Bourn to Disappoint

Today continues DTTWLN’s three week examination of the Indians 2014 season and where it fell short of the playoff expectations established last winter. The staff will examine where the season went wrong and the challenges the front office faces to make the Indians contenders in 2015.

At the end of the 2012 season, Michael Bourn was a prime target as a free agent after having a great season with the Atlanta Braves. After losing 94 games in 2012, the Cleveland Indians needed to do something to improve for the 2013 season. With Michael Brantley patrolling center field, and no solid options for the rest of the outfield, the Indians decided to sign Bourn to a four year, $48 million deal. The Indians were hoping to bring another leader into the clubhouse to join Nick Swisher, who had also just been recently signed to a four year $56 million deal. They hoped to bring the closest thing they could get to having another Kenny Lofton-esque player in Cleveland once again. Unfortunately, that has not happened whatsoever.

The reason that Bourn was so wanted in Cleveland was due to what he had brought to his previous clubs: a solid leadoff hitter, excellent defense, and a disruptive force on the base paths. He was the leader in stolen bases between 2008-2012, and had 61 stolen bases in both 2009 and 2011 with the Astros and the Braves. In 2012, the Indians leader in stolen bases was Jason Kipnis with 31, but only one other player had more than 20 stolen bases, and that was Shin-Soo Choo with 21. Prior to 2012, Bourn also had an average UZR of 8.6, with an astounding UZR of 23.3 in 2012 with the Braves. He also had an average WAR of 3.27 between 2007-2012. In his last season with the Braves, Bourn hit a solid .274/.348/.391 with 96 runs scored, nine home runs, 57 RBI’s, and 42 stolen bases.

Since Bourn has come to Cleveland, his overall production has taken a giant hit compared to his previous results. In 2013, Bourn was still fairly productive as he hit .263/.316/.360 with 75 runs scored, six home runs, 50 RBI’s, and only 23 stolen bases. Matters didn’t improve in 2014 as he took a dip in literally every offensive category as he hit .257/.314/.360 and scored 57 runs, hit three home runs, 28 RBI’s and had a measly 10 stolen bases. For a guy that is supposed to be a disruptive force on the base paths, Bourn did not display that in 2014.

The biggest reason that Bourn hasn’t been his prototypical self though can be traced back to his hamstring injury that he suffered in the last game of the 2013 season. The injury required minor surgery during the following offseason, but Bourn never seemed to really recover from this injury. He spent time on the disabled list twice in 2014 to two different injuries, both in his hamstrings. For a guy that was signed to be a master at stealing bases, it’s hard to do that if you can’t trust your legs to do what you want them to.

Even though Bourn hasn’t been very consistent with his speed and defense as he once was, there is one thing he has been very consistent with: his strikeout rate. In 2014, Bourn had a strikeout rate of 23.4%. In 2013, his K% was 23.0, and in 2012 it was 22.0. For a leadoff hitter, it’s not a great way to start off a game when your leadoff hitter is striking out just shy of one third of your at bats. The last leadoff man to have this high of a strikeout rate was when Grady Sizemore was leading off for the Tribe consistently in 2008. During that season, Sizemore struck out 130 times in 157 games with a K% of 17.8.

Something positive to pull out of Bourn’s season though is that he tied for first in the American League of the most triples with 10 of them. Only Adam Eaton had as many triples as Bourn did. With Bourn only playing in 106 games this season, this is quite the feat for him to achieve. This could be a step in the right direction, and maybe Bourn could be working his way back to becoming the player that the Indians hoped he would be when they signed him, or it could just be that he hit the ball in the right spot to allow him to get a triple ten times.

When the Tribe signed Bourn in 2013, the contract was slightly team friendly for the first season as Bourn only made $7 million. This past season, Bourn was paid $13.5 million, and in the next two seasons he’s owed $27.5 million. That’s a lot of money owed to a player who doesn’t really bring a whole lot to the table in regards to the type of offense, defense, and speed that he is currently showing. Due to his lack of recent production, it is going to be near impossible for the Tribe to try and move trade him if they so desired to. The Indians currently have a ton of outfielders in their minor league affiliates that are itching to break the majors, but are currently in a logjam because of current outfielder contracts held by Bourn, Brantley, and David Murphy. Players like Tyler Naquin, Carlos Moncrief, and Bryson Myles are all knocking at the door of the MLB, but won’t be moving anywhere closer until there is some relief of outfielders either by trades, or by being designated for assignment. Let it be known, that any of these players could produce that same type of offense and defense that Bourn is currently showing in Cleveland.

In order for Bourn to live up to the money that is owed to him, he’s going to need to improve his running game. That was the biggest draw for the Indians when they signed him. If he can get his speed back underneath him, and become that force to be reckoned with again when he gets on base, he’ll instantly become an asset at the top of the Indians lineup. Until that time, he’s going to continue to be a detriment to the Indians, and just a mediocre outfielder.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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