Bourn-again Braves: The leadoff man is now the leading man

Sabermetric discussions sometimes turn heated. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Sabermetric discussions can sometimes turn heated. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

“Show me a good offense,” Chipper Jones said Monday, “and I’ll show you a good leadoff hitter.”

For a change, the Atlanta Braves have a very good offense. For an even bigger change, they have a terrific leadoff hitter. We’ll get around to Michael Bourn’s non-numerical contributions in a bit — not to be confused with BABIP, one of those categories stat geeks love — but first a little fun with numbers.

If you’re a sabermetrician, you believe WAR is good for absolutely everything. (Say it again!)  It stands for “wins above replacement.” It’s a complicated measure that fuses offense and defense and purports to reflect how many wins Player X is worth when measured against a garden-variety big-leaguer. There are two recognized WAR formulae — one by Baseball-Reference.com, the other by FanGraphs – and if you go by the former, the Braves’ leadoff hitter has been the best everyday WARrior in the National League.

Entering Monday night’s game, Bourn had achieved a WAR of 2.3. Among non-pitchers, only Josh Hamilton of Texas has a higher rating (3.1).

It should be noted that Bourn’s eyes didn’t exactly glaze over when informed of his statistical status, but neither did they dance with untrammeled delight. “I don’t focus on something like that,” he said. “I just go out and play the game.”

Some less exotic figures: Bourn was ninth in the National League in batting at .336, 11th in on-base percentage at .399, tied for fourth in stolen bases with 11, tied for first in hits with 51. “The numbers say a lot,” teammate Jason Heyward said. “He’s hitting over .300 in the leadoff spot. He’s on base one or two times a game. That’s huge.”

When Bourn was acquired just ahead of the 2011 trading deadline, it was thought/hoped he would have a catalytic effect on a pedestrian batting order. Alas, the flailing Braves were too far gone. Bourn hit .273 in 53 games and barely seemed to register amid the Epic Collapse. He registers now. (He went 1-for-5 in the Braves’ loss Monday, scoring their only run after a triple.)

Said manager Fredi Gonzalez: “People were saying we didn’t add anybody [over the winter]. We were thinking, ‘We’re getting a whole year of Michael Bourn.’ ”

The Braves awoke Monday leading the NL in runs scored; they were third in team batting, fourth in on-base percentage. Lots of folks have had a hand in the awakening — a rejuvenated Heyward, a thumping Freddie Freeman, a robust-at-40 Jones, new hitting coaches Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher — but lineups feed (or don’t feed) off the guy who bats first.

Said Gonzalez, speaking of Bourn: “He goes, we go. I think everyone has taken advantage of him being in the lineup and being on base.”

Said Bourn: “I’m on a pretty good team. We play together. We pick each other up.”

This is boilerplate Bourn. He’s relentlessly cheerful, and not just because his WAR is through the roof. As good as he has been on the field, he’s that good in the clubhouse.

“You know the numbers,” Gonzalez said, “but you appreciate the human being. What a great guy to have. He’s the same guy every day. He brings energy. He cares about winning and losing. He’s a pleasure to manage.”

He’s also a realist. “I’ve done OK so far,” Bourn said, “but there’s a long way to go. The thing about baseball is that you’ve got to get ready to play every day. We just got through with a good team [sweeping the Cardinals in St. Louis]. Now we’ve got the Reds.”

On Monday the Braves were scheduled to face Cincinnati pitcher Homer Bailey. Tuesday’s starter is the superb Johnny Cueto, whose WAR rating — yep, pitchers have them, too — is likewise 2.3. What happens when opponents of equal statistical measure go to WAR? Mutually assured destruction?

OK, enough stat chat. The nice thing about baseball is that you can have it all: You can love numbers more than the game itself, or you can just watch a guy play. Either way, Michael Bourn passes the test. He’s really good, and he has helped make his team really good, too. The only bad part is that he’ll be a free agent at season’s end, and he’s a Scott Boras client. Ouch, babe.

By Mark Bradley

82 comments Add your comment

Percy Harvin

May 14th, 2012
5:57 pm

Damn it. I hate to. But I agree with Mark Bradley.

ND

May 14th, 2012
5:58 pm

Just keep it going guys. Every game counts.

shivas

May 14th, 2012
6:01 pm

Stiffneck

May 14th, 2012
6:07 pm

When was the last time the Braves swept the Cardinals at Busch Stadium…….like never????

padre

May 14th, 2012
6:19 pm

things are falling in place. we still need that big bat in outfield

Blog comments are retarded

May 14th, 2012
6:21 pm

Stiffneck: I’m pretty sure they swept them in STL in 2009.

