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Undervaluing Michael Bourn: A Brief Response

I don't really read Chip Bailey's blog on The Chronicle's site, mainly because it doesn't have an RSS feed. At least, I couldn't find the RSS feed option the last time I tried to look for one. I don't begrudge Bailey his audience or look down on his writing. He does a nice job, from what I've seen.

Maybe I'm just in a cranky mood this week, but I stumbled into a blog of his yesterday and left feeling irritated. It wasn't entirely his fault. It's not like he spent the entire post talking about what I'm about to mention, but he did it all the same.

Combine that with a couple other articles I'm about to bring up, and I was ready to unload again. Why?

Because he undervalued Michael Bourn's contributions to the team and perpetuated the theory that a team only keep run producers long-term. Haven't we gotten past that kind of thinking?

First, let's dispense with the formality of what he said.

Of course, 2014 would be after Micheal Bourn leaves Houston when he becomes over priced.

It's a throwaway line near the end of his entry. He expands on it a little more in the comments here.

[Bill, the arbitration process will undoubtedly make Bourn over priced for many clubs. How many speedy, good glove, low run production $10 million outfielders do you know? CB]

[john andrew, with Bourn it's more about the type of player than being able to afford players as they develop overall. The arb system is not designed well, in my opinion, to develop your players (e.g. Wiggy). Bourn is not a run producer (read HRs, RBI) and doesn't hit for high average. Great glove, great speed, but at some point during the next 2-3 years, the Astros will have to decide how much value he has, especially considering other possibilities in the system. CB]

[My "argument" is that a player that can provide run production (e.g. Wiggy) is a better bet to go deeper into arb years than a player like Bourn. Ideally, the Astros will identify those players that should be here and buy out final arb and first 1-2 FA years, but that could be a bust if you do that with the wrong guys. CB]

First of all, the fact that anyone with a public forum, even someone who's not a sports writer, is still clinging to notions like "run producer" and "RBIs" is beyond frustrating. Yes, they were just comments and not in his actual story, but it speaks to his underlying message. Bourn isn't good because he doesn't hit homers or drive in runs.

Which is completely missing the boat on what makes Michael Bourn a special player. Just look at this graphic from Beyond the Box Score. Michael Bourn is by far the best baserunner in baseball. He's the best at stealing bases, at legging out hits and at forcing defenses into errors with his speed. Not one of the best. The Best.

If that weren't impressive enough, Bourn also is the best defensive center fielder in the National League and possibly in the entire major leagues. He's won two straight Gold Gloves, which don't necessarily show defensive prowess, but the Fielding Bible award does and Bourn won one of those this year too.

So, we have an elite player in two of the three phases of the game. Not just a good player, but an elite player in two major aspects of the game. Because the one area where he is merely average is at the plate, he's not considered a worthy investment. That thinking trivializes his impact on this team. Without Bourn, Brett Myers doesn't post his comeback season last year. Without Bourn, the Astros pitching staff as a whole would not look nearly so rosy. Bourn may strike out a lot and not get on base enough, but he does provide a good bit of value offensively with his speed.

Now, we've talked about whether Bourn will age well on here before. It's not a sure thing that a speed guy will still be productive into his mid-30s. I'm not advocating for Bourn to be locked up to a long-term deal. I'm just saying he deserves the money right now. Is Bourn worth 10 million? Yes. Will he be worth that in three years? Probably not.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I agree with Bailey on that point. Bourn isn't a great bet for a long-term contract. But, he won't make near 10 million dollars on the open market. I'm sure the Astros could get him signed to a reasonable deal for 6 million per year, which is a pretty good match to his value.

As for his assertion that a player like Ty Wigginton is a better bet through arbitration? Sigh. I don't know where to begin. How about assuming that Wigginton is a run producer? He's only had a slugging percentage over .500 once in his career. Sure, he's had two seasons with over 70 RBIs and four with 20+ home runs. I guess that makes him a better player than Bourn, right? If only we had some measure to compare the two...

Bourn's fWAR the past two seasons: 4.4, 4.2

Wigginton's fWAR: -0.9, 0.3

Huh. Which one was the productive one, again?

The reason I get snarky about this is because there is more to the game than home runs and RBIs. There's defense. There's base running. There's bunting and steals and making the pitcher worry about you. I'm supposed to be the stat geek, right? Ignoring two of the three main phases of the game when talking about how much a player is worth is just wrong.

If Bailey had stopped at his first comment, about Bourn not being around in 2014, I would have been fine. In all likelihood, Bourn won't be the starter then. He'll be 32 years old and will probably have slowed down just a bit. Even a quarter-step slower will alter his value downward and may put someone like Jay Austin in line for the job. However, until then, Bourn will still be one of the most valuable players on Houston's roster.