Baby he was Bourn to run

Bourn’s helmet apparently cannot hang on to complete the trip around to third. (Icon/SMI)

Looking back

Few players in the MLB have the quickness necessary to steal upwards of 50 bases in a season. Over the last 10 MLB seasons the feat has only been accomplished 31 times by a combined 17 players, led by Jose Reyes’ 78-steal campaign in 2007. Therefore, whenever a player displays the necessary skills to have such an impact in one category, fantasy owners tend to take notice.

Michael Bourn is one such player whom people took notice of in 2009.

+------+-----+-----+-----+----+-----+----+-------+ | Year | Age | AB | R | HR | RBI | SB | AVG | +------+-----+-----+-----+----+-----+----+-------+ | 2007 | 24 | 119 | 29 | 1 | 6 | 18 | 0.277 | | 2008 | 25 | 467 | 57 | 5 | 29 | 41 | 0.229 | | 2009 | 26 | 606 | 97 | 3 | 35 | 61 | 0.285 | +------+-----+-----+-----+----+-----+----+-------+

Even though Bourn showed the 50-plus steal potential after his 2008 season that included 41 steals in just 467 at-bats, people still refrained from drafting him in 2009 due to wariness about his .229 batting average and .288 on-base percentage. No matter how fast the player, if he will not get on base or will start losing playing time, then there is no point in owning him.

As you can see, in 2009 Bourn alleviated those concerns by becoming a solid three category threat in runs, batting average and steals. To the people who drafted him late in drafts or picked him up off waivers, Bourn rewarded them nicely with his production.

So the question is what changed from his 2008 to 2009 seasons? Below is a chart of all the metrics I feel explain the change.

+------+-----+----+----+-------+-----+-----+------------+ | Year | AB | BB | K | BABIP | GB% | FB% | Judgment X | +------+-----+----+----+-------+-----+-----+------------+ | 2008 | 467 | 7 | 24 | 0.291 | 54 | 29 | 89 | | 2009 | 606 | 9 | 23 | 0.367 | 58 | 22 | 94 | +------+-----+----+----+-------+-----+-----+------------+

BABIP explains a good amount of Bourn’s improvement since a 75 point increase will do wonders to any player’s batting average. Was the dramatic increase in BABIP lucky or deserved? Just based off intuition knowing how fast Bourn is, a .350 BABIP seems normal. Taking a more mathematically sound approach using Chris’ xBABIP calculator, Bourn’s expected BABIP in 2009 was a surprising .379. I would not interpret that number to mean Bourn was unlucky on balls in play in 2009 or that his BABIP should rise in the future; but rather simply that Bourn was at least not lucky on balls in play in 2009.

The second reason for Bourn’s better 2009 is his improvement in plate discipline. He showed increased judgment in deciding which pitches were the best to swing at and as a result saw a slight increase in his walk rate and also the slightest decrease in his strikeout rate.

The third reason is his increased groundball and line drive rates, and consequently his decreased flyball rates. Players who use their legs more than their arms to reach base typically derive more value out of their grounders and lose value on their fly balls. Bourn was no exception to this rule since, according to the batted ball stats found in the THT Annual, he earned double the MLB average in run value for each of his grounders and was 25 percent worse than MLB average in run value on his fly balls. Therefore the four percent increase in GB rate and seven percent drop in FB rate Bourn saw from 2008 to 2009 certainly helped increase his production level.

Looking ahead

There is very little that appears unsustainable about Bourn’s past season, so a similar-looking 2010 seems like a reasonable projection. Promising is the fact that Bourn managed to hit a combined 39 doubles and triples, meaning he is not completely dependent on beating out grounders as, say, Willy Taveras is and also possesses some gap power.

From a fantasy perspective, another season similar to Bourn’s 2009 would be fantastic though the question remains how confident people are in his abilities and where he will get drafted. The most apt comparison is Jacoby Ellsbury coming off his 2008 season in which he hit a similar .280 with 98 runs and 50 steals. In 2009 drafts, Ellsbury was taken around picks 55-70 in drafts, though granted he has more power potential and also plays for the Red Sox—two things that would help his ADP.

Using Ellsbury’s ADP as a relative marker, I would expect Bourn to be picked somewhere in the 85-100 range in drafts, which is a spot the speedy outfielder could provide value from considering he finished 2009 with a Yahoo rank in the 70s. It is still early in the offseason to know for sure, but will Michael Bourn be finding his way onto your fantasy teams in 2010?

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12 years ago

He showed increased judgment in deciding which pitches were the best to swing at and as a result saw a slight increase in his walk rate

2008: 7 / 467 = 0.0150
2009: 9 / 606 = 0.0149

I’m assuming a simple mis-phrase…but thought I’d point it out.  Otherwise, thanks for the very helpful insight.

Adam W.
12 years ago

Those numbers are his BB%, not total BB.

Paul Singman
12 years ago

Adam’s right, that is BB% and the K is K%. I see how it can be confusing so I’ll have that changed soon.

12 years ago

Thanks.  I probably should have double checked the totals before I posted…9 BBs for the year did seem extraordinarily low.

Derek Carty
12 years ago

Hey John_Michael,
Thanks for commenting.  Paul was referring to the Judgment Index stat, which I introduced here:

Toffer Peak
12 years ago

I don’t have Excel right now to back up my theory but I would imagine that the xBABIP calculator loves Bourn because a of his extreme SB total. Most regression tools like this will break down at the fringes and with such an extreme SB total it probably gives his speed too much credit. I would imagine that his other characteristics (LD%, GB%, etc) will also regress toward more normal career levels. I think he should still be a decent OF but I would be most concerned about his continued ability to get on base.

Paul Singman
12 years ago

Toffer, your concern is definitely valid. Using the xBABIP calculator, if I hold all constant except put in a more “reasonable” 40 stolen bases, Bourn’s xBABIP drops .13 points from .379 to .366. Interestingly, if I similarly regress his LD% to 19 percent (no mathematical reasoning behind 19 but it is league-average and also Bourn’s career LD%) his xBABIP only drops .01 point to .365.

I’m not sure how convincing my little exercise was, I believe there is still reason to be slightly skeptical about Bourn’s hitting ability, but that is why he can be an 8th-9th round pick and not a 5th-6th.