Yankees Trade Target: Peter Bourjos

Bourjos dropped this one for a two run error. Look at the eyes. - Harry How

How much are you willing to risk on advanced defensive metrics divining unperceived relative value, and is it worth the Yankees even bothering with it?

A couple of weeks ago, Peter Bourjos's name was floated for the first time as available-for-trade. According to the report, the Angels are looking for young pitchers in return. Bourjos is under team control for three more years, and is arbitration eligible for the first time this winter. Some expect him to only receive a $1.1 million arbitration award in 2014, considering a lot of his potential value comes from his defensive abilities. So should the Yankees be calling Anaheim to see if they can craft a deal to make Bourjos their new center fielder?

By the start of next season, Bourjos will be theoretically entering his prime years at the age of 27. That's an age you usually can count on some improvements from the player's trend profile, but Bourjos is a bit difficult to measure, considering his career path to this point. In late 2010, he had his first taste of the show for 51 games, in which he flashed some big league leather with little at the plate. He did, however, add ten stolen bases in 193 plate appearances. It was enough to earn the full time job the next season, and in 2011 he rewarded the Angels with a 114 wRC+ and 4.2 total fWAR. Both of those figures were better than Brett Gardner's production last year for the Yankees, and Bourjos accomplished that at age 24.

Unfortunately for Bourjos, that 2011 was his peak in both average production and total playing time so far. The last two years he has not been able to crack north of 200 plate appearances due to injury and the rocket that is known as Mike Trout. Still, a 114 wRC+ figure for a full season from your center fielder is pretty desirable if Bourjos could get back to that level. That's about what Granderson contributed in 2012 for the Yankees. Is there anything in Bourjos's numbers that could get us optimistic about his future offensive production?

Peter Bourjos

PA

wRC+

ISO

BABIP

fWAR

2010

193

65

.177

.228

1.9

2011

552

114

.167

.338

4.2

2012

195

72

.095

.274

1.9

2013

196

103

.103

.346

1.1

Career

1136

96

.146

.309

9.0

First of all, this is an inherently difficult analysis to make considering his limited time playing the last two years. However, you may notice right away that his better offensive production has correlated to a great degree with his BABIP. The spread between his good and bad years is also quite large, considering we're talking about a player who clearly has speed on his side. It is certainly reasonable to expect higher rates of BABIP for players with exceptional speed, due to higher rates of infield hits. That appears to be part of the answer here. The second trend you can see is that his ISO over the last two years have dropped materially from his previous seasons. Is that just injury, or is there something else afoot?

Peter Bourjos

GB%

IFFB%

IFH%

BUH%

2010

51.1%

5.9%

9.0%

42.9%

2011

46.8%

11.8%

14.1%

44.7%

2012

51.7%

9.5%

9.7%

46.2%

2013

58.7%

2.9%

10.8%

36.4%

Career

50.5%

9.1%

11.7%

43.4%

Bourjos's higher rates of BABIP do appear to correlate well with higher rates of infield hits in both his better offensive years. It also looks like last year he might have been a little unlucky in his bunting, as almost 10% came off his rate of success there. So there may be reason to believe his offensive production last year was a bit better than the 103 wRC+ figure he achieved.

The wrist injuries Bourjos sustained has to be part of the drop in his ISO the last two years, the latest of which led to surgery in September. However, I think there is more to his power decline than just injury. It appears that Bourjos has been changing his approach at the plate since his 2011 season. There are a lot of reasons to be wary of his 2011 production. First of all, he is prone to the strikeout, generating that outcome at over 22% for his career. For a player with speed as an asset, he also generated his lowest rate of ground balls in 2011, while making 11.8% of outs on infield-fly balls. In other words, there were legitimate reasons to expect a decline from Bourjos in 2012.

Last year, Bourjos' ground ball rate went up significantly to 58.7%. This helped to materially reduce those infield fly balls which are offensive production killers. The downside is that fewer fly balls usually lead to less power. In Bourjos' case, however, I think that's a good trade off considering his speed, and his wRC+ reflected that in an admittedly limited capacity.

