A New York Sun writer, Tim Marchman, recently proposed a new title called Least Valuable Player (LVP). This phantom award would be a parallel , but polar opposite, to the Most Valuable Player award. I figured that Lance Berkman would be in the running for the NL MVP. But Marchman tells us that Michael Bourn is a top contender for the LVP. Wow, what a historic year for the Astros. They could have both a LVP and a MVP.
Marchman likes Angels' CF Gary Matthews for the LVP, but says that top contenders Bourn and Braves' RF Jeff Francouer could overtake Matthews with an especially poor month. Since Matthews is in the AL, that means Francouer and Bourn are the top contenders for the NL LVP. Here is an excerpt of Marchman's discussion from here.
Among the 10 players with the worst on-base plus slugging averages out of those with at least 400 plate appearances — a mildly arbitrary but useful way of getting at the bad players who combine quantity with lack of quality — there aren't so many truly lousy players as you might expect. Melky Cabrera's .242 BA/.296 OBA/.337 SLG line, for instance, horrific as it is (it's fifth-worst among players with 400 plate appearances), has to be put in context: Cabrera had a fine track record before this year, and he'll most likely have a successful career from here on out. The same is true of Minnesota's Carlos Gomez. He's hitting .251/.289/.342, but, as Mets fans should recall, he's also a spectacular center fielder, possibly the best in the game, and he's also 22. At worst, Gomez will prove a valuable fourth outfielder in years to come. Oakland first baseman Daric Barton, similarly, may be hitting terribly (.221/.316/.340), but at 23, and having been a top prospect for years, his playing time has hardly been wasted. He's a young player having a difficult time in his first full year, not a truly bad player.
There is a class of player that's somewhat dodgier. Twenty-four-year-old Atlanta outfielder Jeff Francoeur, for instance, is hitting .233/.293/.356. Should he be written off or not? The Braves did send him down to the minors earlier this year, and he's shown exactly no improvement since. However much potential he may have, it isn't showing up on the field, and at some point any playing time given him has to be said simply to have been wasted. The same might be said of Houston center fielder Michael Bourn, 25, who has the absolute worst OPS among players with 400 or more PA, at an appalling .583, and he's an outrageously bad fielder. Are at bats given such players investments in youth, or just good money thrown after bad players? Presumably the last three weeks will tell, but given how atrocious both these two have been lately — Bourn hit .137 in August before being moved up to the leadoff spot for the stretch run — one tends to think it's the latter.
Now, I have to take exception to Marchman's characterization of Bourn as an "outrageously bad fielder." From what I've seen, Bourn actually is pretty good defensively in CF. I haven't seen much of Carlos Gomez, who gets a pass from Marchman because of his defense; but I would be surprised if Gomez is that much better than Bourn in CF. Early on this season, Bourn was among the leaders in Revised Zone Rating (RZR) for NL CF, but his ranking has declined somewhat in recent months. Despite that decline, Bourn's RZR still is pretty good. His RZR is virtually identical to Willy Taveras, and he ranks close to Mike Cameron and Carlos Beltran, who are two very good defensive players. Nothing in advanced fielding metrics would justify calling him "outrageously bad."
Now I wish I could say something good about Bourn's offense this season. (OK, I could say he runs very, very fast.) I was under the impression that Bourn's offense had picked up steam in recent months. Bourn's OPS pre-ASB is .564 and .636 post-ASB. So, yes, there has been some marginal improvement in the second half, but it is the difference between "god awful" and "bad." Bourn's OPS, by month:
September (partial) .650
I had hoped for a .720 - .740 OPS by Bourn, going into this season, but he hasn't come close. For whatever reason, Bourn's OPS is 100 points higher at home than on the road (.636 vs. .528). If you want a tiny shred of positive news for the future, a comparison of Bourn's BABIP (.279) and Line Drive Pct. (16.6%) suggests that he has been hitting into some bad luck. In fact, with better luck he might be hitting in the .240's, instead of .222, which would at least put his OBP over the .300 mark.
Want some similar offensive performances (OPS) in CF for the NL:
Andruw Jones .514
Corey Patterson .578
Michael Bourn .579
Willy Taveras .611
Bourn for LVP? Naw. Just from the CF sampling above, my vote would go for Andruw Jones. Considering Jones' salary, contract, and reputation, he should win hands (or gloves) down. And I still hold some hope for Bourn's future. I admit to some reservations about him for next year (I would like to see a good RH platoon mate, who could take over if necessary). But he is young, and he does have talent (both foot speed and bat speed).
If Bourn is feeling bad about Marchman's assessment, he should consider this: Bourn probably has a better future than the New York Sun, which carried that article. Reportedly the Sun is facing a difficult financial future if it doesn't find someone to buy the newspaper. A recent edition of the paper contained a letter from the publisher announcing that the New York Sun would cease publication by the end of September without additional financial backing.