Michael Bourn’s Market Value

If you go to the Free Agent Leaderboards, you’ll see Michael Bourn‘s name at the top, as the sort for the list is set to descending 2012 WAR, and Bourn has the highest WAR this season (+6.1) of any upcoming free agent. We can pretty much guarantee that Bourn isn’t going to sign the largest contract this winter, though, as free agent value isn’t simply based on a player’s most recent season, nor are all skills as likely to be sustained going forward, and various skills have different valuations in the marketplace. Bourn’s combination of average offense and terrific defense is a valuable package, but how will it translate into market value?

Well, before we figure out how much he’ll get paid, we first have to figure out how much of his 2012 value he’ll retain in future years, or at least, how much teams will expect him to retain. There’s no question that the average offense/great defense package can be highly valuable, but it’s also a young man’s skillset. Here is a list of every player in the UZR era (2002-2012) that has posted a +5 WAR season while running a wRC+ below 110.


Season Name Age AVG OBP SLG wRC+ FldPos BsR WAR
2009 Franklin Gutierrez 26 0.283 0.339 0.425 105 33 2 6.3
2012 Michael Bourn 29 0.274 0.346 0.391 106 24 4 6.1
2004 Andruw Jones 27 0.261 0.345 0.488 110 27 1 5.9
2007 Jose Reyes 24 0.280 0.354 0.421 107 19 3 5.8
2007 Troy Tulowitzki 22 0.291 0.359 0.479 107 22 3 5.6
2003 Luis Castillo 27 0.314 0.381 0.397 108 15 6 5.3
2007 Ryan Zimmerman 22 0.266 0.330 0.458 105 19 3 5.3
2004 Jimmy Rollins 25 0.289 0.348 0.455 107 14 6 5.2
2009 Nyjer Morgan 28 0.307 0.369 0.388 106 26 3 5.2
2004 Corey Patterson 24 0.266 0.320 0.452 97 27 3 5.2
2011 Brett Gardner 27 0.259 0.345 0.369 103 20 5 5.2
2007 Brandon Phillips 26 0.288 0.331 0.485 106 19 (1) 5.1
2004 Carl Crawford 22 0.296 0.331 0.450 107 19 4 5.1

FldPos is a player’s fielding rating by UZR and the positional adjustment added together to aid with comparisons across positions.

Bourn is already the oldest player on the list, as every other player who put up this combination of decent hitting, great fielding, and value on the basepaths was 28-years-old or younger. The average age for the players who pulled off this kind of season was 25. It’s not any kind of secret that speed and defense peak earlier than offense, but I was surprised that no player in his thirties had put together that kind of performance during the last 11 years.

Because many of these similar seasons came early in careers of active players, we don’t actually have that much data for this group of players in their thirties. There are a couple of examples of guys who have continued to flourish — Brandon Phillips and Jimmy Rollins — and a couple of scary examples — Andruw Jones and Luis Castillo — where their value just disappeared after they turned 30. Jones’ collapse was historically unique and Bourn has more power than Castillo ever did, so you can probably make a case for Phillips and Rollins being more likely outcomes, but then again, both make contact at much better rates than Bourn does.

And that might be the real key to Bourn’s payday. No one’s going to pay a rate that expects another +20 UZR season, but even if you just give Bourn a league average defensive rating this year, he still grades out as a +4 win player. Durable center fielders who can hit and add value on the bases are valuable even without plus defense, so Bourn doesn’t necessarily need a suitor to buy into his UZR in order to get a pretty nice contract. But he does need teams to be convinced that he’s going to keep hitting, and historically, the low power/high strikeout combination has not been one that has had much success over the long term.

Over that same 11 year stretch, there have been 57 players who have posted a K% between 17%-23% and an ISO under .125 in one year, meaning that they struck out at a rate around the league average without hitting for a lot of power in that same season. Of those 57, only 14 (24.5%) have posted a wRC+ over 100, and three of those 14 belong to Bourn himself. Among the guys who were legitimately good hitters with this skillset, two of them added power — Andre Ethier and B.J. Upton — while the three who didn’t — Brett Gardner, Emilio Bonifacio, and Cameron Maybin — took significant steps backwards in the next season.

