To start the player reviews, I figured I’d start at the top of the lineup with Michael Bourn. At the beginning of the season, most fans were excited to see the first true speed threat in the leadoff spot since Rafael Furcal, though some were worried about his bat. Everyone was also excited about the elite CF defense Bourn shows, especially after seeing an extended period of Nate McLouth attempting to play the position. He was a prototype centerfielder going into a contract year, and he performed at as high of a level as he ever has.
Offensively, his .274/.348/.391 slashline is his best league-adjusted season of his career. This small boost in offense was mainly due to a power “surge,” if you can call a .117 ISO such a thing. He hit nine home runs, surpassing his career high of five in 2008, also doing so without hitting more flyballs, which shows a possibility of a true increase of power. He also had a career-high walk rate of 10%, helping him maintain last year’s OBP despite hitting 20 points lower. His .349 BABIP was also down 20 points from last year, a big part for the lower AVG.
The other reason for the lower AVG is probably the scariest thing for Bourn going forward: strikeouts. His 22% K rate represented the highest of his career, and it was linked with a decreased contact rate. Over 80% of those Ks were swinging, surprising for someone that only swings the bat 41% of all pitches. While he hits fastballs very well, he had negative linear weight ratings against all offspeed pitches. It also seemed like he couldn’t mentally recover after getting down 0-2 in the count. While every hitter is bad when getting in such a spot, Bourn was worse than normal, sporting a 42 sOPS+, meaning he was 42% as productive as the average hitter after an 0-2 count. Whiffs and a lower BABIP led to a poor .225/.325/.311 line in the second half.
In other splits, Bourn was nearly as effective against lefties as he was righties this season, something that has been a problem for him in the past. He also showed minimal home/road splits, somewhat expected for a line drive/ground ball hitter. He was as good as anyone starting the game, hitting .351/.437/.519 in the first inning. He also avoided making extra outs, only grounding into two double plays in 84 opportunities. He also ended up with a positive clutch score of +0.6.
On the bases, Bourn did not wreak as much havoc as he had in previous seasons. He was 42 of 55 on steals, only gaining around four runs total there. He also had a +4.3 BsR stat, very good but not the best on the team. His extra base taken percentage was 46%, above the league average of 41%, but not a top figure. However, not all singles/doubles are alike and we don’t know if Bourn had easier or tougher hits to advance extra bases on.
Bourn’s center field play is what sets him apart from a lot of players. This season, he posted a +22 UZR and +24 DRS, as good as any outfielder in the majors this year. This isn’t a one-year fluke either, as he has at least a +10 rating three of the past four years. Extreme range is definitely his calling card, but his speed also helps shut down runners, despite his below-average arm. His kills + holds percentage was in the top 5 of the majors. Going into next year, I would consider him a +15 fielder over a full season, though it will be interesting how much longer he can maintain such excellence once turning 30.
It is not very likely that Bourn will be back in Atlanta next year. In the first half, Bourn’s production had essentially priced himself out. With his second half struggles, his price came down a bit, but the poor performance will make the Braves a bit leery to give such a chunk of change to him. The easiest comparison for his situation is Carl Crawford. After a few good seasons, they each had a big contract year. Crawford turned that into a 7-year, $140M contract in the winter of 2010, which is already labeled as one of the worst big contracts ever.
Chone Figgins also had a tremendous contract season, turning a mediocre career up to that point into a $40M contract. He’s also been dreadful since signing with Seattle, which resonates in most GM’s minds. It is hard to gauge what Bourn will get in this market. As a fairly consistent 4 WAR player entering his decline phase, $15-18M a year would be normal, but the recent poor luck with similar-skill players will likely drive that price down some. I expect him to sign a 5-year, $65-75M deal, something I don’t see the Braves giving him. With the fairly large centerfield FA pool, he could get lost in the shuffle, and I could see the Braves giving him 4/50M, but don’t hold your breath. The Braves will likely have to find another centerfielder for next year.