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Trend Spotting: Michael Bourn and a few notes

Trend Spotting: Michael Bourn and a few notes
July 21, 2013
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On successful teams or at least competitive ones it becomes easy to overemphasize or highlight specific player performance while undervaluing other complimentary production.

This probably occurs because polarizing production is most interesting at least in terms of penetrating or attentional biases. Be it the recent ineptitude of Mark Reynolds or the scorched earth Jason Kipnis leaves behind we enjoy obsessing over extremes in production which is not an unreasonable thing.

In fact, watching Michael Bourn plate the first two runs against the Twins Friday night probably instigated my interest in his production. One of the things that has his value flying under the radar is that entering the first game post all-star break. Bourn had played just 68 of the Indians 95 games.

Outside of being the center of tremendously easy twitter hash tags like #Bourntorun, the speedy centerfielder has been an altogether uncelebrated commodity.

Having missed over a quarter of the season Bourn is still on pace to be a three win player, which compared to his 2013 salary is an absolute steal. Based on just his current production Bourn’s value via WAR is 7.6 million dollars. Michael’s salary for the first year with the Tribe is seven million dollars.

Even if you project his annual average salary over the course of the deal which is twelve million dollars and you then project stable production over the course that has him at a 13-15 million dollar player.

First it is important to note that yes, the Indians are just a year into the Michael Bourn contract. However, it is as clear now as it was in the offseason that the Indians took advantage of a major gap in the market created by the CBA. If not for the CBA Bourn probably would have been paid B.J. Upton money or more.

In fact, based on Bourn’s 2009-2012 production with reasonable expectations of sustained production he probably should have fetched sixteen million plus per year.

Digressing, while Choo is having a career year in the bandbox that is called Great American Ballpark because of no compensation being tied to his name as well as the bare market probably receive a five year contract with an annual average salary around 16 or 17 million dollars.

Choo is not exactly young and his injury history creates concern. Alas the point being that the Indians will receive about 85% of Choo’s production for about 65-70% of the cost. Another thing of note being, that despite this year’s injury to Bourn, he has a much lower risk of major value loss due to injury something Choo is accustomed to. Finally is fact that Choo will be a year older than Bourn was when signing his peak reward contract.

Before I begin to come off as an Antonetti apologist I will shift focus to Michael Bourn’s current production and look at a few different peripherals that may affect his value as the progresses.

When browsing Bourn’s profile a few things stand out: sustained major decrease in walk rate and an unforeseen BABIP inflation.

The most concerning early season development has been his walk rate which we will get to in a moment but most importantly its tangible effect on OBP, which I would submit as the single most important statistic for a leadoff hitter.

Year BB% O-SWING % Z-SWING%
2007 9.8 24.1 60.7
2008 7.2 24.5 55.3
2009 9.3 22.5 56.3
2010 9.8 23.2 56.6
2011 7.3 23.2 60.4
2012 10 22.5 58.9
2013 5.3 26.9 55.5

(Note 2006 not included because of particularly limited sample.)

Bourn is a guy who when acquired you had to accept that his K rate could be an issue at times but that is OBP was good enough to cover it. One thing particularly concerning when you look at Bourn’s plate discipline are his struggles against secondary offerings.

One of the most noticeable things be it in peripheral statistics or just the eye test from Indians fans that watch a lot of games is that he struggles to pick up and barrel curveball/slider offerings.

This season’s decrease in walk rate is most clearly and easily tied to his increase in swings at pitches outside the strike zone. His zone swing percentage is not outside of career norms; however, the O-Swing % is a large shift.

Another issue has been his contact rate on pitches he swings at inside the strike zone which is currently a career low. Which is important because not only is he swinging at less pitches inside the strike zone but he is also making less contact in the zone which decrease your ability to lengthen at-bats, work walks and perhaps most importantly make quality contact.

Speaking of quality contact, we have to take a look at that BABIP and see if it is related to a batted ball profile shift or just an outlier season.