Bourn is much more in the Gardner/Bonifacio/Maybin mold than he is Ethier or Upton, as he’s simply too small to add much power going forward. The fact that he’s put up four seasons of roughly average offense without power or contact shows that his speed allows him to make this skillset work, but it’s a slippery slope down if he begins to lose a step or two. There are a lot of parallels between Bourn and Carl Crawford, though Bourn has even less power and is hitting free agency at a later age, and Crawford’s recent performance is likely going to be in everyone’s memory when analyzing what kind of deal they should offer Bourn this winter.

Crawford’s not even the scariest comparison for this type of player, though. Here is a side-by-side comparison of the age 26-29 seasons of Michael Bourn and Chone Figgins:

Name PA BB% K% ISO BABIP wRC+
Michael Bourn 2695 9% 20% 0.097 0.354 105
Chone Figgins 2544 9% 15% 0.111 0.339 107

Figgins made a little better contact and had a little more power, but they were basically the same type of hitter. Then, at 30/31, he got huge boosts from his defensive rating and was worth +10.1 WAR over two seasons, but then everything just fell apart without notice. The power went away, the BABIP collapsed, and Figgins has turned into one of the worst players in baseball. His 2009 season is probably the closest comparison to Bourn’s 2012 season that we’ve seen in recent years, and it was the last time Figgins was even a remotely decent baseball player.

The fact that Figgins didn’t collapse until 32 might be seen as a positive, but the fact that he collapsed without warning should be a bigger red flag. We already know that it’s pretty rare for guys to maintain these kinds of performances into their thirties, and it’s likely that at some point in the next couple of years, Bourn’s value is going to crater. Maybe that’s three or four years down the line, in which case the value from the first few years could make signing him to a big contract worth it. But, if that crash is coming next year, or even the year after, then he’s a free agent landmine, and the kind of guy who could tie up a large part of a team’s payroll while producing little in return.

Going forward, I’d probably project Bourn as a +3 to +4 win player, which is generally worth $15 to $20 million per year. But, even though he’s younger than Josh Hamilton or Nick Swisher, I’d be very uncomfortable going more than three years for Bourn. It isn’t just about what he’ll be in a few years – it’s about the potential risk if it all goes south real quick.

My guess is that someone will go five years for Bourn, and he’ll end up with a contract for between $75 and $100 million. Given his contact issues and the amount of his value that’s tied to his defense and baserunning, though, I don’t think I’d go beyond three years, and probably top out at $50-$60 million total. He’s going to get more than that, but I don’t know that I’d bet on him being worth more than that going forward.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Eminor3rd
Member
Eminor3rd
3 years 10 months ago

It’s just crazy to me to think of Bourn as a potential $100m player. Times are changing, I guess.

AJP
Member
Member
3 years 10 months ago

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t comprehend a defensive specialist player being paid that much. When it comes to UZR I feel fWAR takes too much value out of UZR and not enough out of the other stats. Players’ values that are highly reliant on UZR are too fickle to be paid big bucks. Not to mention a speedy defensive CF isn’t difficult to find, granted most do not hit well, but nevertheless they aren’t scarce. Comparable players that are offensively and somewhat defensively similar to Bourn are Span, Gomez, and Crisp, all won’t make near the money Bourn will make. Bourn is amazing with the glove, hits, and steals enough bases to be an everyday player; however he’s no more than 10 million a year for 3 years IMO. As Dave mentioned as soon as those skills start to decline, this could very easily be a Figgins 2.0 situation.

nik
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nik
3 years 10 months ago

Rollins is at 4.8 WAR with WRC+ of 104 this year at the age 33. So he might be able to get on top of that first list with a solid final week.

philosofool
Member
Member
philosofool
3 years 10 months ago

Way too much power to be a Bourn comp, though.

Justin
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Justin
3 years 10 months ago

Bourn will get a 4y/55MM deal.

chuckb
Member
chuckb
3 years 10 months ago

He’s going to do much better than that. Even if it’s just a 4 year deal, I’d bet he gets closer to $75 M than $55 M.

