It seems like it was just yesterday when Angel fans were worrying themselves sick over whether or not Peter Bourjos was going to be able to hit enough to keep his stellar glove in the lineup this season. Well, worry no more. With a slash line of .321/.356/.556, Bourjos has not only proven he can hit "enough," but proven that he is a real offensive weapon. The only problem now, and what a good problem it is to have, is for the Angels to figure out how to best utilize Bourjos' unique offensive talents.
The thing about Bourjos that made so many question his ability to hit at the big league level is that he has several flaws in his game. What we have seen of him this year though is that he can be so good at the things he does do well that he can more than offset those flaws. This puts Mike Scioscia in the delicate position of trying to get the most out of Speedy Petey's strengths without inadvertently exposing his weaknesses in the process.
Thus far this season Scioscia has only seen fit to use Bourjos in one of two spots in the batting order: first or ninth (well, almost, Peter has one start each at seventh and eighth). With the production we've seen from Peter of late, I think we can all agree that he shouldn't be mired in the last spot in the lineup. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Bourjos just plain doesn't have the tools to be an effective leadoff man. Sure, he has more than enough speed for the job, but his lack of patience and plate discipline just don't jive with the job description. So where should he bat? The answer, it seems, lies somewhere in between... literally.
Here is the basic problem with Bourjos, he is insanely fast and that speed is always going to be something a team features in the top part of the lineup, however, Speedy Petey isn't such a big fan of taking walks, making him not such a great tablesetter. Even now when he is hitting .321, his OBP is a very pedestrian .356, and there is almost no chance of him continuing to his for such a high average. Let's say he regresses to the mean and sees his average settle in at abour .280, that would give him an OBP of roughly .315, which is just plain ugly for a top of the order guy. Speed or no, you just can't have someone who gets on base at such a low clip batting anywhere in the top third of the lineup.
OK, so what about taking advantage of that nice shiny .235 ISO and placing him in the middle of the order? Once again, regression to the mean makes this a bit of a problem. Bourjos has some pop, but not .235 ISO pop. A more realistic expectation for him might be something around .175, which isn't nearly as impressive, but it would still give him one of the better power numbers on the team. That makes Bourjos a great match for maybe the give or six hole... almost. The problem now is that Bourjos isn't so great when it comes to contact skills and situational hitting. His RISP numbers are actually pretty good (.316 BA and .918 OPS with RISP), but the jury is still out on whether or not that is a fluke. The real concern is how much Bourjos whiffs, which right now is almost one out of every three at-bats. Just like his low walk rates at the top of the order, his high whiff rate could be a deal breaker for the middle of the order, especially since Mike Scioscia has always had a low tolerance for guys who strike out a lot when they are supposed to be driving runs in. Why else do you think Mike Napoli never really hit in the heart of the order?
That doesn't leave a whole lot of options left for Peter. We are pretty much whittled down to either the seventh or eighth spot in the lineup. Give that choice, the seven-hole seems perfect. It is just high enough in the order that his power can still be useful at driving in runs, but low enough so that his low OBP doesn't limit the run-producing opportunities of the big bats (and I use that term very loosely with the Angels right now) behind him. Some might worry that batting him there might hinder his ability to be aggressive on the basepaths, but it isn't like there are a lot of plodders in the Angel lineup. If anything, Speedy Petey might be set free in the seven-hole since he should be given carte blanche to create havoc on the bases to push the issue and create scoring opportunities in front of light hitters like Jeff Mathis and Erick Aybar.
Bear in mind that I am only referring to the present for Peter. Hopefully as he develops over the years he can find a way to draw a few more walks and limit his strikeouts some so he can take his rightful spot atop the Angel order. Until then though, the seven-hole seems like the ideal way to make the most of his talents as currently manifested.
I like the conclusion offered by The Monkey. Keep in mind (as suggested by Himself) that all these numbers, etc., refer to what has happened this season. Remember that he is still quite a question mark for the team, as far as hitting. How about, for this season, they let him stay at the bottom of the order and figure it out without any pressure. He's done really well in that spot so far. He'll be able to learn the art and, with more at-bats, we should have a better handle on his true abilities with the bat. It's kind of nice to have him ninth since he can usually just swing the bat with no one on base to cause a distraction and, if he's on base, it's a great way to start the lineup over.
I realize Scioscia is hurting for a leadoff hitter but force feeding more intricacy to a guy just starting his career and still getting his legs under him is not the way to go. Witness those days when he leads off (.167).
The Angels leadoff and #2 spots in the lineup look secure for the next decade. From the pool of Kendrick, Aybar, Izturis, Bourjos, Amarista, Trout and Segura, I'm convinced two of these guys will show the necessary tools to lock down the top of the order.
A lot of this depends on the Angels plans. After next year they'll need to address whether Kendrick, Aybar and Izzy will be here long term. Resigning Kendrick more than likely means Amarista will be traded. Resigning Aybar means either Segura or Amarista will be dealt. Resigning Izturis means Amarista will be dealt. Then there's the OF, if Abreu's option vests and no trades are made, Trout won't be an Angels until 2013, which seems insane. Just about as insane as trading Abreu or Hunter.
Really and interesting time for the Angels.
I really like what you said. Keeping Bourjos at the 9th spot carries the biggest dividends right now. Remember when we had Aybar batting 9th in 2009? We got to see his true abilities, which was to bat over .300 and lay down some very timely bunts. Figgins and Abreu drove him in and we also learned that despite his speed, he's not a great base stealer.
With Bourjos, I'm confident that we'd see he can hit over .250, become a major distraction on the bases and possibly the greatest benefit, get into scoring position for Izturis. As good as Izzy's been in the leadoff spot so far, his true prowess is his ability to hit with men on. Getting Bourjos on base and using his ability to get into scoring position will be paramount to the teams success as no one on this team drives in runs like Izzy can.
@ScottyAllenLAAI The comparison to that '09 lineup is perfect. Whether or not he could steal, just having Aybar on base with Figgins up and knowing Abreu would make you throw lots of pitches really made a pitcher sweat. Not that was fun to watch! I have the feeling Bourjos is more capable of taking coaching than some players so this will/should be a terrific learning experience for him.