Michael Bourn was one of the more underrated Houston Astros players.
When thinking of the best Houston Astros players of the 2000s, plenty of names come to mind. Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman – the list goes on. But one name you won’t hear too often is Michael Bourn, which is a shame, because he was actually more valuable than many fans realize.
But first, a little history. Bourn, a Houston native, was the main prize in the Brad Lidge trade with the Phillies in Nov. 2007. He spent three and a half seasons in Houston before being traded to the Braves in July 2011 as the Astros were going full-bore into their rebuild. The package the club got back from Atlanta wasn’t nearly as valuable as Bourn, of course.
He had many of the qualities you’re looking for in a prototypical leadoff hitter – blinding speed, decent (if unspectacular) contact and a strong defender at a premium position. He’d hit .277/.348/.378 in 133 plate appearances for the Phillies in 2007, so the potential was certainly there.
His first year in Houston wasn’t particularly good as he hit just .229/.288/.300. He did steal 41 bases, but the bat wasn’t good enough. That changed in 2009 as he hit .285/.354/.384 and stole a league-leading 61 bases, the first of three straight seasons in which he stole more than 50 bases. His 2010 was good as well, as he hit .265/.341/.346 with 52 steals.
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Prior to the trade in 2011, he was having his best offensive season with a .303/.363/.403 line and 39 steals in 105 games. Those offensive numbers may not sound like anything you’d write home about, and they probably aren’t. But they don’t come close to telling the whole story.
Going to WAR
Bourn provided excellent value on defense, as evidenced by his back-to-back Gold Glove awards in 2009 and 2010. In particular, his 2010 season in the field was superb, as he led the NL in defensive WAR (3.5) regardless of position. He had a full half-run more than the next best player.
His bat may not have been anything special, but his excellent defense and speed on the basepaths really helped him in the WAR department. He compiled 12.0 WAR in his time in Houston, including 5.0 WAR in 2009 and 5.5 in 2010. The list of players in Astros history to put up back-to-back 5.0-WAR seasons isn’t as long as one might think.
Joe Morgan, Bill Doran, Bob Watson, Nolan Ryan, Joe Niekro, J.R. Richard, Glenn Davis and Hunter Pence never did it. Berkman, Mike Scott and Jose Cruz only did it once. Bourn also led the Astros in WAR in both of those years, making him one of only nine players to do that in back-to-back seasons.
This isn’t to say that Bourn should have his number retired. He didn’t spend nearly enough time with the Astros to be considered one of the all-time greats. But at his best, he was a much better player than he’s often given credit for. Perhaps if he’d played at a different point in the franchise’s history, he would be viewed a little more favorably.