James
Guest
James
3 years 10 months ago

From who? is my question – it seems most of the usual suspects are going to be out of the bidding, either because their outfields are set, their money is already tied up, or they have different organizational philosophies.

Spike
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Spike
3 years 10 months ago

much better than $55M for 4 yrs?! that’s crazy talk. who is going to be that crazy?

Krog
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Krog
3 years 10 months ago

I think any team needing a center fielder would gladly give Bourn 4/55. He will probably be able to get a fifth year thrown in for 5/70.

Bourn Again
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Bourn Again
3 years 10 months ago

Low power/high strikeout? Just turning 30? Comps to Chone Figgins?

Welcome to Seattle, Mr. Bourn! You’ll fit right in. Would you prefer to cultivate hatred from the Mariner fanbase while batting 1st, 2nd or 9th? Lots of space available.

Sleight of Hand Pro
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Sleight of Hand Pro
3 years 10 months ago

well done.

vivalajeter
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vivalajeter
3 years 10 months ago

Are there any attempts to see how much the free agent market values each component of WAR? It’s floated around that 1 Win is $4-5MM, but we know that not all 5 WAR players will make the same salary (even on a 1-year deal). For all we know, the value can be:

1WAR from baserunning is $2MM
1WAR from Fielding/Position Scarcity is $3MM
1WAR from hitting is $6MM

I’m obviously making up numbers, but for someone like Bourn or Rollins, their WAR is made up of components that seem to be undervalued compared to someone like Prince Fielder. It’d be nice to see if the components had established values.

bpdelia
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bpdelia
3 years 10 months ago

Xactly that’s what im getting at below. Although maybe “undervalued” is wrong. Perhaps those components are properly valued considering how,much more commob they are. The,minors is LOADED with speed and excellent fielders while there are maybe 50 elite hitters in the world at any one time. This is why griffey, bonds, Rodriguez were paid so well. The combination,of these skills in a durable consistent player comes along once a decade at best

fmf
Member
fmf
3 years 10 months ago

“Xactly”?

jpg
Guest
jpg
3 years 10 months ago

I agree 100%. It’s obvious that $5M/WAR model just doesn’t work since the various components of WAR are valued so differently. After all, it’s pretty clear that Bourn and other like players won’t be commanding contracts with an AAV of $25M+. It’s a one-size-fits-all formula that doesn’t actually fit all.

philosofool
Member
Member
philosofool
3 years 10 months ago

This is a very cool idea. I’m not sure how you would approach developing the model.

Part of the equation has to be risk factors. Take a guy with +5 base running. A total collapse isn’t going to cost you more than 10 runs, and realistically, a total collapse of that skill probably ends up costing you more like 5 runs. Plus, a reasonable projection of base running probably regresses about three seasons to the mean using a 3/4/5 weighting of the player’s past three years, so most guys will get something like +/- 3 runs in that score. Over the course of a five year contract, you aren’t going to expect more than about a 5 run decline in base running value.

Also, if a guy’s bat declines, he gets moved down the order, reaches base less, and can’t be as much of a factor on the base paths.

Now take a guy with a 100 wRC+. How much can he fall? Almost infinitely, certainly to the point that no amount of defense will make up for it. A player can hemmorage loads of his past offensive value with a sudden collapse. There’s real risk in paying for RC that simply doesn’t exist in base running.

bpdelia
Guest
bpdelia
3 years 10 months ago

The chone figgins and Carl Crawford contract disasters are too fresh. I have an extremely hard time imagining bourn going higher than 5/60. In fact im willing to bet that’s what he gets. A GM should think the precedent for this type of somewhat late blooming bat is precipitous falloff. Therefore pay him for the speed and defense and an,avg bat. A 3 win player. 45 for 3 or 60 for 5. Year for and five for a speed and defense guy are dangerous. That kind of commitment,needs to,be hedged with a lower aav.

though it of course only takes one.

JT
Guest
JT
3 years 10 months ago

I’m really hoping the Braves just pass on Bourn this winter. They are already going to have to deal with Uggla’s declining offense over the next three years so I don’t want two guys like that clogging up a lot of the payroll.

