The Indians spent significant money on Michael Bourn last offseason and the addition was reason for great hope entering the season. But the Indians 2013 success may have actually come despite their expensive leadoff hitter.

Bourn got off to a hot start, posting a .333 average prior to his mid-April injury, but it was all downhill from there. His abysmal .299 on-base percentage in the second off the season was more fitting of a No. 9 hitter than a former All-Star leadoff man.

Most managers are stubborn when it comes to lineups, but Terry Francona has a history of making switches at the top of his order, which made his insistence on keeping Bourn in the leadoff role a mild surprise.

In 2007, when Julio Lugo’s leadoff OBP dipped below .300, Francona went to a mixture of Dustin Pedroia and rookie Jacoby Ellsbury in the leadoff role. And in 2000, while with the Phillies, Francona dropped struggling veteran leadoff man Doug Glanville in favor of Bobby Abreu and rookie Jimmy Rollins.

So will Francona look to shake things up at the top of the order in 2014? Here a few reasons why he should…

He can’t get on base

leadoff obpAt the most basic level, the leadoff hitter’s job is to set the table for the men behind him. And no leadoff hitter in baseball did his job worse than Michael Bourn in 2013.

Bourn’s .314 on-base percentage from the leadoff slot wasn’t just disappointing, it was historically awful.

To better put this historically low OBP in perspective, consider this: since 1916, the Indians have had 22 players start at least 75 games in the No. 9 spot. Of those 22, eight players posted a higher OBP than Bourn. The list includes such gems as Jerry Willard (.320 in ’85), Felix Fermin (.321 in ’89) and Einar Diaz (.322 in ’99 and ’01).

He has no patience

Bourn’s career high in walks is 70, and even then (in 2012) he walked just once every 10 plate appearances.

A low walk total can be a result of a high-contact hitter, but for Bourn it stems from his propensity to chase pitches out of the zone.

In 2013, Bourn offered at 25 percent of the pitches he saw out of the zone, which is actually right on par with the league average for leadoff hitters. However, Bourn demonstrates his lack of patience most in hitter’s counts.

In hitter’s counts, the league average chase rate for leadoff hitters drops to 20 percent. This is logical, since a hitter can be more selective when the count is in his favor. Bourn’s chase rate, however, rose to 27 percent – the highest rate among all qualifying leadoff hitters.

And it’s not as though Bourn is the second coming of Vladimir Guerrero either. When swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, Bourn posted .140 batting average, fourth worst among qualifying leadoff hitters.

Finally, my favorite stat to demonstrate Bourn’s unwillingness to just wait for the right pitch: on average, he saw more pitches per plate appearances when the pitcher threw a first-pitch strike than a first-pitch ball.

He’s easy to finish off

Part of the leadoff hitter’s job is to make the pitcher work. But if a pitcher get ahead against Bourn, there’s little Bourn can do to fight back. In plate appearances in which the pitcher threw a first-pitch strike, Bourn managed a .251 on-base percentage, well below the league average of .294 for leadoff hitters.

And if the pitcher could get Bourn into a two-strike count, the at-bat was essentially over. Bourn struck out in 42 percent of his at-bats that reached two strikes, ranking him dead last among leadoff hitters.

6 Comments

  • Sean Porter says:

    Here’s hoping that Bourn’s season was the result of him struggling to adjust to a new league and various little injuries.

    If not, his contract is going to turn into an albatross hanging around the Indians organization’s neck.

  • Gvl Steve says:

    Brantley was very effective as a leadoff hitter when Bourn was out. He’s also our best #2 hitter and one of our best RBI guys, so cloning him may be an option. Bourn was a shell of his former self for most of the year. Steals down from 40 to 23, doubles down from 40 to 20, and OBA way down. I would give him 1st crack at the leadoff spot to show that 2013 was an adjustment year/off year, but definitely keep an eye on him.

  • Swift says:

    Like Sean Porter, I hope Bourn can turn it around. We really need a power bat and some pitching; if we have to also shop for a leadoff hitter, I suspect it will be too much to ask for. And if you do get another leadoff guy, what do you do with Bourn?

    Brantley is good at everything he does. I’d rather leave it so you have the flexibility of putting him where he is needed in the lineup, rather than committing him to leadoff.

    • Sean Porter says:

      I could be wrong but isn’t Brantley on record as saying that he doesn’t like leading off?

  • DaveR says:

    Wow Kenny, except for his first year where he only played 20 games, that’s his worst OBP by far including the end of his career.

  • Hermie13 says:

    Jason Kipnis can and should hit leadoff, period.