Quietly, Michael Bourn’s start to the season has showed just how much he has matured as a batter of the past few years of his career, and it is paying off big time to start the season.
On pace to set new personal season records in runs, doubles, walks, stolen bases, slugging percentage, and on base percentage, Bourn has changed his entire approach to his hitting according to the numbers. One number that sticks out, though, above the rest is the amount of pitches he is seeing per at bat: 4.25. That is a quarter of a pitch more than any of his previous seasons, and though that seems like a small number, it is huge when you consider that he is on pace to have more walks that he has in any of his previous seasons.
Bourn is a player that doesn’t need to be hitting gappers in order to be successful in this league. His legs can turn a slightly low pitch into a double without even the swing of the bat. What I am talking about is his new found friend in bases on balls. By developing this aspect of his game, Bourn has scored 15 runs in the 16 games in which he has played. Do I think that he is going to score over 140 runs this season? Not likely, but I do think that he is capable of eclipsing his previous career high of 97 by double digits. In order to do so, he will need to continue to get on base at this remarkable rate and have someone like Angel Sanchez bat behind him that can move him to third with just one out.
Initially, Michael had been struggling to get on base, and when he would, it seemed as if he was hitting doubles and triples, which is just not necessary if you are going to posses the speed that Bourn has. At second glance, he has put the ball in the air more so this year than any other with a 1.3 ground ball to fly ball ratio (20 to 26). Getting this ratio higher is key due to the simplistic idea that you cannot run out a fly ball for a single, but a bad transition from the glove to hand a of SS is the difference between a ground out and a infield single. Bourn had spoken about trying to improve this aspect of his game over the spring, and if it gets better, then there is potential for even more improvement in his already advancing offensive contributions.
The only concerning aspect so far this season is the strikeout rate. For the reason stated above, Bourn has no chance at getting on base if the ball isn’t at least put into play, but you have to take into consideration his new found plate discipline. If Bourn is drawing walks at a career high rate, you have to weigh this against his strike out percentage. Obviously, if he sets these new career highs, then we will just have to swallow the strikeouts as a trade cost, but that is something Astro fans will be willing to do if it translates to more runs coming home.
There is no doubt that Bourny has the talent to remain a gold glove center fielder, but if he continues to bat .280 and eclipses the 100 run mark on top of his 60+ steal potential, then he may become an All Star year in and year out. Hunter Pence is often tagged as the man of this franchise, but it is hard to look past Bourn when you consider how much he has improved and continues to improve in this 2011 campaign.