It is the time of year, having reviewed stats of players over and over, when certain items stick out. Some that seem to have the right raw materials to become a more complete player either do not recognize what they have or for some reason do not fully deploy them. This is my assessment of one such player.
Especially on a Sunday afternoon when the St. Louis Cardinals announced the signing of Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz, the club’s Grapefruit League road game was not drawing exceptional attention. After all, only three Cardinals starters rode the bus to Viera.
One was centerfielder Peter Bourjos, back after having sat out seven spring games with a hamstring injury.
Leading off against Washington Nationals’ ace Stephen Strasburg, Bourjos coaxed a walk. In addition to it being his first free pass as a Cardinal, it was a relatively unusual appearance over his four-year MLB career.
I find that to be both surprising and disappointing, as it seems that the 26-year-old is not fully utilizing his talents.
At the team’s Winter Warm-Up fan festival in January, Bourjos disclosed that one of his goals for his first season with his new club is to steal 40 bases. That drew a lot of media attention. After all, as a team, the 2013 Cards were dead last in the National League by a considerable margin with just 45 swipes. Just this week, the outfielder reaffirmed his intent, suggesting a .280 batting average should enable his steals target.
What about being more creative in getting to first, Peter?
Bourjos explains that his approach at the plate is basically to aggressively hit his way onto base. He makes it clear that working deep into counts and drawing walks are not major elements of his game. Too bad, as that signals his likely destination to be the bottom third of the batting order instead of the top.
To put this into perspective, in 1,136 major league plate appearances, the right-handed hitter has drawn just 63 walks, or a rate of 5.5 percent. His career on-base percentage is .306, to go with a batting average of .251.
In comparison, last season, fellow outfielder Matt Holliday had a walk rate of 11.5 percent, over double Bourjos’ career mark. Matt Carpenter walked 10 percent of the time, which explains why he and Holliday are likely to again appear in two of the first three spots in the Cardinals lineup. Even the man whose job Bourjos is trying to take, free-swinging Jon Jay, drew a free pass 8.3 percent of the time in 2013.
So, why isn’t Bourjos drawing more bases on balls?
He lacks patience. Last season, Bourjos saw an average of just 3.70 pitches per at-bat. That would have been the lowest among 2013 Cardinals regulars but is comparable to the team’s two most aggressive hitters last season in Holliday (3.71) and Jay (3.75). As noted above, the results for the latter two were very different, however.
The game-breaking speed that Bourjos possesses in centerfield is one of the major reasons he was a target of the Cardinals in their trade with the Angels. He has deployed that to his advantage on the basepaths with 41 steals in 54 attempts for a success rate of 76 percent.
Yet, it seems Bourjos is reluctant to use that speed in the act of laying down a bunt to reach base. Of those 1,136 career plate appearances, just 76 were bunts. 20 were successful sacrifices, intended to move runners over.
In the remaining 56 official at-bats, Bourjos enjoyed tremendous success. He collected 32 hits and made just 24 outs for an amazing bunting batting average of .571. Bourjos clearly has the ability to execute the play successfully.
So, why isn’t Bourjos bunting his way onto base more often?
Granted, if he tried to bunt more frequently, his success rate would almost surely drop. Still, there is a long way from .571 to .233. The latter is Bourjos’ career batting average in his non-bunting situations. In other words, that 32-for-56 success bunting has contributed 28 points to his career batting average of .251 and of course, to his OBP, as well.
Here is hoping that Bourjos is seeking out the advice of experts including former Cardinals stars Lou Brock, Willie McGee and Ozzie Smith in camp this spring and focusing more of his attention on reaching base than on swiping bags once he gets there.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.