Thursday, November 15, 2012

Is Michael Bourn worth $20 million a year?

If your team is in the free agent market, there are a few things you root for. One would be this slugging god of a player who can hit the ball over the deepest fences. A Fielder-type of guy. Another on the wish list is a stud pitcher like Greinke or even Sanchez. And perhaps you would want a stud closer such as Soriano. For most fans, signing a player like Michael Bourn would not make you beat your chest and want to go down and toast with a tasty beverage.

And yet, with the way ballplayers are valued now, Michael Bourn is valued right alongside stud pitchers and the sluggers. Consider, if you will, that by what we know each "win" is now worth in the WAR statistic, Bourn's average value the last four years has been $22.05 million a season according to and $21.38 million by Fangraphs ranks him as the tenth most valuable position player in the majors in 2012.

Our problem as fans is that defense and base running do not get us excited. When we think of offensive players, we want to think of guys who "produce." Guys like Bourn do not excite us. The guy had an ISO of .118 last season and a wOBA of .326. Those are hardly thrilling numbers for an offensive player. Heck, a 38 year old Jeter got on base more than Bourn did and had higher ISO an wOBA scores. So why would you want Bourn?

Why indeed. He is your prototypical lead off batter. But his .348 on-base percentage does not fill you with excitement. His range of on-base percentages have been rather static the last four years and range from a low of .341 to a high of .354. He has never scored a hundred runs in a season. He has never had 200 hits in a season. He came close in 2011 with 193 but hit safely only 171 times in 2012 despite 700+ plate appearances. He's not a .300 hitter. He has struck out 295 times in the last two seasons combined.

So again, how can a fan be excited by a team shelling out $20 million a season for Michael Bourn? The two stats that build up his value are his base running skills and his fielding. The way base running is calculated seems fairly stable and accurate. Both stat sites listed above value Bourn's base running identically. He is at the peak of his professional career. Speed ages fairly well.

But how long do you want to bank on that speed? Does the fact that Bourn's 76% success rate stealing bases was down in 2012 from his career success rate of 81.1% concern anyone? He did hit ten triples which shows the guy can fly though.

And then there is his defense. He plays a premier position as a center fielder. He is one of the best according to his fielding stats. Surprisingly, both stat sites listed above somewhat agree on how valuable his fielding was last season. takes its fielding data and converts it to what they call, "dWAR," or defensive WAR. They valued Bourn's defense as being worth three wins. That's pretty astounding.

We are warned by the experts to look at multiple years of defensive data to get a better perspective. Bourn was rated as spectacular in 2012 and much less than that in 2011. But if you look at four or five years of his data in defense, the spectacular happens more often.

So yeah, Bourn can go get it. He has a noodle for an arm, however. But teams can live with that. But it is hard to think about paying $20 million a year for Bourn in large part because of his defense. For example, the Yankees won 95 games in 2012 despite having the worst fielding center fielder in the American League last year.

The stats say that Michael Bourn is worth at least $21 million a year. There is no doubt that his agent, Scott Boras, is highly familiar with that number and valuation. The interesting questions is whether teams will agree that Bourn's base running and defense are worth that kind of paycheck. What happens with Bourn this off season will be one of the most fascinating things to watch.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Buck Showalter feature

Buck Showalter was the topic and the cover story written by your favorite Fan for this month's issue of Big Leagues Monthly. Check out some thoughts on the remaking of Showalter's image and read a lot of other great articles in 60+ pages of pure baseball bliss.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A payday for Kevin Frandsen

Kevin Frandsen did not get rich a few days ago when the Phillies signed him for $850,000 plus incentives. That is certainly not big money when it comes to baseball contracts. But when you think that it took eight years of minor league ball and several cups of coffee for him to stick at the major league level, that is a pretty big deal. But his signing doesn't mean that the Phillies will actually hand him the third base job. The team is rumored in on the Kevin Youkilis sweepstakes. Such is the life for Frandsen, a guy who has never had it easy.

To get some sort of picture of what it took Frandsen to reach this point, here is a sequence of events leading up to his 201 plate appearances for the Phillies in 2012:

  • Played at a small San Jose college and set the record there for hits.
  • Not drafted until the 370th pick (12th round) by the Giants in 2004.
  • Hit well in his first two minor league seasons and appeared in 41 games for the Giants in 2006. He finished with a .607 OPS.
  • Appeared in 109 games for the Giants in 2007 and played at five different appearances. Fared better at the plate with a .710 OPS and a .331 on-base percentage.
  • Blew out his Achilles tendon in 2008 and missed the entire season except for one at bat in the last game of the season.
  • In the spring of 2009, Frandsen was in a competition with Emmanuel Burriss for the starting second base job. Burriss won. How ignoble is that? Can't even beat out Emmanuel Burriss? He was sent to the minors
  • Only appeared in a handful of big league games in 2009 and finished with a .384 OPS. Ugh.
  • Was traded by the Giants to the Red Sox for cash and an unknown player to be named later on March 26, 2010. 
  • After just a three-day look, the Red Sox optioned him on March 29th of that same year.
  • The Red Sox then DFA'd him a month later on April 28.
  • The Angels took him off waivers a day later
  • Frandsen played in 54 games for the Angels in 2010 at five different positions. Again, he did not hit an finished with a .613
  • The Angels non-tendered him after the season.
  • Signed a minor league deal with the Padres on January 5, 2011. They released him two months and twenty days later.
  • Signed with the Phillies to a minor league contract in 2011 and he did not see any major league playing time. 
  • Signed a minor league deal with the Phillies again in 2012 and played 99 games for the Triple A, Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.
  • Polanco hurts himself and on July 29, 2012, Frandsen was recalled from the minors and played nearly every day for the remainder of the season.

That is quite a long ride to earn himself (finally) a nearly million dollar deal! But Frandsen played really well when he got his chance this time. He rated above league average in the field, mostly at third base. He batted .338 with a .383 on-base percentage. His .834 OPS was good for a 124 OPS+.

And it should not be that big a surprise. In 2,563 plate appearances in the minors, Frandsen had a .310 batting average with a .368 on-base percentage.

The Phillies do not quite trust what they saw though. As stated, they are in the hunt for Youkilis and if they don't get him, they have stated that they would consider platooning Frandsen with Galvis. Seriously? Frandsen did not have any kind of batting split against right-handed pitchers. Most of his plate appearances were against right-handers and look at the numbers he put up.

There is some understanding of the Phillies' reticence. Frandsen's game does have a few weaknesses. He doesn't walk much with only a 5.4 percent rate for 836 big league plate appearances. He does not have power. As good as his season was, his ISO was only .111. Teams like their third basemen to have some pop. And Frandsen hits too many ground balls. His ground ball to fly ball rate was over two.

But there are strengths to his game. He hardly ever strikes out and his swing and miss rate is only 5.6 percent for his career. He hits a lot of line drives and again, he plays good defense.

Frandsen's story is one of perseverance. You root for guys like him. His fine two months of play last season will not guarantee him anything with the Phillies heading into 2013. But at least it guarantees him a major league job all season and his first real payday of his career. His game isn't ideal. But it is not half bad either.