An Assessment of Bourn’s Would-Be Value to the Mariners


When teams hit some kind of extreme, good or bad, people come out of the woodwork to drop I-told-you-so’s like it’s nobodies business. And it really shouldn’t be anyone’s business. Keep that crap to yourself. But, it happens. And the M’s recent embarrassing series qualifed as one of these ego-endorsing extremes.

One of the I-told-you-so’s came from The Seattle Times’ Geoff Baker, in regards to the Mariners passing on Michael Bourn, who is hitting well this season. He has posted a .364 wOBA and 131 wRC+ this year, which have helped attribute to his 0.9 fWAR to this point. Seeing Bourn play and his team trounce the M’s gave Baker the opportunity to criticize Jack and company for failing to do more in the offseason.

Baker said this of the situation:

"But the Bourn thing, for me, is a classic example of how this rebuilding process has played out for the Mariners. It’s taken a long time to get where we are and I do think we could have seen some better baseball a bit quicker had the Mariners spent some dough this winter and in prior ones to shore-up where they were lacking."

He was a big Bourn advocate all offseason, probably more than he should have been. He may have overstated his value a little. But he is right: Bourn would have helped this team. He may not be hitting the way he is now, but he would be a clear improvement over what the Mariners have going on right now.

The thing is, he is right for the wrong reasons. Baker does not seem like a sabermetrically-inclined guy, so I doubt he likes Bourn for the 6 WAR he posted last year. I doubt he likes him for his 22.3 UZR last year. Heck, he may not even like him for his 10% walk rate. He probably likes him because he is fast, plays defense, and is generally thought of as one of the better leadoff hitters in the game.

But that doesn’t take anything away from Bourn. He is a valuable player, as seen in the 6 WAR I mentioned above. However, there is another problem with Baker saying what he did. This is a team that has suffered a lot of injuries that have forced them to play certain guys more than they planned to. It’s not like they came into the year with Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay and Endy Chavez penciled in as a time-share in left field. Chavez wasn’t even on the opening day roster, and Raul and Bay were meant to be 4th and 5th guys, pinch hitters, and spot-start DH’s. But when you lose Michael Saunders for a month, Michael Morse for a week, and then Franklin Gutierrez for eternity, plans change.

My first thought when I read Baker’s article was “You are wrong Geoff Baker.” This team didn’t need a defensive minded player and speed-only guy. But then I realized that he was only partially wrong, as stated above. And I was also partially, or mostly, wrong. People tend to put players into certain categories based on what they do and who they are. Bourn is the speedy leadoff hitter. Morse is the bat-0nly “outfielder”, et cetera.

Even us all-knowing sabermetricans do this at times. We look at a team that lacks power, and think they need to add power and nothing else. We forget something very important. Value is Value. It really doesn’t matter that much what kind of value that is. Sure, if the M’s had their choice of a 6 win player like Bourn, or a 6 win power hitter, they would probably take the latter. But 6 wins are 6 wins, and value is value. Bourn would have made this team a lot better than they are now. Only one of Morse and Kendrys Morales would be here, as Bourn would have replaced the other, which would be an improvement.

So if you want to criticize the front office for not getting Bourn and settling instead for Morse, then by all means. It is a very valid criticism, one worth roughly 4.5 wins. But don’t pull a Geoff and just say “this is a slow team. Bourn is the opposite of slow, and thus would make them better,” while simultaneously saying missing out on Swisher was not that big of a deal for whatever reason. That is not why Bourn is valuable. It is part of it, sure. But a team doesn’t need speed to win. Just like they don’t need power. You want as much of both as you can get, but in the end, the goal should be value in any way shape or form possible. I repeat, value is value. It may sound simple, but everyone seems to forget. I forget. You forget. Geoff Baker forgets. Don’t forget anymore.

In hindsight, signing Bourn looks like it would have been a good move. But hindsight is 20-20. Right now, it looks like a good thing Josh Hamilton snubbed Seattle. But most people wanted him here more than anything. So I am not letting this realization change my opinion of Bourn. Because there are still some problems with him, that do stem from the kind of player he is.

There is an exception to the “value is value” mantra I am using. Sometimes, the means by which a player accumulates value can depreciate, thus lowering the player’s future value. That is “I am smarter than you language” for speed goes away fast (pun intended). A player’s legs are usually the first things to go as they get older, and that happens to be the biggest part of Bourn’s game.

Bourn is 30 years old, which is generally referred to as the turning the point in a players career. And when a player relies on that as much as Bourn does, it can be scary to commit tons of money to him. When the legs so, so does most of the value. It is not guaranteed that he loses his speed soon, but it is probably pretty likely, and it will affect him more than a Carl Crawford who can fall back on his career .442 SLG%. According to Baseball Reference, Bourn got almost half of his value from his defense last year, and that is a little scary as he gets older.

Then, there are easy comparisons to be made between him and Chone Figgins. And they go past the fact that they are both fast.

Take a look at their respective lines through their contact years, which is 2009 for Figgins and 2012 for Bourn:


It think when most people hear this comparison, they write it off. Well, turns out they probably shouldn’t. As it happens, Figgins was actually better before signing with the Mariners than Bourn was before signing this year. Their WAR’s are close because Bourn gets a boost for being a center fielder, so their overall value is much closer. But it terms of offensive production, which is what we are focusing on, Figgins has the edge.

Then, if we focus in on the final pre-contract season, Figgins still tops him, with a 116 wRC+ and 6.6 WAR, compared to 104 wRC+ and 6.1 WAR for Bourn. Not a huge difference, but it is there.

And that is not to say that any of this is guaranteed. It is far from a perfect comparison, as Desmond DeChone Figgins was almost two years older when he signed his contract than Bourn was. Plus, Figgins didn’t really lose his speed, he just forgot how to hit. Bourn might not face the same fate, but he very well could. We just don’t know, and that is the main concern.

I did not intend for this to be a Geoff Baker bash article. I respect him and think he puts out a lot of good content. But I just disagree with some of his ideas here, and thought it set up a good opportunity to make this point.

Bourn would have been an upgrade to this team. No doubt about it. But it isn’t because he brings “the crucial speed element” that every team needs. It is because he is a valuable player, period. The team has been forced to play Raul and Bay more than I think they planned, and Bourn blows them out of the water. An extra 5-6 wins can make a big difference. But that just this year, and you have to consider the future as well. He is a speed-first player, and that trait does not last forever. He could have come back to haunt them in a couple years, and another Figgins is not what the M’s need.