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Trend Spotting: On Michael Bourn, Quick thoughts on pitching

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Over the past three weeks, trading Michael Bourn has become a hipster approach both because of the market place that currently exists as well as his contract implications on the Indians over the next three possibly four years.

I must admit that I have fluctuated in between camps regarding whether or not he should be dealt. As well, answering a question like should the Indians deal Bourn, Justin Masterson or Asdrubal Cabrera is imperfect, irrational.

Because any certainty cannot exist unless we are able to see what the return would be, that said, the idea of trading Cabrera for any part is close to certainty for myself merely based on cost/production value.

Nevertheless, Bourn has become someone that many believe to be easily replaceable, which is understandably based on the Indians outfield depth.

The case can be made based solely on last season – and I emphasize solely – that with Michael BrantleyDrew StubbsDavid Murphy and Ryan Raburn they could cover his production loss in the aggregate.

Indeed, the marginal value gap between optimized platoons among the four outfielders and the outfield including Bourn’s production from last year may be equivalent.

In order to provide context to a possible Bourn deal, I am going to attempt to discuss the value of his contract comparatively, attempt to project a baseline of future production and discern how valuable he is as a trade asset.

This inevitably begins with discussing his 2013 production, its implications and what he truly contributed.

First of value is an offensive look at Bourn:

Season BB% K% BABIP OBP O-Swing% Contact %
2013 7.00% 23.00% .338 .316 26.30% 77.20%
Career Averages 8.50% 20.60% .342 .335 23.60% 79.80%

(According to wRC+ Bourn sat at 91 which is a tick below league average)

I suppose it is fairly obvious where I am trying to go with this data, but the step back in offensive production is pretty obviously tied to plate discipline.

We have increased chase, which is always a bad indicator. The O-Swing shift is particularly concerning, the question being of course, will this trend continue?

In all possibility it might, but what if it had to do with the fact that he was playing in a new league for the first time. Could it be that 300-350 of his plate appearances were against pitchers he hadn’t faced before might have affected plate discipline?

At the very least it is something to consider, however, we did see how he was targeted with secondary pitches as a lot of sliders and curveballs made Bourn look foolish. At points Bourn was in a funk and it could be that this shift will continue, but I doubt it.

I think Bourn’s plate discipline bounces back a bit and his BB% reaches eight again, which while it may seem insignificant, is not in the slightest. If Bourn were to split the difference something that I expect between his career average and last year, he would have an average of .270 and an OBP around .330.

Why is that OBP number important for Bourn’s value? As a table setter the Indians offense seemed to go as he went.

In the 70 wins in which he played: .339/.411/.750
In the 60 losses in which he played: .288/.300/.588

A career OBP of .335 returning to that note. Indeed, we see how incredibly valuable Bourn can be offensively when he is producing. At the top of the lineup he has the ability to be dynamic and I think he takes a step forward again in terms of plate discipline which will trigger an uptick.

Defense:

This is where a majority of Bourn’s value has been derived from in the past, a talent that usually comprised a dominant piece of his WAR value. In three of Bourn’s past four seasons he had been rated in double digits by the Fangraphs defensive value tool.

The problem being that it leans too heavily on UZR which while a metric we all enjoy, fluctuates too much to be used heavily in player value.  Of course, over a three year sample it becomes a more effective piece to use, teaching us trends about defensive capability.

This season for Bourn it took a major step back, which along with the offensive struggles is why he took such a massive step back in WAR value. In order to show a more visual representation of his defense this season compared to last season I have inserted four graphics.

(Charts courtesy of Fangraphs)

These two defensive charts show the defensive plays made by Bourn in 2012 versus the defensive plays he made in 2013 in order to show any range differential. Secondly, the plays are plotted in colors based on the degree of difficulty.

The first difference is the overall area difference, which seems to decrease from 2012 to 2013. The second key differentiation is the degree of difficulty.

While the frequency of plays in 10-40% range does not shift in any way, the 40-60% balls are a huge change. Reading the plots the gap is a 12-3 margin but counting is unnecessary as it appears visually that his ability to track down more challenging balls has decreased.

