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.