Value. Isn't that what we all want in a baseball player? Someone who can be productive in any given capacity, but at the same time be relatively cost effective. There are a lot of players in MLB who contribute a great deal to their respective club- whether it be via scoring runs, knocking in runs, striking out batters, saving games, getting on base or preventing men from stealing bases, there are a myriad of ways that a baseball player can provide a service on any given day.
There are a great many ways to measure this ability to perform, to put your finger on a precise value. As fans, we want our team to win, but as intelligent, well informed fans, we want our team to win in a certain way and to know how they are able to tally wins. The more players of great "value" a team has, the better their chances are at being a winning team. That is what we are in search of when we cite statistics, is it not? The most effective, exact, precise manner of quantifying how much a player adds to the sum total of a team. We're lucky to have websites, bloggers and writers in the mainstream media who understand both the efficacy and desirability of including advanced metrics into their colums, articles and blog posts. It allows for a deeper understanding, a deeper appreciation of a moment in time, a player's place within the context of the game, and a team's successes or failures when compared to their peers. Fandom is enhanced, in my honest opinion, when statistics and passion are in confluence. I believe we're all of that opinion, to differing degrees of course.
Now, as the 2009 season draws to a close, DQ and myself have taken up a debate as to whom is the Astros 2009 team MVP. Is it Wandy Rodriguez? Our mercurial pitcher, whose flashes of brilliance would enliven our moods to the same extent that his struggles and hard times frustrated us to no end. This season he was able to remain healthy and pitch as well as we could have ever hoped. All the promise he showed in years past has been consummated this season in 4+ months of stellar performances. At age 30, he still has time to be a valuable (there's that word again) commodity for a handful of seasons to come.
Then there is Michael Bourn. A hometown product who has made a career for himself playing a boy's game just a stone's throw from where he grew up. Is there any better story than that, honestly? Imagine what it must have been like for Michael when he first trod up the steps of the first base dugout and stepped onto the grass at MMP as a major leaguer. Keeping in mind that Bourn not only grew up in Houston, but played collegiately at the University of Houston, his first experience playing at home for the club he grew up rooting for must have beyond the sort of thrill that gives you goosebumps every time you think about it for the rest of your life. No matter what you do in life, or where you go, or how successful you become, your home will always be your home. Nothing changes that, least of all the pride you have in where you come from. Michael Bourn is a Houstonian through and through, and being an Astro just further entrenches him into our city's sports legacy.
Success is a funny thing though. Once you achieve one level of success, rarely does someone remain content to remain stagnant. There is always a new prize, a new goal, a new challenge to undertake. Playing baseball is no different. Having excelled at Nimitz High School and U of H, Michael was drafted into the Phillies system where he progressed up the minor league ranks until he became a part of the major league team. Getting short stints here and there, pinch running and making cameos on defense to close out wins, Bourn never got the opportunity to succeed the way that he was capable of. That is, until Ed Wade made a controversial trade which essentially gave Michael Bourn the opportunity he certainly craved, but also the challenge of a lifetime.
Professional athletes are by and large at the top of the food chain when it comes to athleticism. We all know (or if we're lucky, we are) those people that excel without exerting much effort in athletics, and think nothing of it. While Michael Bourn was almost assuredly one of those people, he faced a challenge starting on a major league team that he never had to deal with life up to that point. How disheartening, how excruciating must it have been for someone like Michael, whose strength, speed and determination make up so much of his value, to be forced to change his outlook and approach to better suit his team?
To curb his natural aggressiveness at the plate and on the base paths to be a better cog in the machine was a sacrifice initially, but would end up being a reward for both the Astros and himself. Taking a more patient attitude to home plate has allowed him to not only get on base with greater frequency, but in doing so he is able to once again utilize his speed and base running prowess. In 2008, Bourn looked lost at the plate, and it wasn't easy to tell if he was making any improvement from game 1 to game 162. Thankfully he altered his approach in the offseason, reevaluated himself and improved tremendously. Going from the worst to nearly the best is something that happens in Horatio Alger stories, not in the highest levels of professional baseball. Don't tell Michael Bourn that though, because in 2009, he has come close to doing just that. In an otherwise glum season, Bourn has showed the type downright excellence that should make any fan stand up and cheer. That he still has room for growth is perhaps the most heartening aspect of his transcendence to being the player he has shown himself capable of being.
With that, I'll conclude by saying that despite how much statistics can enhance a discussion, they are also able to detract from one as well. The numbers and projections can sometimes overshadow the player and the writing used to describe him. I didn't want this post to be specifically about how Michael Bourn leads the Astros in WAR, or how his arm in centerfield is among the best in baseball. Those are all true, but it's not what I set out to prove. I really wanted to show that, in a season that has seen a good deal of disappointment, that a player like Michael is enough to keep hope alive. Having the opportunity to watch him play the field, run the bases and take his hacks at the plate nearly every day is an experience unto itself. Subjectively, you can't help but watch a player like him, whose natural athleticism has blended with an intelligent approach to playing is refreshing to say the least. Michael knows what his strong suits are and he plays to enhance them, while working hard so that his shortcomings do not detract from his overall game. In other words Michael Bourn has enhanced and displayed his value with greater frequency than any Houston Astro this season. For this, Michael Bourn deserves strong consideration to be Astros team MVP.