(Charts courtesy of Fangraphs)

These graphics are like the ones above but they display missed plays rather than made plays though the degree of difficulty keys are the same.  The only difference being that in 2012 the most frequently displayed missed balls are ones with a high degree of difficulty while in 2013 the most frequent balls are ones with a low degree of difficulty.

This is admittedly not including balls with no likelihood of being caught; however, what these two graphics appear to show when each is placed side-by-side is that his range may be decreasing.

Of course this should be balanced with the eye test. Is he a good defender? Absolutely, he showed range that hasn’t been seen in Cleveland since early Sizemore.  Was he a special defender last season? A Gold Glove caliber player? Not from what I saw.

It appeared that last season, Bourn made the shift from Gold Glove caliber to above average, which while still valuable, decreases his potential WAR impact.

Value:

I generally have distaste for leaning on WAR but I believe when doing player and contract comparisons it can be very useful.

Player Michael Bourn Shin-Soo Choo Jacoby Ellsbury
Age Entering 2014 31 31 30
5 Year WAR Total 20.8 19.6 18.2
Remaining Contract 3 years $41 Million Projected: 7 years $140 Million 7 years $ 153 Million
AAV $13.67  Million $20 Million $21.8 Million

( This is under the assumption that Bourn’s option vests, as well as projected Choo’s market).

I will make the following concessions as to the flaws of this argument: 1) Bourn is coming off his worst season of the past five, so the 5-year WAR total may be somewhat cherry picked. 2) Different skills age differently, Choo has the most power, however Dave Cameron effectively made the case that speed does not decline at the pace many think.

What should be taken away is Bourn is an outstanding contract comparatively. While we will crack that Bourn is aging quickly we are overreacting to a single season where he appeared to play injured.

Second, Ellsbury is less than a year younger and has a comparable skill set, more injury issues in the past, and is getting paid $8 million more per season with an excessively long commitment.

Thirdly, the Indians got a bargain contract for Bourn. Kudos to Chris Antonetti, but unfortunately Bourn may be a commodity they can ill afford to hang onto for long.

His contract, while compared to market value, is strong and probably has to be moved before or after the season if the Indians wish to retain other core, young pieces a la Jason Kipnis, Justin Masterson, or even a Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley type.

Bourn is undervalued by fans because while we enjoy good defense we don’t always consider its aggregate impact. In the end, making a playoff run is about having a positive run differential, whether that means limiting runs against or optimizing runs for.

Bourn has a positive impact on both. He will bounce back in 2014 by optimizing run production offensively and continue to be above average defensively. This is all avoiding a discussion of his skills running the bases.

I am willing to deal any player on this roster if the return is grand but the paranoia to move Bourn is devaluing how important he can be to their success and his contract makes him an immensely valuable trade asset.

Thinking Pitching:

  • When the Indians search for lower-tier starting pitching, finding a pitcher effective for this team I consider the following things: 
    • Park factor: Progressive field is 97 for HR and 98 for fly balls.(100 is neutral, sub-100 pitcher friendly). 
    • The Indians infield defense as currently constructed is below average, especially the left side. 
    • The Indians outfield defense is average to above average in left (Don’t believe Brantley’s UZR), above average in center, above average in right. 
    • So with both park factor being more favorable to fly balls and a better outfield defense, they should seek out pitchers with more of a fly ball tendency.
    • Beating a dead horse, one of my greatest skills, if the Indians spend more than $4 Million for a closer they are misallocating resources.
      • A bullpen should be built from within complemented by minor league invites or small deals.
      • It is one of the most cost inefficient markets as you are often paying $1 million for every ten innings of a closer.
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Author: Michael Hattery

I am a pre-law student at Clarkson University obsessed with all sports Cleveland. I am a columnist at Cleveland Sports Insiders, IBI and the managing editor of the Clarkson Integrator. As well as raconteur extraordinaire. You can follow me @MichaelHattery.

One thought on “Trend Spotting: On Michael Bourn, Quick thoughts on pitching

  1. Pingback: Optimistic offense at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario | Cleveland Sports Insiders

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