Finding the Real Julio Borbon

Sometimes the timing works out well. On May 13 I wrote about my appreciation of the Rangers’ ability to make adjustments on the fly. They faced a number of problems early in the season, but found adequate solutions at first base, catcher, in the rotation, and in the bullpen. One area I neglected, possibly because the Rangers hadn’t moved to solve the problem, was center field. Julio Borbon impressed after making his debut last season, and was installed as the everyday center fielder to start the season. It was just a few days before I wrote this that he hit rock bottom.

On May 6, the Rangers and Royals engaged in a shootout. The Rangers jumped out to an 8-0 lead, but the Royals then cut that in half by the fifth before tying the game in the top of the sixth. The Rangers recaptured the lead in the bottom of the inning only to squander it again in the seventh. The Royals then took their first lead in the top of the eighth, but the Rangers scored two in the bottom half to take a lead they’d keep. Borbon had none of the fun, going 0-for-4 and lowering his season batting line to .184/.202/.230. The Rangers clearly had a problem in center field.

Rather than look for a fix, they let the problem play out. It turns out to have been the right decision. Since that game on May 6 Borbon has hit very well, .342/.379/.462 in 172 PA. That checks in a bit better than his 2009 triple slash of .312/.376/.414, which he achieved in 179 PA. In other words, after a painfully slow start Borbon has recovered to essentially improve upon his performance from 2009. While his season stats haven’t quite caught up — his wOBA still sits at a well below average .305 — he will have quite an impressive line at the end of the season if he continues this pace.

This is the kind of performance the Rangers envisioned when they drafted Borbon with the 35th pick of the 2007 draft. Coming from the University of Tennesee, he was considered something of a raw talent, a player with a few plus or plus-plus tools that still had plenty to work on. It didn’t take him long to show improvement. After a rough pro debut in 2007, Borbon hit .306/.346/.395 in the class-A California League before hitting .337/.380/.459 in the AA Texas League. Baseball America rated him Texas’s No. 9 prospect heading into the 2009 season. While they praised him as a “slashing leadoff man and solid center fielder in the Johnny Damon mold,” they did note that his plate approach, notably his ability to work the count, needed more work.

To that point Borbon had drawn a walk in just 5 percent of his plate appearances, and in 2009 he did improve on that, walking 33 times in 457 PA, or 7.2 percent of the time. His overall performance in AAA, .307/.367/.386, earned him a summer call-up and a place in the Rangers lineup. As he did in 2008 at AA and in 2009 at AAA, Borbon showed that he belonged. He ran a high BABIP, but he also showed even more discipline, walking in 8.4 percent of his plate appearances. It’s no wonder the Rangers considered him their starting center fielder for 2010.

That discipline, it appeared, was lost earlier in the season. He walked just once in his first 91 PA while striking out in 16 percent of his at-bats. But then, after the game against Kansas City, it’s like he picked up right where he left off last season. He has walked nine times in his last 172 PA, no great feat but still an enormous improvement from earlier. He has also cut down on his strikeouts. The most noticeable difference is on the results he has produced on balls in play. After posting a .219 BABIP to start the season he has been at .355 in his last 172 PA, which nearly matches the .360 mark he posted last season.

Can Borbon possibly keep up this high rate of hits on balls in play? It is possible. With a plus-plus speed tool, he can beat out his share of infield hits. His batting average has also been less dependent on a high BABIP this year. While he hit .312 on a .360 BABIP last year, he’s hitting .286 on a .313 BABIP this year, and again his average is .342 in his last 172 PA, when his BABIP has been .355. Part of this comes from his batted ball profile. His ground balls are up, fly balls are down, and line drive rate is up, at least compared to the earlier portion of the season.

Seventeen major leaguers posted a BABIP of .355 or greater last season, though few of them have achieved that mark on a consistent basis. For Borbon, however, it might not matter all that much. Last year he hit .312 on a .360 BABIP, but this season he’s hitting .286 on a .313 BABIP. When his BABIP rose, his average shot up with it. Even if Borbon’s BABIP does drop into the .330 range, he should still be able to hit for a decent average.

