnerability to being pounded inside when he bats LH. July was certainly not kind to Burns (really, for whom was it kind if you were an A's batter?). His July slash line was a "ruh-roh!" inducing .258/.287/.320 and since walking twice on June 16th Burns had walked just 4 times in his past 36 games before today (after I wrote this, he walked today, woot).

All of these stats come in small samples, as does the next one I will throw your way. This one kind of caught me off guard because one can easily recall a spate of weak ground balls Burns has hit, and beaten out for infield singles, from the left side. However, as time goes by and the sample grows, Billy Burns' L/R splits appear to be widening and not just a little. A lot.

For the season now:

Batting RH, Burns is hitting .327/.371/.418

Batting LH, Burns is hitting .287/.319/.372

That's not all bad news. A natural RH batter, Burns is more of a normal hitter from the right side, taking a healthy cut and able to drive the ball enough that he cannot be played in a 7-infielder alignment. From the left side, of course, he is all slap and slash with virtually no slugging and at least so far also without the ability to convince pitchers to throw him 4 balls.

When you put it all together, at worst you have a player with similarities to Craig Gentry -- minus some defensive greatness but with ample value as a 4th outfielder. The question persists as to whether Burns has enough to offer -- in particular from the LH batter's box -- to become entrenched as an every day CFer for a contending A's team.

I still say that from the left side I would like to see less emphasis on trying to beat out bleeders, and more emphasis on working deep counts and mixing in walks. I would also like to see him become a more relentless presence on the bases -- how many times will he be wiped out by a Vogt or Davis DP before the A's just turn him loose and put the onus on the catcher to throw him out?

But I like the way the defense is developing (today's 1st inning misread notwithstanding) -- he still outruns some mistakes but he has also made quite a few legitimately excellent plays -- and I think he can actually hit LHPs. So he continues to be a work-in-progress, and with nothing imminent in the pipeline coming up in CF it appears we will get a bigger sample to find out what Trending Downwards Slappy can do from the left side. Walk on, bruddah!