Crash Landing: Lessons From Peter Bourjos

Baseball fans of all different sensibilities are guilty of one near universally mistake: forgetting just how much talent the worst player on a major league roster possesses. Perhaps there are enlightened fans who are able to avoid this trap, but I know I’m as guilty of it as the next person. I’ve made more jokes at Michael Martinez‘s expense than I care to count. “Replacement level” is somehow a pejorative description of a ballplayer which is also synonymous with “one of the greatest players to ever pick up a glove.” To achieve a coveted 25-man roster spot means being among the 750 greatest (active) players in the game. That’s some percentage of the baseball playing population with a zero before a decimal point and a crap ton of zeros after it. Bad major leaguers are still the elite of the elite!

In Philadelphia we’ve watched a lot of bad major leaguers in recent years — really bad major leaguers — and it can be maddening to watch. But I wonder, at times, if it clouds judgement. Philadelphia sports fans have a predisposition for pessimism. (Maybe that’s an all-sports-fan thing, I don’t know, but I do know for sure that it’s true here.) When pessimism combines with poor performance, it becomes easy to latch on to the bad to an extreme degree. We saw it happen with Ben Revere being written off as worthless every time he slumped despite evidence to the contrary. When a player struggles, it’s easy to write them off as a really bad major leaguer. Sometimes it’s valid. Sometimes it’s Michael Martinez. But sometimes it’s Ben Revere. And sometimes it’s Peter Bourjos.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I’ve been thinking about Peter Bourjos a lot. Prior to the start of the season, my bold prediction was that he would provide surprising value on the field this season and, hoo boy, did I feel like an idiot for the first two months of the season. On June 11th — less than one month ago! — Bourjos was batting .192/.223/.278 with 161 plate appearances under his belt. That’s a 29 wRC+. Twenty-nine! Seventy-one percent worse than league average production! The word “bad” doesn’t even begin to cover that sort of awful performance.

But, as you know, Bourjos is suddenly on a tear. Since June 11th, he has hit .464/.507/.754 in 77 plate appearances which is good for a, get this, 237 wRC+! That’s a peak Barry Bonds type of wRC+. Bourjos went from being a guy who looked like a completely useless major league player to putting up numbers resembling those of the greatest hitters of all-time.

Now, I didn’t particularly enjoy making a bold prediction the first time, but I’m still going to go ahead and make another: Peter Bourjos is not as good as Barry Bonds. Bold, I know. His numbers will regress towards his career norms. His speed may help him maintain a higher than average BABIP, but his middling power and lofty strikeout-rate will keep his ceiling to that of a league average hitter with his likely performance being somewhere below average.

But this breakout has provided a much needed reminder. For two whole months, Bourjos looked like he had absolutely no business being on a major league roster and it was easy to forget that he was still in the elite of the elite. He’s a fantastic ball players and, sometimes, fantastic ball players perform fantastically well.

Is patience necessary in regards to players? Of course not. Some players simply never come around, but stepping back from small sample size frustrations and regional predispositions are an important part of understanding the value of a baseball player. Bourjos may never be a key member on any winning team, but he can play and, right now, he’s playing incredible baseball.

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10 comments

  1. Jake Turner

    July 07, 2016 10:19 AM

    Corinne, just a heads up that at the beginning of your fourth paragraph, you put July 11th instead of June 11th (a small typo).

    • Corinne Landrey

      July 07, 2016 11:24 AM

      You mean not all months with four-letter names that start”Ju-” are the same? Thanks, it’s fixed now.

  2. Francisco (FC)

    July 07, 2016 11:34 AM

    I hope he keeps it up, that would make him a great trade target. Not that I expect much in return, but lottery tickets are lottery tickets.

  3. Major Malfunction

    July 07, 2016 12:22 PM

    He had a 5.1 WAR season before falling apart. You normally don’t have that kind of season by accident, so he must have that talent somewhere inside. Was a gamble on Phils part, but if that kind of talent is going to resurface, it was an excellent risk. Exciting player to watch.

    • Rickey likes Rickey

      July 08, 2016 12:52 AM

      Dude was money on the Angels, but I’m a sucker for gritty good glove guys that can run. I actually hope he sticks around a few years in some role.

  4. Richard

    July 07, 2016 01:43 PM

    Good points, thanks for the reminders. (I’m probably the biggest Michael Martinez defender out there, though, hah. Which doesn’t mean I thought he was “good”.)

    I’m a little confused by the opening to the final paragraph… surely patience *is* necessary? Do you mean “infinite patience” or something like that?

    • Corinne Landrey

      July 07, 2016 01:52 PM

      I could’ve worded that better. All I meant is that not every struggling player is guaranteed to turn it around if you wait long enough.

  5. Frank S.

    July 07, 2016 06:25 PM

    I remember one Bill James Abstracts explaining that major league baseball players are the extreme right end of the “baseball talent bell-curve.” Talent is not evenly distributed in the major leagues because, if you’re on the extreme left of the “baseball talent bell-curve,” you’re not in the major leagues.

    • simple facts

      July 08, 2016 12:45 PM

      Now I know why I never made it on a baseball team, it was that “extreme Left” talent I had. :). Couldn’t run, hit, hit for power, or pitch and my defense was mediocre .

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