Peter Bourjos entered 2011 with many wondering if his bat could justify keeping his stellar glove in the lineup and proved that it could, and then some. The next challenge for Bourjos will be evolving into something more than just an elite defender that can hit a little bit. Is he up to it?
2011 Stats: 502 AB, .271 AVG, .327 OBP, .438 SLG, 72 R, 12 HR, 43 RBI, 22 SB, 9 CS, 124 K
2012 ZiPS Projections: 571 AB, .261 AVG, .309 OBP, .412 SLG, 84 R, 13 HR, 52 RBI, 30 SB, 9 CS, 127 K
2012 Bill James Projections: 514 AB, .267 AVG, .317 OBP, .420 SLG, 77 R, 13 HR, 49 RBI, 27 SB, 10 CS, 108 K
2012 CAIRO Projections: 399 AB, .254 AVG, .307 OBP, .417 SLG, 53 R, 10 HR, 37 RBI, 15 SB, 6 CS, 90 K
2012 CAIRO Projections: 585 PA, .257 AVG, .303 OBP, .399 SLG, 66 R, 12 HR, 66 RBI, 26 SB, 8 CS, 125 K
2012 MWaH Projections*: 550 AB, .281 AVG, .340 OBP, .464 SLG, 88 R, 15 HR, 62 RBI, 33 SB, 11 CS, 134 K
*The MWaH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research
2011 in Review: After showing some impressive defensive skills but struggling badly in his abbreviated 2010 rookie season, Peter Bourjos entered training camp as a major question mark. The Angels knew they needed his blazing speed in the outfield to bolster their defense, but they weren't sure he was going to be able to hit enough to justify being an everyday player, even with his elite defensive skills. Not only did Peter prove his bat was "good enough," it even showed flashes of him being able to evolve into an offensive asset.
Bourjos hit for a solid average and coupled that with nice gap power, so he was more than just a speedy slap-hitter like so many fleet-footed outfielder before him. He still struck out quite a bit and didn't walk very much, which prevented him from being used much outside the bottom third of the order though. While he finished the season with an encouraging .765 OPS, it was the way he closed out the season that really has the Angels believing he could be a legitimate top of the order threat. Bourjos had a monster August in which he smacked six homers and posted a .965 OPS. He came back to earth in September, but he was still hitting the ball with authority (.181 ISO) and showing improved patience at the plate.
But let's be honest, the Bourjos' bat isn't what people think about when his name is mentioned. It is all about the glove. Though he didn't win a Gold Glove, Bourjos still put together an outstanding defensive season as his 7.5 UZR, 21 DRS and approximately 8,356 Web Gems showed. In fact, his defense was so good in support of the Angels flyball-heavy pitching staff, that I was compelled to make a case for him being the MVP of the American League. In a related note, I also developed an unhealthy mancrush on Bourjos who is now easily my favorite player (thus I might have overstated his MVP credentials, but only slightly). Without a doubt, Bourjos budded into a defensive star in the majors as almost every team that came in and saw him play left in awe of his range, lest we forget Ozzie Guillen's infamous comments about "having never seen a white man that can run that fast."
Three Lingering Questions for 2012:
- Can Bourjos turn himself into a viable leadoff hitter? With his elite speed, the manifest destiny of Peter Bourjos should be to end up as a leadoff hitter, however, he has a lot of work to do to make that happen. First, his .327 OBP needs to improve, but can he really lift it very much since he has never shown great control of the strike zone? Second, he needs to cut WAY down on the strikeouts. He needs to do this anyway in order to take better advantage of his speed, but no leadoff man worth his salt can survive striking out 120+ per season. If his performance as leadoff hitter in 2011 is any indication (.256/.275.414 in 80 plate appearances), he has a long way to go.
- Will Peter learn to become a lethal base stealer? One of the areas that didn't get enough attention with Bourjos is that he "only" stole 22 bases. That's not a lot for a guy often called the fastest man in baseball. It is even worse when you realize he got caught 9 times as well. The fact of the matter is that Peter just doesn't look like he has spent much time refining the art of swiping bags. If he can learn on the job like Erick Aybar did, there is no reason he can't someday steal 50+ bases.
- What will it take for Speedy Petey's name to stop popping up in trade rumors? We all know this is my biggest pet peeve probably ever. Every fan of every other team would love to have Bourjos and they all seem to think he is expendable since the Angels have Mike Trout on the horizon. Forget about the fact that the Angels have long prided themselves on being a great defensive club and that their pitching staff is composed almost entirely of extreme flyball pitchers and would thus love to have two great defensive outfielders next to each other. Forget about the fact that Torii Hunter is a free agent after the season and that Vernon Wells may or may not be a zombie. Nope, sorry folks, Bourjos isn't going anywhere for awhile.
What to Expect in 2012: Expect even better defense in 2012 from Bourjos. If Peter had one weakness in the outfield, it was that he too often deferred to the veteran outfielders flanking him, Hunter especially. That was an issue they worked on all season long and it wasn't until the latter stages of the season that they seemed to clear those issues up. That should clear up a lot of the problems Bourjos had coming in on balls to right-center.
Offensively, Bourjos is a bit more of a mystery. I would certainly expect him to undergo the same tutelage with Alfredo Griffin that turned Aybar into an efficient and highly productive base stealer last season. There really just is no reason that Peter should play 150+ games and not steal at least 30 bases. He should also get a lot of opportunities to do so as we can expect Bourjos to spend more time in the leadoff spot where Scioscia will want him to press the issue some more. The reason we will see this despite Bourjos's middling on-base skills is that the Angels don't have a lot of other options, but also that Peter is quietly a guy that can mash southpaws. In 2011, his slash line against lefties was .289/.337/.503. Considering that Aybar, Izturis and Callaspo aren't so great against lefties, Scioscia will almost definitely see if he can't maximize Bourjos' offensive value by having him leadoff when an opposing left-hander is on the mound. That, in turn, should lead to even better pitches to hit for Bourjos since he will only be two batters in front of Pujols and there is no way pitchers are going to want to give a guy with his speed a free pass with Pujols looming. That plays right into Petey's hands as he is a good fastball hitter.
The mystery part is whether or not that will come true. If there is a flaw in my rosy projection for Bourjos it is that he might put too much pressure on himself when he bats leadoff. The slash line I referenced earlier would certainly seem to support such a theory. We've seen in the past (i.e. Erick Aybar in 2010) that guys trying to evolve into leadoff hitters can screw themselves up by taking pitches for the sake of taking pitches. If Peter can avoid that mental trap, he could be in for yet another breakout season.
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