Natural Bourn Hitter

May 14th, 2012
6:22 pm

Re. Sign. Him. Immediately. No brainer

Joe Girardi

May 14th, 2012
6:24 pm

Love him while you got him.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

May 14th, 2012
6:28 pm

bout time to re-structure his contract you think?

Skeezix

May 14th, 2012
6:29 pm

I’m a Bourn again Brave.

Mark Bradley

May 14th, 2012
6:34 pm

Yep. I’d pay the guy.

1eyedJack

May 14th, 2012
6:36 pm

Enjoy him while you can. Liberty Media will never pony up.

glacialspeed

May 14th, 2012
6:37 pm

Liberty Media, please pay this man his money.

kevkat

May 14th, 2012
6:38 pm

Judge Smails

May 14th, 2012
6:41 pm

Best lead off man since Otis Nixon…And all with out the Blow!!

We Fifes are sensitive.

May 14th, 2012
6:45 pm

Joe Adcock

May 14th, 2012
6:45 pm

Playing GREAT!! Seems to be a nice guy. Hope we can keep him and win a couple of World Series! I agree with padre. We could use that one extra out field bat, though. I’d get it with our extra pitching prospects. But, hey, let Wren do it. He seems to be on a roll here lately..

Yawn.....

May 14th, 2012
6:47 pm

Of course we have enough money….Chipper’s gone after this season, give him his $14 million. The question is….is this a reflection of the “contract year”??? Seems like every primetime free agent has one, then bombs after signing day….can you say Albert Pujols??

That being said, Bourne is entering his prime (unlike Pujols). Roll the dice and pay the man!!

Yawn.....

May 14th, 2012
6:49 pm

oh, and don’t forget, Derek Lowe’s $10 million is coming off the books after this year too.

Mike Jay

May 14th, 2012
6:51 pm

I’m fine with sliding over a nice chunk of Chippers salary his way next year. Though he needs to improve his base stealing. 69% is too low for someone with as many attempts as him (CS 5 times). Also, well below his career avg so hopefully it gets better.

bfred

May 14th, 2012
6:57 pm

He’s one of a handful of pure leadoff hitters in the league. We’ve seen how the Braves scuffle without one – I’m not anxious to return to those days.

Yawn.....

May 14th, 2012
7:03 pm

Mike Jay….I have a feeling that whoever that signs him will have to pay, not only a nice chunk of Chippers salary, but the whole salary and then some. I’d say he’s worth the gamble, but I’m sure others will disagree

Q

May 14th, 2012
7:03 pm

@Mike Jay, at LEAST 2 of those CS were bad calls though.. Proven otherwise by video

BravesWin

May 14th, 2012
7:12 pm

Sign him for next year. Pay him. He’s worth it.

Joseph Allen McWhorter

May 14th, 2012
7:15 pm

Mark, it is obvious that replacing the batting coach makes a significant difference in the production of the offense. Last season, the Braves were probably the worst team in the majors in hitting with RISP. This season, they are one of the best. I never dreamed they would sweep the Cardinals in St. Louis. The Braves, barring major injuries, should definitely make the playoffs. The hitting is much better than last year. Michael Bourn may just be the best leadoff hitter in baseball right now.

Leebo11

May 14th, 2012
7:30 pm

Sign him to an extension before the all star break.

He is the best leadoff man we have ever had. Better than Otis, Furcal, Deion (ha ha). He is the best in the game and we have him. Sign him. Keep him….No Frank, before the yankees start tampering

dawg4u

May 14th, 2012
7:36 pm

I agree with you Mark and also with Chipper. He is definitely the MVP so far for the Bravos. A good lead-off hitter just makes everybody else better. The fact that he’s hitting .336 and is tied for the hits lead trickles down to the other hitters and they are doing the job as evidenced by the number of runs being scored by this team this year. Good hitting plus good starters and bullpen translate into first place although the Nats are impressive. Good column and I am starting to get a very good feel for this team going far. This is the best hitting team (so far) I’ve seen here since we had Gary Sheffield in the lineup back in ‘03.

speed kills

May 14th, 2012
7:59 pm

Just saw Delgado thrown out at second-Now we know he doesn’t have Brian McCann Speed!! Lol.

Sonny Clusters

May 14th, 2012
8:06 pm

A good leadoff man can get the game going the right way right from the first at bat. When we was playing ball that leadoff man was Phlegm Lattimore, fastest man in the county and a sure bet to get on base. Michael Bourn is a lot like Phlegm Lattimore only without the constant throat clearing.

