Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Friday, February 23, 2007

Roberson v. Bourn 

Now that Spring Training is finally upon us, we can start to talk about training camp battles between veterans fighting to keep their jobs and rookies trying to break their way into the lineup. The Phillies have a few battles of note, specifically Chris Coste’s efforts to remain on the Phillies roster, efforts that seem increasingly futile given management’s lack of interest in keeping Coste on the team. There are a few battles in the bullpen as well, but today I want to focus on another interesting battle I see shaping up between Chris Roberson and Michael Bourn over the Phillies fifth outfielder position. The Phillies will probably award Roberson the job, but I want to argue that Michael Bourn would do the job better.

Let’s start with the basics … Roberson ended the 2006 season with the Phillies, frequently appearing as a pinch-runner or a pinch-hitter for the Phillies. Roberson played before that in Triple-A Scranton as a part of the Red Barons. Roberson went to Mexico to play in winter league ball with the Naranjeros de Hermosillo, where he played somewhat well. (More on that later.) Meanwhile, Bourn moved fast, starting the season in Double-A ball before moving on to Scranton and closing out the ’06 campaign in Philadelphia with the Phillies. Roberson is 27 and was the Phillies ninth-round pick in the ’01 Draft. Bourn is 24 and is the Phillies fourth-round pick in the ’03 Draft.

With the Phillies set to feature Shane Victorino, Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell with the versatile Jayson Werth as the fourth outfielder, the Phillies need to add a fifth outfielder to the mix. The competition seems to be between Roberson and Bourn for that spot with Roberson being seen as having the inside track due to his greater experience. I submit that would be a mistake. Bourn would be a superior player.

Roberson has a lot going for him: he played decently as a Phillie, successfully stealing all three bases he attempted in 2006. Roberson didn’t display a lot of promise at the plate however. I would worry about a player who hit .195 and didn’t draw a walk in 41 At-Bats. As a Red Baron he hit .292 (.248 GPA, .074 ISO), getting 83 hits in 284 At-Bats. He stole 25 of the 34 bases he attempted. Similarly, Roberson displayed an inability to draw a walk in Scranton, getting just 23 free passes while striking out 57 times.

Roberson decided to refine his skills in the Mexican League and hit .277. Impressively, and perhaps this heralds a refinement of his game, Roberson drew 36 walks and struck-out only 37 times. Disturbingly he was caught nine of the nineteen times he tried to steal.

Bourn, however, played even more sparingly than Roberson, going one-for-eight with the Phillies and getting caught two of his three steal attempts. Bourn displayed tremendous speed with Reading and Scranton, an aspect of Roberson’s game that he seems to be phasing out. Bourn successfully stole 45 of the 50 bases he attempted, including fifteen of sixteen (94%) with the Red Barons. Bourn hit well in Scranton (.272 GPA, .145 ISO) and displayed a great affinity for drawing walks than Roberson.

Interestingly, on the issue of speed, Bourn and Roberson both played in Reading in 2005 and posted similar speed stats … Bourn succeeded on 38 of 50 tries, and hit eight triples, while Roberson stole 34 of 48 bases and also hit eight triples.

Defensively, I’d give a slight edge to Bourn, who rates a little better playing outfield for the Red Barons than Roberson did. According to Minor League Baseball Splits, Roberson played 551 defensive innings for the Red Barons and rated a +8. Bourn played 238 innings and rated a +8 as well, but did so in less time.

So who would be the better outfielder for the Phillies? I submit Bourn, a player who seems to have retained his speed more than Roberson, is a more consistent hitter than Roberson, packs more of a punch at the plate than Roberson and is probably as good, or a better defensive player than Roberson. Having Bourn on staff as the fifth outfielder would help the Phillies by providing speed in pinch-runner situations, which would be the biggest benefit for the team. I hope the team decides to make Michael Bourn their fifth outfielder for 2007, but I suspect he'll start the season in Ottawa with the Lynx. That's too bad. I was looking forward to Bourn getting to exhibit his skills at Citizens, but that can wait for another season.

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Interesting argument, although I would still like to see Coste make that final spot...however unlikely that might be.

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