The Real Neal
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The Real Neal
3 years 10 months ago

What drives a player’s contract is supply and demand. I could see him getting anywhere from what a low end proposal (3 years $30 million) to a high end (5 years $90 million) totally based on what teams are interested and how interested they are. If it comes down to the Rangers, Braves and Dodgers, it’s going to be a lot different than if only KC is really interested.

It should also be pointed out that his defense is going to be more valuable to some staffs and in some parks than it will be in other places.

Spike
Guest
Spike
3 years 10 months ago

you’re right that supply and demand is what drives prices and with Upton and Pagan also viable CFers available this winter, Bourn may not get what he might in another year.

hk
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hk
3 years 10 months ago

Plus Hamilton and Victorino.

Phantom Stranger
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Phantom Stranger
3 years 10 months ago

I think his contract’s value will depend on how the market values his defense. He truly is a gold glove caliber CF and has had a remarkable year in the field. But he’s worn down at the plate in the second half and it looks to me like he’s already starting to lose a half-step stealing bases. If his offense was more dependent on walks, a skill he’d be less likely to lose as he slows down, I’d be willing to sign him for 4-5 years. He needs to hit around .300 to maintain his offensive productivity, which is no sure thing if he loses any speed.

Spit Ball
Member
Spit Ball
3 years 10 months ago

San Francisco might make the sense. Maybe he get’s Melky’s money. His nine home runs this year are actually impressive given his high ground ball % and 160 strikeouts.

Travis
Guest
Travis
3 years 10 months ago

I was just gonna say Spit Ball. Why do I get the feeling that I’m going to be throwing up this winter after SF signs Bourn for 5/$90?

RMD
Guest
RMD
3 years 10 months ago

Times have changed. Cameron says that an RBI-less, excellent fielder/baserunner will be overpaid in years and money. He’s wrong.

Times have changed for the better. Boras’s clients last winter actually suffered a bit because he’s no longer a wolf dealing with sheep. Front Offices are smart enough to evaluate not only proper value, but value to an organization. (Detroit’s not trying to win the $/WAR title. They spent extravagant money because the have the tremendous opportunity of playing in the weakest division.) Michael Bourn will be a reasonable gamble. No one knows how he’ll retain his fielding and base running value… But he’s now led the NL in SB and UZR for the last four years! I can’t imagine him going from 1st to sunk cost in three years. Even Andruw has never had a negative UZR season, and he’s been woefully out of shape. Figgins and Rollins have to deal with short hops. Bourn will have to deal with sinking liners. Infield defense is a much less predictable event. I think he’ll get a five year deal from a team with a spacious outfield and he’ll be well worth the money even after his contact dissipates.

eDUB
Guest
eDUB
3 years 10 months ago

“Figgins…had a little more power” – So strange to read, in any context

I was thinking Bourn looked like a good candidate for the M’s outfield this off season, but that comparison…it scares me more than I can articulate.

Jon L.
Guest
Jon L.
3 years 9 months ago

I don’t think I buy the argument that Michael Bourn is “simply too small” to add much power going forward (although I actually agree that he won’t). I tried to think of a counter-example, and Joe Morgan came to mind. One of the smallest players in baseball, and he experienced a leap in ISO from ages 29-33.

Ivan Grushenko
Guest
Ivan Grushenko
3 years 8 months ago

You mean when he moved from the Astrodome to Riverfront? OK that was actually at 28, but still….

Jon L.
Guest
Jon L.
3 years 9 months ago

Really interesting that players rarely succeed in this manner for very long. I’ve often been surprised by very successful, good-fielding veterans who peaked defensively when they were very young, often in their early 20’s. Is there evidence that speed on defense erodes faster than speed on offense? It’s non-intuitive, but fits some of the stats I’ve seen. Also, could this be an exploitable imbalance in the marketplace, with the most elite fielders often being young and cheap? (Or is the cost on offense too great?)

Mike
Guest
Mike
3 years 9 months ago

So who should get a bigger contract between Bourn and Nick Swisher? Who will? I think 4 year 50-60 million is reasonable for both, with 5/75 being the high end.
Personally I would like to see the Yankees sign Bourn and move Granderson to RF.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
3 years 5 months ago

How is war used to calculate salary?

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