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2015 in Review: Jason Bourgeois

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Because the alternatives were disastrously bad

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

We continue Red Reporter's player-by-player look at the 2015 Cincinnati Reds. We'll profile every player who got time for the Reds this year, and will imagine their tenure with the Reds going forward.

By the Numbers

212 PA, .240/.294/.332, 28R, 3HR, 14 RBI, 3SB, 6.6% BB%, 15.6% K%, 70 wRC+

That triple slash line is not pretty.  But, it's also a weird time in baseball, where offense is near historic lows for the liveball era, and defensive metrics say that the absolute worst hitters in MLB can still be league-average players while playing OF, and there's skepticism about everything, including how skeptical one should be about everything.  Also, how did Bourgeois sneak into so much playing time?  If you'll recall, he spent the first three months of the season on the DL and did not even get activated until July, essentially.  And yet, only Schumaker and De Jesus got more playing time among "non-starters" by season's end.  Billy Hamilton's injury is obviously the main explanation, but even taking that into account I'm not sure how this happened.

2015 in Review

Bourgeois was worth about a negative-half WAR last year.  His bat was bad and his defense was unimpressive (by the numbers).  I find it impossible to consider explaining his season without doing so by comparison to Billy Hamilton.  To start with the obvious, Bourgeois' batting line is ugly, even by the standards of a defense-first CF, which I suppose is the prototype that Bourgeois most closely represents.  But that batting line was nearly 20% better than Billy Hamilton's.  Even when it's italicized, I don't know, the magnitude of that number just doesn't quite resonate properly.  In your mind, I think the natural reaction is to say well, they both amount to just really bad batting lines, and sort of think of them as similar.  But Bourgeois was a way better hitter than Hamilton last year.  People sometimes like to hand-wave Hamilton's OBP because he scores so often when he does get on base, but Bourgeois scored at almost exactly the same rate as Hamilton per PA.  Undoubtedly, Hamilton is a better baserunner than Bourgeois, but it isn't driving that huge of a difference in their values, which leaves defense.

About that defense-first CF moniker, well...it would be appropriate if Bourgeois played good defense in CF.  He used to be fine out there, when he was younger and faster, and he still looks the part.  But Bourgeois was 32 last season, and he's been a below-average fielder on balance for the past four years.  If you believe the numbers (and at least the various metrics are in agreement about Bourgeois' defense).  On the other hand, Hamilton is a great defender, no question.  But, and I'm sorry for hijacking your season review, Jason, I can't reconcile what the WAR metrics are saying about the difference in these two players.  If both played a full season, the difference in their defensive contribution in CF would be over 4 WAR.  In other words, the difference in defense between Billy Hamilton and Jason Bourgeois was worth more than the entire contribution of Brandon Phillips, or the same as the contribution of Todd Frazier, in 2015, in every facet of their entire games.  Just from their defense, in CF.  Maybe I'll write a full post on why I think WAR is miscalibrated for OF defense at some point, but for now I'll just say I'm skeptical.

Looking Forward

I don't mean to disparage Bourgeois entirely, as the Reds certainly could have done worse in replacing Hamilton after the injury.  In fact, the other in-house options (LaMarre, Schumaker, Negron, Boesch) were all far worse.  From that perspective, Bourgeois probably contributed a win or even two over what those guys would have done.  And he seems like a totally model citizen in the clubhouse.  But in the end, Bourgeois showed a poor bat and an unimpressive glove, and he's 33 years old.  Not much surprise, then, that he was outrighted to the minor leagues to remove him from the 40-man roster just after the season ended. I can imagine him staying in the Reds system as insurance, especially since few teams are likely to have a more wide-open OF situation than the Reds in 2016, and that is increased further by the prospect of a Jay Bruce trade.  But even if everything breaks poorly for the Reds OF situation, Bourgeois is not likely to be near the top of the depth chart in a rebuilding year.

Chance of making 2016 Reds roster: 5%