Year BABIP LD% GB% FB%
2007 0.33 17.8 57.8 24.4
2008 0.29 16.7 53.9 29.4
2009 0.366 20.6 57.8 21.6
2010 0.329 17.5 59.4 23.2
2011 0.369 26.6 50.6 22.8
2012 0.349 21.9 53.6 24.5
2013 0.386 17.9 61.4 20.8

This first important clarification is that Bourn has had some obscenely BABIP’s in the past which has made this season less shocking than it would be for a guy like Asdrubel Cabrera. Obviously this stems from a few things but probably most importantly is the speed factor which with the right batted ball profile inflates BABIP substantially.

Which you can see born out less noticeably with guys like Drew Stubbs or Choo or ben Revere.

What you can see is a LD% which compared to his past two seasons would be considered a distinct disappointment but the FB% decrease is actually a valuable shift. You hate to see the decrease in LD% as it is usually directly connected to BABIP spikes.

However, this is where a player like Bourn’s speed comes in to play. With the spike in groundballs Bourn’s speed as well as a little good fortune has taken advantage. His infield hit percentage is at a career high.

The deal with Bourn being this, as long as his FB% shift stays his BABIP could easily maintain as both line drives and ground balls are potentially valuable contact for the speedy centerfielder.

While evaluating four or five year contracts in the first year is a wholly irrational practice it appears that Bourn (outside of unforeseen injury issues) should easily produce more than the value of a clearly advantageous contract for Indians ownership.

A few stats that only interest me:

  • The Progressive Field Park Factor is 96, which represents a pitching favorable park and the third lowest number.
  • Fangraphs has the Indians projected at 83 wins while Baseball Prospectus has them projected at 84.
  • The Indians have a better run differential than the: Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers, Angels and Diamondbacks
  • Indians pitching BABIP against is 12th in the league at .295
  • Indians pitchers K/9 is third in MLB at 8.34. A really positive indicator of their ability to sustain the solid production from the starting rotation.

Interact with Michael by email at  michael.hattery@gmail.com and on Twitter @MichaelHattery

User Comments

Rich
July 22, 2013 - 6:12 AM EDT
Bourn has definitely turned into a free swinger this year. At his current pace he's walking almost 50% less than last year per at-bat. His stolen bases are down 33% from last year and about 50% from the year before. He went from a hitter who drew a lot of walks and stole a lot of bases to a free swinger who doesn't do much of either.

His OBP is right at his career norm - .332 this year verus .338 for his career. The reason is that his batting average has improved to .290 versus .274 for his career, which has made up for the lower number of walks. His BA is higher despite the fact that he's swinging at more bad pitches and his line drive percentage is down, which is really strange.

It looks to me like he's been lucky in that a lot of those ground balls have been in the hole and he's been able to beat them out. I don't know if that will continue.

If Bourn can be a little more patient and lay off swinging at so many pitches out of the zone, he would draw more walks and get better pitches to hit. HIs OBP is OK, but could be a lot better with improved plate discipline. As for his base stealing, he's only attempted 20 steals in 68 games. I think he said it's because he's not as familiar with the AL pitchers and they've made a point of keeping him from running. I think he should get a little more aggressive the rest of the way.

Once Bourn starts to lose his speed his value as a player will decrease dramatically.

If he'd been in center yesterday I'll bet he would have caught that short fly ball leading off the 7th and Masterson would have had a shot at a no-hitter.
Seth
July 21, 2013 - 2:15 PM EDT
Bourn is doing fine this year, but there are some things that would worry me moving forward. His current walk and strikeout rates would be the lowest and highest of his career, respectively. That, coupled with the lower rate of steals, and the fact that his primary value has always been tied up in his defense, which will naturally deteriorate, would make me concerned that a sharp downturn in performance could be around the corner. It would be wise to try to move him this offseason, and acquire a more typical corner outfield bat, where they could then swing Stubbs back to CF. Easier said than done, for sure, but what Bourn's production will look like in a couple years worries me.

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