Sonny Clusters

May 14th, 2012
8:12 pm

If we was at the game tonight we would go check out those new steak sandwiches they are selling. We was told you can buy one for about $15 if you’re willing to stand in line to get it. When we was a journalist we didn’t have to pay for anything because they had a buffet line set up in the press box and there was always a cheese sampler available.

Mark Bradley

May 14th, 2012
8:33 pm

We have to pay for food now. It’s a new ball game, as it were.

Geno

May 14th, 2012
9:13 pm

What happened to the tv signal? Did Bourne’s energy short it out?

Geno

May 14th, 2012
9:17 pm

Good ole Columbus Ga service!

Nigel Mckenzie

May 14th, 2012
9:25 pm

sounds a little crazy but braves should move prado to short he seems like he lost weight and looks more versitle and go out and get a bat, i like adam jones and why not finally get rid of pitching prospect

Glenn

May 14th, 2012
9:29 pm

I agree as well. The difference is obvious with the offense having Bourn batting lead off. There is no denying that having Michael in the lineup has turned a stagnet offense that relied on big hits with occasional men on base to be considered a threat to having the chance to have big innings every time the team comes up to bat. The whole offense looks totally different having a true leadoff batter in place.

Weaseal

May 14th, 2012
9:32 pm

Did you even see DOB ’s article today come on man same story same day,,,

NRBQ

May 14th, 2012
9:35 pm

Joseph –

Actually, the Braves are 26th in leaving men on base.

Last night, they were 5 for 20 with RISP.

Lots of hits and walks will disguise that weakness.

kerryb

May 14th, 2012
9:42 pm

Venter’s does not look good so far this year.

juice sourcer

May 14th, 2012
9:47 pm

and he has a great name…..

Bill

May 14th, 2012
10:06 pm

Agree Mark…Hope Wren can work out a deal to keep Bourn. Keep up the great job and Go Braves.

LeTwan Anthony

May 14th, 2012
10:11 pm

The Braves have acquired Felix Pie. LeTwan and LeTwan’s Momma are both very happy to have a Pie in the organization. Right now, Felix Pie is at Gwinnett but LeTwan hopes to see him soon at Turner Field.

jonnycash

May 14th, 2012
10:22 pm

KerryB your right there is something wrong with Venters. Check it out someone.

Hillbilly D

May 14th, 2012
11:25 pm

“Show me a good offense,” Chipper Jones said Monday, “and I’ll show you a good leadoff hitter.”

This is one thing I agree with Chipper on.

As for WAR, I think Edwin Starr had it right on that.

wayn-o

May 15th, 2012
1:00 am

The bullpen is not the same as last year. Braves seem to have a tough time in tight games and win the blown out games

YoungerThan ThatNow

May 15th, 2012
3:23 am

Great read Mr. Bradley! I’m all for the math that gives us as much info as possible, but when you get down to playing the game, let’s go play the game and with enough time the cream will rise to the top or it won’t. Right now, Bourn’s the cream that has risen to the top… and it’s sweet cream too. Michael Bourn is a player and one that shows up every day to give it all he’s got. The only knock on him is that he is represented by that guy… and most of that guy’s clients test the market after their current deals expire. I’m betting that this one will do the same thing… I’m hoping that he’ll still have the tomahawk across his chest a year from now, but who knows?

I’m not sure about this, but when Andruw Jones and his dad negotiated a contract extension with the Braves very early in his career, wasn’t he still a Scott Boras client at that time? I’m thinking he was and wasn’t happy about the deal that Andruw got. Probably not a snowball’s chance on an August day in the Nevada desert on that kind of thing… but we can still dream can’t we?!? Yeah… spend the money, cut the check and make Mr. Bourn a wealthy Atlantan!

Thanks again Mark Bradley!

GO BRAVES!

Bob the Blogger

May 15th, 2012
7:01 am

It would be nice to keep Bourn, but I suspect some team with deep pockets will be willing to pay Boras’ price, which will likely be 5 yrs/ $60 million.

Meanwhile, Jordan Schafer is struggling with a .250 BA and .333 OBP.

J-man

May 15th, 2012
7:53 am

Enjoy Bourn while you can. If he really wanted to stay here and Liberty Media really wanted to keep him, he’d be re-signed. Boras will likely ask for $15 million a season to start the bidding and LM won’t pay that.

The Real Brave

May 15th, 2012
8:02 am

We all know where this is going. Great player who will not be signed because the Braves don’t have the professionalism to work with his agent. Although his clients are signed with other teams each year. Bad baseball!

Adams the Magnanimous

May 15th, 2012
8:17 am

“Great player who will not be signed because the Braves don’t have the professionalism to work with his agent”

Now that is funny.

John

May 15th, 2012
8:47 am

He should be priority number one this off season. I wish we could extend him during the year.