Michael Bourn is in the middle of the best year of his career, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. He’s a free agent at the end of the season, and his all around game makes him one of the best centerfielders, and possibly one of the best outfielders heading to free agency. He’s going to be paid extremely well for his ability to play stellar defence in center, steal 40 or more bases all while hitting out of the leadoff spot.
The one thing that nobody expected out of Michael Bourn, was the ability to hit home runs. Coming into this season he had hit 13 home runs in 2391 at bats. Justin Smoak, one of the worst everyday hitters in the majors (who is currently in the minors because of his poor production) still managed to hit 13 homers in 90 games. So it came as a big surprise when Michael Bourn hit 9 home runs this season, especially when you consider that over the past three seasons he’s only hit 7 homers.
So what brought about this power surge, and it sustainable?
Michael Bourn is a unique hitter in that he’s always been more effective hitting the ball to opposite field. Over the course of his career he has a 919 OPS when hitting to left field, an 859 OPS to center and 709 OPS to right field. As a left handed hitter, one would expect Bourn to be much better at pulling the ball. However it’s clear that his success is hitting the ball to the opposite field, which is extremely uncommon for left handed hitters. Even more puzzling is that despite Bourn’s success hitting to left, he’s only hit one home run over the left field wall and before this season hadn’t hit a home run to center field.
That all changed this season, when Bourn launched 3 home runs to center field. This is quite unexpected, as over his past 710 chances with balls hit to center none of them went over the wall. His success hitting to center has been a big reason for his increase in power, as he’s finally shown an ability to hit to all fields.
While some could argue this is a fluke, it seems that Bourn is hitting the ball significantly harder this year. The ball is coming off his bat at 105.2 MPH this season, a significant increase from last seasons 101.9. Likewise his true distance is greater this season, with his home runs averaging 405 feet this season compared to 391 in 2011.
There is a chance that Bourn’s power is simply be a product of good timing, as the center fielder is a free agent this season. However if Michael Bourn’s power is for real, then he might emerge as one of the better all around center fielders in baseball. It’ll be interesting to see how teams value Bourn in the offseason, as we’ll never know if he can sustain this level of power, or if he’ll return to being the 2-5 home run hitter he’s been over the past several years.