July 26, 2012 at 10:55 am by David Lee under Atlanta Braves, Player Analysis
Every time Michael Bourn hits a home run these days, he’s setting a career high that he might never reach again. His previous career high was five set as a rookie in 2008, and he’s sitting on eight now after hitting a two-run shot Wednesday in the Braves’ 7-1 win over the Marlins.
I examined where Bourn was targeting pitches to launch them out a month or two ago, but with the introduction of Baseball Prospectus’ and Brooks Baseball’s hitter profiles, I thought it would be interesting to see it mapped out in that way. Below is the diagram representing Bourn’s ISO.
Nothing has changed much since I last looked. Bourn is targeting pitches up and in to jack them out. So obviously, Bourn’s home runs are going to right field, as shown below.
But as power comes, sometimes hitters trade some plate discipline for it, so is this is the case with Bourn?
The center fielder is whiffing on fastballs 4.2% of the time this season, so we can safely say it’s not the hard stuff that’s getting to him. However, he’s whiffing on 20% of sliders, 12.4% of curveballs and 14.6% on changeups. Comparing that to before this season, Bourn whiffed on sliders 13.7% of the time, 11.7% on curveballs and 17.2% on changeups. So on the breaking stuff, yes, he’s swinging and missing more, but he’s recognizing the difference between the fastball and changeup better this season than he has in previous years, and that could be a big reason for why he’s catching up to those high and inside fastballs and hitting them over the fence.
However, if you look at Bourn’s discipline numbers, it would lead you to believe his eye at the plate hasn’t changed. He’s swinging at pitches out of the zone 22.8% of the time, which is actually below his career mark of 23%. He’s making slightly less contact on pitches out of the zone, as well, possibly leading to a slight uptick in strikeout percentage at 21.3% compared to a career mark of 19.9%. But the difference between weak contact on pitches out of the zone and missing altogether is minimal.
The talk of Bourn striking out so much is likely the result of small-sampled observation. He only struck out in 13.3% of his plate appearances in April while keeping it around his career norm of 20% in May and June. However, he has seen a spike to 30% in July, which is probably causing much of the talk.
But, if notice along with the strikeout rate, Bourn is walking 10% of the time this month compared to 9.5% in April, and 6.7% and 6.1% in May and June, so the small sample floats both ways.
Aside from swinging and missing at a few more breaking pitches, there’s no evidence to suggest Bourn is trading on-base ability or plate discipline for his newfound power. I think he’s simply reacting to pitches up and in better than he has in the past, and considering he’s whiffing less on the changeup, he seems to be taking advantage of seeing the speed difference. It’s impossible to say whether this is repeatable, but considering he has never seen the fastball/changeup combination this well, I would just enjoy it while it lasts.