Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

2013 Indians Fantasy Forecast: Michael Bourn

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While Nick Swisher may have set the tone for the Indians’ offseason overhaul, Michael Bourn pushed things over the edge. With his surprise signing, the Indians acquired a legitimate leadoff hitter and Gold Glove-caliber center fielder. You could say that’s Bourn’s identity. That’s something the Indians haven’t come close to since the glory days of Grady Sizemore or Kenny Lofton before him.

As we talked about all last week, Michael Bourn gives the Indians a dynamic offensive attack and immediately puts into place a batting order that has very few holes in it one through nine. But, how will all of this affect Bourn’s supremacy in the fantasy world? And more importantly, will the Bourn puns ever get old? Let’s find out.

Player: Michael Bourn
Eligible Position(s): Outfield
Average Position Rank: #21
Projected Draft Position: 7th or 8th round
Projected Auction Value: $15

There is no beating around the bush when it comes to Michael Bourn’s value in the fantasy world. It all comes down to stolen bases, stolen bases, and more stolen bases. Face it, this is not the mid-1980’s and Ricky Henderson, Vince Coleman, and Tim Raines are not walking through the door anytime soon. In a world where power has usurped speed and Moneyball has diminished the value of the stolen base—“we pay you to get onto first base, not get thrown out at second”—Bourn possess a skill set that is hard to come by.

Over the course of the past five seasons, Bourn has swiped a mind-blowing 257 bags for the Astros and Braves. In fact, he has had seasons in which he has stolen more bases on his own than entire teams combined. What that tells us is that there aren’t many guys doing what he’s doing on a yearly basis. Land Bourn along with the right combination of complementary base stealers and you may never have to worry about the stolen base category beyond draft day.

But, as Bourn enters his age-30 season, should there be concerns about his ability to keep up the pace he is on? The chart below shows Bourn’s yearly stolen base numbers and the corresponding success and failure percentages.

It’s interesting to point out two things. First off, Bourn’s career stolen base percentage of 81% is only good enough for 19th place among active players and tied for 34th on the all-time list. In terms of the sheer magnitude of stolen bases, Bourn’s 276 total isn’t good enough to crack even the top 150 all-time and he is currently in 15th place among active leaders. Of course, being a full-time player for only five seasons has played a part in that.

The second and perhaps more interesting note to take from this is the dramatic dropoff in Bourn’s success rate in 2012 compared to his other yearly percentages. Prior to 2012 (not including 2006), Bourn had never dipped below the 80% mark; in 2012 he fell to 76%. That’s a bit alarming considering that some of the other current stolen base studs—Desmond Jennings, Mike Trout, Emilio Bonifacio, and Coco Crisp, to name a few—were all above the 90% mark in 2012 and many others were above 80%.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

So was it simply a down year or a troubling sign of things to come for Michael Bourn? It’s hard to say for certain. Bourn has never really been a 90%-success rate base stealer, but the level of consistency he’s established over five seasons is hard to ignore. Yet, his dropoff in success rate and his lowest stolen base total since 2008 are hard to ignore. After all, Bourn played in 155 games in 2012 and didn’t face much in the way of injury. With the exception of nagging injuries that every player faces, Bourn was healthy in 2012.

It also doesn’t help that none of the more reliable projections see Bourn reaching 50 stolen bases in 2013. In fact, most have him coming close to 2012’s total of 42. The one alarming projection comes from Steamer, which projects that Bourn will suffer an even further decline and swipe only 35 bags in 2013. So what’s the deal?

It could be that 2012 was simply an outlier and he will return to form in 2013. Without dissecting each and every attempt it’s hard to say what really happened. Was it bad luck? Did he fall victim to a more successful use of the pitchout? Did one or more catchers simply have his number? Perhaps it was the way in which the Braves attempted to utilize Bourn as a stolen base threat.

You could also take into account his other offensive production. Bourn recorded career highs in home runs and RBI, so perhaps this is beginning a gradual shift from speedster to a more of a power threat. Granted, the nine home runs he hit in 2012 isn’t exactly a power surge, but considering he had 13 for his career prior to 2012 this seems significant. He also posted a career high .391 slugging percentage and .739 OPS as a full time player.

However, Bourn’s main value is still tied to steal bases. Until he proves otherwise, expect Bourn to be a hot commodity for those looking to put a lock on stolen bases during the 2013 fantasy season. While he is only ranked as the 21st-best outfielder and may not be drafted in most leagues prior to the seventh or eighth round, he’ll more than likely be a valuable trade piece, particularly in roto leagues. Owners desperate to make up ground in the stolen base department may be willing to pay a premium in order to solidify a position that is typically ignored during the draft.

In terms of auction value, Bourn is believed to be worth about $15. This seems about right. For a player who really does only one thing exceptionally well it is hard to justify breaking the bank for his services. Is it worth going a few dollars higher for Bourn? In a deep league where viable options can be snatched up early, it is certainly tempting and might even be justifiable. Just know that based on his career thus far, you are drafting a one trick pony.

With that said, it feels like Michael Bourn’s fantasy value has been properly assessed across all corners of the internet. Look for him as a possible option somewhere in the seventh-to-ninth-round range, and tread carefully in an auction league. If Bourn returns to his previous form and swipes 50 to 60 bases for the Tribe he could be worth every penny. But if he continues to regress after you ponied up for him it could be a long season for your fantasy team.

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