Center fielder Michael Bourn will make his way back to the Cleveland Indians‘ lineup card in time for the first series against the Detroit Tigers. Nyjer Morgan was demoted down to class AAA Columbus to make room for Bourn, who is coming off the disabled list nursing a hamstring injury. Even though I would have rather seen C.C. Lee sent packing instead, Bourn’s arrival in Detroit will bring stability at the top of the Tribe’s lineup. Along with Morgan, Asdrubal Cabrera and Elliot Johnson have attempted to hold down the lead off role in Bourn’s absence.
In his time rehabbing in class AA Akron and in Columbus, Bourn struggled in 22 plate appearances, totaling two hits and two walks. The lack of production from the 31 year old in the minors isn’t a cause for concern, but it would have been nice to see him get off on the right track early on.
Bourn’s first season came as a setback following up on 2012’s 6.1 wins above replacement with 2013’s output accruing a WAR of two. His statistics in nearly every category went down from 2012 with 19 less stolen bases, on-base percentage down .032, slugging percentage dipping .031 and defense rating dropping from 25.6 to just 1.2. This degree of regression is something the Indians’ brass hoped they wouldn’t have to witness until nearing the completion of his four-year deal signed last offseason.
Aside from his disappointing offensive and defensive play last season, Bourn has missed time on the DL in his first two years with the Tribe. In 2013, Bourn missed 23 games due to lacerations on his index finger and a sprained wrist. Just two weeks into 2014, the Texas native has missed 13 games treating a strained left thigh injured in the middle of March. Earning $13.5 million in 2014, Bourn not only needs to stay healthy, but must produce at a higher rate than what we have seen.
The projected 2014 ZiPS for the middle outfielder play to a similar tune in the drop in productivity the Indians suffered through last summer with an estimated .257/.317/.352 (BA, OBP, SLG). Bourn’s approach at the plate crippled him in 2013, swinging at 28.1 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, his highest total of his career, including 2008 when he hit for .229 with the Houston Astros. As the leadoff man for an above average offense, Bourn saw an increase in fastballs in 2014, totaling 41.2 percent of pitches he gazed at. In his last season with the Atlanta Braves, he amassed 23.6 fastball runs above average, a metric he saw fall dramatically down to 9.3 as the headliner for Cleveland bats.
Despite what the computers declare concerning Bourn’s seventh full-time season, I believe he will turn the tides and slightly improve on both ends of the diamond. With the base running ability he retains, Bourn’s stolen base numbers have nowhere to go but up. The consistency Bourn will offer as the lead-off man may even spark Nick Swisher’s bat in the two hole, as he will be dealt a different assortment of pitches from pitchers changing the way they attack the Indians lineup.