In yesterday’s post about the fallout from the Josh Hamilton signing, I noted that the Angels could use Peter Bourjos as a pretty attractive trade chip, and predictably, a decent amount of people responded that Bourjos is nothing more than a fourth outfielder or defensive replacement because he can’t hit. This sentiment has been around for a while, since Bourjos came up and hit .204/.237/.381 as a rookie in 2010, and Bourjos didn’t exactly light the world on fire last year either.
However, I think it’s worth noting that there’s another center fielder in baseball with basically the exact same offensive skillset and overall performance as Bourjos, and he seems to be doing just fine down in San Diego.
The Padres center fielder, of course, is Cameron Maybin. The Padres plucked him from the Marlins a couple of years ago, made him their starting center fielder, and have watched him blossom into one of their best overall players. A year ago, they rewarded him with a five year contract extension, buying out his arbitration years and giving them control over his rights through 2017. And, when you look at them side by side, it’s essentially impossible to see an area where Maybin is substantially better.
Let’s start with their plate discipline stats, as they are a building block for a player’s overall approach. All stats are from the last three years.
They swing at the same amount of pitches. They make contact with the same amount of pitches. Their in-zone and out-of-zone rates are basically identical. There’s really no differences here.
How about when they put the bat on the ball – is there a substantial difference in what happens when they make contact?
Maybin hits the ball on the ground a little more often, but Bourjos is a little faster, so he gets a few more infield hits and bunt hits. The differences here are negligible, though. They’re both ground ball hitters with a little bit of power who use their speed to get better BABIPs than you’d expect from guys with low line drive rates.
And the overall results that combination leads to?
Maybin’s got a slightly higher OBP, but Bourjos has a slightly higher slugging percentage, and even after you account for the park factors, Bourjos grades out as a slightly better hitter overall. You might not expect Bourjos to outslug Maybin when you look at them, but Bourjos is deceptively strong – 36% of his career hits have gone for extra bases.
There is one offensive area where they have diverged, and it is a real advantage for Mabyin, and that’s on the bases. Maybin’s been a +20 baserunner in his career, which averages out to about +8 runs per full season, while Bourjos is at +4 runs per season on the bases. Bourjos is the faster of the two, but he hasn’t turned that speed into efficient base stealing, and so Maybin makes up the small gap at the plate by providing extra value with his legs.
Overall, though, the numbers basically come out in the wash. Maybin’s 2010-2012 total offensive value per 600 plate appearances grades out as +5 runs per full season, while Bourjos comes in at +3. Both have been roughly average offensive performers over the last three seasons.
On defense, Maybin is generally considered an above average defensive center fielder, and both UZR and DRS agree that he’s been an asset in the field for the Padres. The defensive metrics are in love with Bourjos, however. While the sample is still only 2,200 innings, his UZR/150 is a ridiculous +24, made even more absurd by the fact that he’s only played center field. A lot of guys who have racked up these kinds of absurd UZR totals in the outfield have played corner spots — Carl Crawford and Brett Gardner, for instance — so their baseline has included a comparison to plodding sluggers. UZR suggests that Bourjos has run laps around the other outfielders who were already selected for their defensive prowess.
Defensive metrics being what they are, you want to regress that number substantially in any kind of future projection. Bourjos is almsot certainly not a +24 center fielder, and given what we know about the range of defensive value, he’s probably more likely to be a +10 to +15 center fielder. Elite defenders usually aren’t much better than +15 runs above average for their position, and since we’re dealing with about two years worth of data for Bourjos, we shouldn’t be willing to concede that he’s an historical outlier just yet. Everything we know about Bourjos suggests he’s probably very good in center field, but you shouldn’t expect him to keep putting up the kinds of numbers he has previously. Let’s just be conservative and call him a +10 center fielder; that would make him a little bit better than Maybin, who is probably around a +5 or so, but wouldn’t treat Bourjos like he’s the greatest defensive outfielder who ever lived.
Overall, Bourjos is a slightly worse offensive player than Maybin, but likely offsets that difference with his better range in center field. The differences are all small enough that you can call the whole thing a wash, though – they’re basically the exact same player. And they’re basically the exact same age; Maybin was born four days after Bourjos.
A couple of years ago, Maybin was considered a busted prospect who couldn’t hit. The Padres gave him a full time job and have been rewarded for their confidence. Bourjos is a carbon copy of Maybin, and someone should have the confidence in this skillset to do the same. Instead of focusing on the fact that he’s a speed guy with a low OBP, focus on the overall player. As Maybin has shown, this skillset works in the big leagues.