Heading into May, after a sub-.500 April, the Rangers needed to make a number of adjustments. They found reasonable solutions and replacements in some areas, but left center field alone. That non-move ended up working out. Julio Borbon has been excellent since mid-May

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

16 Responses to “Finding the Real Julio Borbon”

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  1. Jon says:

    I’m kinda mad at myself for dropping him from my fantasy team. I wish I had the same patience as the Rangers.

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  2. JR says:

    Who would you rather have at this point (for Fantasy): Angel Pagan or Borbon?

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  3. infamy707 says:

    Can any Ranger’s fan explain about what happened to his SB? Last year he stole 19 in 46 games while only getting caught 4 times. HOwever, this year only 8 SB to 6 CS. Is he getting bad jumps, being told to not run, slight injured?

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    • jimbo says:

      Having drafted him at a slight reach, then dropping him reluctantly and picking him back up…I’ve been keeping tabs on this and he’s definitely being told not to run.

      As for WHY his success rate is low, that I don’t know. Could a couple of those CS be a result of hit-and-runs? Whatever it is, I keep waiting for him to show some sign of life (he’s still in the free agent pool) but he’ll get on first base with second open and just isn’t going anywhere.

      Part of me wonders if the intent is to keep the wear and tear low in the first half, then let him run more in the 2nd half. That’s just pure speculation though. As a team, the Rangers are stealing bases at a higher rate than they did last year…so Borbon’s foot-cuffs are simply baffling to me.

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    • Gdawg says:

      He’s just not doing a good job of picking his spots and getting good reads on pitchers. I’m sure the team is working on it with him, but you shouldn’t expect many SBs from him for a while

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    • ramjam36 says:

      Hell, half the time he gets on, Wash bunts Andrus…I think that in itself has taken a lot of SB opportunities out of his hands. He does seem to be much more tentative with stealing compared to last season though…

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    • GhettoBear04 says:

      He was overaggressive earlier in the year, probably from the frustration of not getting on base enough to help the team. Elvis and others were guilty of it to some degree as well. At some point, they seemed to flip the switch off in what I can only assume to be an attempt at getting more efficient with it.

      They were pretty efficient last year, and they are still aggressive on the bases outside of stealing, so I imagine they’ll get back to it at some point after the ASG.

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  4. Dan says:

    I cut him even after waiting for him to get hot. He’s hitting 9th, so the production opportunities arent great despite being in the texas lineup, hes in a crammed OF, and most importantly, his biggest advantage: Stolen Bases, still are at drop dead levels.

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  5. t ball says:

    Also, Borbon DH’ed quite a bit in 2009, so it’s a bit more impressive that he’s turned things around while playing solid CF every day this year. Too bad his arm sucks.

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  6. EDogg1438 says:

    Johnny Damon????

    I believe BA meant to say “Juan Pierre” when they saw Borbon. Except Pierre actually walks more than Borbon and doesn’t strike out as much.

    Is it a good thing when a player’s upside is Juan Pierre?

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  7. marc says:

    his most recent sb attempts (5 or so) there were 2 pitchouts and one blown call on a pitch out (he was safe but got CS because of bad call).

    He also got caught stealing 3rd on what I dont remember the hit and runs or blown hit and run signals, but since his SB:CS ratio got bad someone told him not to steal and now they are bunting andrus every time borbon i son first now, tonight with 2 outs he was on first and advanced to 3rd on a pickoff attempt…

    I say bad luck, but I havnt watched every game this year

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  8. bballer319 says:

    Pierre? I’d say more in the Ellsbury mold…. (career numbers…of course in light of the sample size)

    Triple Slash / wOBA / +RC

    Borbon .294/.340/.390/.329/99

    Ellsbury .295/.347/.412/.347/109

    The speed is similar, though Ellsbury has a higher speed score. But both are capable of 40+ SB though Ellsbury will win the category.

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    • bballer319 says:

      Actually I didn’t realize Pierre’s slash was that close as well before posting.

      It appears that Borbon is the proper blend of both Pierre and Ellsbury (especially in terms of power).

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  9. Hey just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words in your article seem to be running off the screen in Internet explorer. I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let you know. The design and style look great though! Hope you get the issue resolved soon. Cheers

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