Peter Bourjos

Swing %

O-Swing%

SwStr%

2010

43.9%

33.9%

8.5%

2011

46.4%

30.4%

11.4%

2012

41.2%

23.9%

8.4%

2013

42.7%

24.0%

9.5%

Career

44.4%

28.6%

10.1%

Another sign of a positive change is in his approach at the plate. Bourjos looks to have improved his pitch recognition skills somewhat from his earliest years. The rate at which he is swinging at pitches outside of the zone has been down materially the last two years, and it has helped reduce his swinging strike rate from the double digit level he had in 2011. It's still pretty high, however, and is the primary reason why he is striking out over 1.6 times for every walk he receives.

While there might be some rays of hope in Bourjos's offensive trends, it is his perceived value in the field that could make an acquisition of him potentially appealing. If you are someone attracted to the all-encompassing elements of the WAR statistic, then you're probably going to be intrigued about Bourjos for a price just over a million dollars. In just over 1,100 plate appearances, Bourjos has generated a 9.0 fWAR in total. That averages to about 4.75 fWAR per 600 plate appearances. Almost all of that has been achieved from his defensive play.

Peter Bourjos

Off

Def

fWAR

2010

(6.4)

17.9

1.9

2011

12.3

9.2

4.2

2012

(4.8)

16.9

1.9

2013

3.2

0.4

1.1

Career

4.3

44.3

9.0

This is what makes this an interesting investigation. There is a $1.1 million dollar question here, and it has to do with the degree you are willing to accept the accuracy of the more advanced fielding metrics in determining defensive production. I'm going to admit my bias here, and tell you that I'm a skeptic. The case of Bourjos and Mike Trout are one of the primary reasons why.

Peter Bourjos

Inn

UZR/150

DRS

2010 CF

449.2

47.2

13.0

2011 CF

1,263.1

7.6

12.0

2012 CF

501.2

40.8

9.0

2013 CF

415.0

(1.3)

(1.0)

Mike Trout




2011 CF

107.2

1.4

2.0

2012 CF

885.2

16.0

23.0

2013 CF

952.2

(0.3)

(9.0)





2012 LF

328.0

5.8

(1.0)

2013 LF

356.0

14.9

0.0

To help deal with Bourjos's sporadic playing time, I used Ultimate Zone Rating's per 150 defensive games metric. The volatility in Bourjos's readings is insane. To give you an idea of how high a 40+ reading is in that metric, the highest center fielder's mark in 2013 was for A.J. Pollock with a 28.6 figure. The highest reading in the entire league went to Juan Uribe with a 35.3 mark. So I'm struggling with believing in a metric that is vacillating from best in league to negative over the course of one third of a season for Bourjos. I'm sure you could reply that it's a small sample size issue, but I'm concerned that saying is becoming an abused excuse in Sabermetric circles.

So where does this get us with Bourjos? Should the Yankees trade for him, hoping his defensive production provides a total value well north of his arbitration award? They could save a bundle going that route, and spend it more aggressively in other places of need. It does look like Bourjos has made some steady adjustments that could suggest his offensive production over the next few years should be closer to his peak than his valleys. While his declining power might be a symptom of injury, his offseason surgery on his wrist this winter isn't likely to improve his slugging for at least the first half of next season.

As I said before, I'm skeptical about the advanced defensive metrics, and tend to discount their overall contribution in the determination of total potential value. Having said that, the massive spread in Bourjos' readings has to suggest that there is at least some significant potential. Acquiring him would allow the Yankees to spend more elsewhere. It would also allow Gardner to shift back into left where he has produced excellent defensive production in the past.

The recent rumors have suggested the Angels are looking for young pitching in return. Back in 2012, the Trout phenomenon led to rumors of a Bourjos trade as he was sitting on the bench most of the time. Back then the rumors suggested the Angels were looking for a relief pitcher in return. Would a Dellin Betances or Cesar Cabral be enough, or does it take a Preston Claiborne or Adam Warren type of name? Putting together a bullpen from within is generally easier than constructing a productive outfield. So if the cost is players that are expected to be relievers for the Yankees, then a trade for Bourjos could be a cheap and intriguing maneuver. He wouldn't solve the offense's problems, but his cheap salary might make it easier to solve that problem in other spots on the field while maintaining a positive rate of total production from center.

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