When Peter Bourjos first came on the scene in 2011, everyone raved about his defense, and by the end of the season, it was his surprising year swinging the stick that caught attention. As a result, there were expectations placed on Bourjos to hit entering last year. But he didn’t. Through April 28th, he had posted a slash line of .167/.231/.250/ On that same day, the Angels had called up some kid named Mike Trout and we all know what happened after that.
At first glance, Bourjos’ numbers aren’t pretty, a .606 OPS over a full season is terrible, and then you take a second look and it still looks terrible. Injuries, however, could have played a role. He had been bothered by his wrist all season, after taking a pitch off of it while practicing his bunting skills (see, bunting is never a good idea). After a terrific June in which his wrist injury appeared to have healed, he stumbled in late July and early August, before finally going on the disabled list because of that same troublesome right wrist. The two strike zone maps below will help me explain some things.
Both charts are from the catcher’s point of view, therefore, the left side is the inside edge and the grey line defines the strike zone. The first chart represents Bourjos’ 2011 season in which his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is compared to the league average for right-handed hitters. The 196% you see on the upper, inner third of the zone tells us that Bourjos’ BABIP was 96% higher than the league average rate. The second chart is the same data-set for the 2012 season.
While Bourjos continued to show his ability to cover the entire plate, his ability to turn on inside pitches was greatly hampered due to his wrist. Instead of lofting the ball, or ripping linedrives, Bourjos produced more weak ground balls. While BABIP is a statistic that in small sample sizes can be deceiving, when you add it what you can see with your eyes, you can apply logical causation. His BABIP on inside pitches went from .452 in 2011 to .229 in 2012 (league average is around .290). If we take his 2012 opportunities on inner third pitches and use his 2011 BABIP rates, his batting average overall jumps 42 precentage points to .262. That’s a huge difference.
When looking at everything about Bourjos’ season there are a lot of good signs for the future. For instance, his plate discipline improved from 2011 to 2012 as his walk-rate jumped two percent from 2011 to 2012. While not huge, that works out to about 10 more walks over a full season. Even more interestingly, he cut his swing and miss rate by three percent, and swung at nearly 7.5% less pitches that were out of the strike zone. Combining a plate approach like this with good health could make him immensely more valuable if he can get on base a few more times a year–especially considering his speed on the bases.
The precipitous drop in power and stolen bases for Bourjos are not uncommon when wrist injuries occur and should improve for 2012 provided he’s healthy. His HR/FB rate (percentage of flyballs that end up as home runs) fell last season, and he pulled fewer flyballs than he had in most years, be it in the Majors or on the farm. His ISO (isolated slugging percentage–basically a measure of power that subtracts batting average from slugging percentage in order to isolate extra-base hits) was nearly 50 percentage points lower than at any point as a pro. His spray charts show this as well, as very few balls were hit deep to any part of the ballpark.
It’s purely speculation, but his hesitancy to steal last season could have been attributed to his wrist, and worries about jamming it sliding into a base and aggravating the injury further.
No matter what, Bourjos will provide great value as the starting centerfielder, even if it’s based solely on his tremendous defensive ability. He has been a solid hitter at every level in the minors and had a very good 2011, so there is little reason to think he won’t be productive in 2013 if his wrist is healthy.