Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 3/16/12
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I was reading through Eric Karabell’s “Do Not Draft” List on ESPN today (Insider only), and who do I see atop his list of guys to avoid this season? If you’ve read the title, you probably have a good idea: Michael Bourn.

Listen Karabell, I understand your concerns regarding why a one-category, steals-only player should not be drafted where your colleagues at ESPN have Bourn ranked (35th) but the problem is that you logic is flawed; Bourn is not a one-category performer.

Last season Bourn scored 94 runs, which tied him for 21st in the league with Brandon Phillips. You don’t think 21st in a category is really all that impressive? Consider that in a standard, 10-team league, Bourn would be second or third in runs scored on just about every single squad. He scored those 94 runs despite playing two-third of his season in a Houston lineup that finished 26th in runs scored for the season. And last year’s edition of the Braves was only ranked 22nd. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I think the Braves’ offense will be better this season with Dan Uggla posting a better batting average and Martin Prado, Jason Heyward and Brian McCann likely improving as well.

And Bourn’s .294 average was pretty good, too. It wasn’t elite, ranking just 38th in the league, but his 656 at-bats were good for fifth-most in the league. That means his .294 average carries even more weight, since Bourn will accrue a higher percentage of your fantasy team’s at-bats than your average player. Looking at overall hits totals is a good way of accounting for the at-bats portion of a player’s impact in batting average, and Bourn’s 193 hits were good for ninth in the league.

But to expect Bourn’s .294 average to regress this season just because he’s a career .271 hitter? Come on, Karabell. That’s so 2004. Bourn’s career average is just .271 because he batted .229 in his first full season (2008), but in the three years since then he’s posted a .283 average in 1,797 at-bats. It took a .290 BABIP for Bourn to have that .229 season, and players with his speed don’t post .290 BABIPs very often. Plus, according to our xBA formula, Bourn should have batted .281 last year. Why would you even use his career .271 average as evidence of his expected regression. It’s completely misleading.

Giancarlo (formerly Mike) Stanton is a low-average hitter with above-average runs totals who gives you just a handful of steals but a boatload of homers and very good RBI potential, so why doesn’t he fall into the same category? And, while we’re on the subject of guys who excel in one category, does anyone even realize that Bourn’s 61 steals last year were 24.5 percent more than the second place guy (Brett Gardner, 49)? For Stanton to have the same kind of impact in homers, he’d need to hit 53 bombs this season (if we use Jose Bautista‘s 43 homers last year as the second-place estimate).

Bourn is no Derek Zoolander; he has more than one look, and to call him a one-category performer ignores the significant contributions he makes for your fantasy team.Well, obviously not your fantasy team, Karabell, but someones.

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