Since 2008, Michael Bourn has been a reliable stolen base threat, but those days may be coming to a close. Bourn managed to provide nearly $8 of value last season, but he did so with a career low total in stolen bases.
The 23 bags he swiped last season is part of a two year decline for Bourn. If we select the data to be as alarming as possible, he’s declined from 61 steals in 2011, to 42 in 2012, to last season’s 23 steal total. It seems we can expect four stolen bases in 2014.
Kidding aside, Bourn dealt with a couple injuries last season that caused him to miss about 25 games. The most worrisome of these was the hamstring injury he suffered late in the season that required surgery. It was reported that the tendon was not torn from the bone in the injury, which bodes well for Bourn recovering all or most of his speed. He should already be well on his way to a full recovery at this point of the offseason and the absence of any injury update is probably a good sign. Still, it’s a red flag.
His decline in speed shows in other statistics besides stolen bases. His baserunning runs (BsR) has been in a multi-season decline, down to a career worst 3.9 runs last season. His speed score also declined to 6.5, which is still in the range of good-great, but falls short of his previously elite scores of seven or higher. Over at baseball-reference, Bourn is credited with just two baserunning runs – also a career worst.
When you get past running, there really isn’t much to Bourn’s game. Leagues that use center field will have more uses for him, but those that don’t differentiate between outfield types will have trouble squeezing value out of a guy who hits an occasional home run, drives in very few, and hits for a low average. Since he’s batted mostly leadoff in the past, he’s redeemed himself with a good runs scored total, but I worry that his bad on base percentage will result in a permanent demotion to the bottom of the lineup. Should that come to pass, his production will be easy to replicate on the waiver wire.
You may consider using Bourn, a lefty, in a handedness platoon to maximize his value. Over the course of his career, he’s walked three percent more often, struck out five percent less often, and hit for slightly better power against right-handed pitching. The area where it really shows is his performance against non-fastballs. He’s struggled against all varieties from both lefties and righties, but he’s been especially heinous against left-handed non-fastballs.
Predictably, opposing pitchers whip out the breaking ball when ahead in the count, which may help to explain his recently increased strike out and whiff rates.
This walk through the park with Bourn has not been encouraging. Despite a decent $8 performance last season, we’re left to wonder if the soon to be 31-year-old can repeat even that level of production. A bounce back season is not completely out of the cards, so Bourn shouldn’t be abandoned entirely on draft day, but there is a distinct possibility that you could beat his performance in all five categories with a waiver wire platoon of Rajai Davis and Raul Ibanez (as an example).
The tantalizing upside of batting leadoff for a solid Cleveland Indians offense, swiping 40 plus bases, and scoring 100 runs has real value. The downside is a stolen base total in the teens, 50 runs scored, and a couple stints on the disabled list. In other words, don’t count on him for anything.
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