Bourn Finds His Identity

Not a lot of things have gone right in Houston this year. Despite an aging, expensive roster, they find themselves non-contenders again, caught in the awkward stage of not winning but not rebuilding either. Never a fun place to be.

However, there has been one bright shining light to come out of Houston this year – Michael Bourn showing enough abilities to make himself a pretty decent center fielder.

When the Phillies sent him to Houston for Brad Lidge in 2007, he was purely a speed-and-defense guy, the classic questionable bat center field type. He could run, but whether he could get on base enough to make it matter was less clear. A disastrous 2008 season, where he hit .229/.288/.300, struck out 111 times, and was worth -0.1 wins in 514 plate appearances didn’t assuage any fears. His defense in center was good but not great, so he’d have to get on base at a reasonable clip to justify his spot in the line-up.

In 2009, he’s done that and more. He’s at .293/.366/.406 for the season, and while he’s still striking out at a decent clip, he’s found the key to success for his skillset – pound the ball into the ground and run like mad. Last year, 29.4% of his balls in play were flyballs, which are almost always outs from no-power guys like Bourn. This year, only 22% of his balls in play have been classified as flys, as he’s traded them in for more grounders and line drives, and his BABIP has soared as a result.

His .370 BABIP probably isn’t sustainable, but guys with his speed and bunting ability (he already has 15 bunt hits this season) can keep their averages on balls in play well above the norm for the league as a whole. Toss in the solid walk rate (10.4%) and some power (38 extra base hits), along with terrific ability on the bases (48 for 58 in SB attempts) and the total package adds up to around an average hitter.

When you have a guy who can play CF (and Bourn can, with a career +10.9 UZR in over 2,100 innings out there) and produce something close to league average offense, you have a pretty nice piece. The +4 win season he’s produced this year is the very top of his potential, but even with some regression built in he’s a +2 to +3 win player going forward.

As a pre-arbitration 26-year-old, Bourn represents something the Astros badly need more of – young, cheap, productive players.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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12 years ago

great title

Kevin S.
12 years ago
Reply to  PJ

‘Stro fans are hoping Dave writes about his supremacy next summer. 😉