A little over a week ago, I suggeted that the Angels should change their outfield alignment by promoting Peter Bourjos and giving him playing time that was being allotted to Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu (who could then both take DH time away from Hideki Matsui). By using Bourjos over the slow and aged, the argument was that they would get a significant improvement in their outfield defense and a peek at their future, as they’re staring at a pretty sizeable gap between themselves and the Texas Rangers.
Well, the Angels not only agreed with the assessment, but they’re taking it one step further; tonight, Bourjos will make his major league debut, and he’ll do so in center field. No, Torii Hunter is not getting a day off – the guy who has won nine consecutive Gold Gloves as a CF is playing right field for the first time since 1999.
Hunter has long been held up as an example of the questionable viability of defensive metrics by those who prefer visual analysis. His reputation is that of one of the game’s best outfielders, yet UZR has ranked him below average in CF for each of the last five years. The advanced metrics don’t think he’s terrible, just not anything special.
The Angels apparently agree, or at least don’t disagree very strongly. If they saw the difference between Bourjos and Hunter as minimal, they wouldn’t have bothered to upset the apple cart by shifting Hunter over in favor of the rookie. They’re taking the risk of offending their highest paid player, which isn’t something an organization does on a whim. That Hunter is moving to right to accommodate Bourjos, and not vice versa, is a pretty good sign that the Angels believe that there’s a big gap in defensive value between the two.
I think they’re correct, and they should be applauded for making a bold move that may not be particularly popular in some circles. Bourjos is exceptionally fast, and while we don’t have UZR for the minor leagues, the reports on him are very good, and players with his speed profile are often among the league leaders in range. This is the best use of resource that the Angels have.