It seems like it was just yesterday when Angel fans were worrying themselves sick over whether or not Peter Bourjos was going to be able to hit enough to keep his stellar glove in the lineup this season. Well, worry no more. With a slash line of .321/.356/.556, Bourjos has not only proven he can hit “enough,” but proven that he is a real offensive weapon. The only problem now, and what a good problem it is to have, is for the Angels to figure out how to best utilize Bourjos’ unique offensive talents.
The thing about Bourjos that made so many question his ability to hit at the big league level is that he has several flaws in his game. What we have seen of him this year though is that he can be so good at the things he does do well that he can more than offset those flaws. This puts Mike Scioscia in the delicate position of trying to get the most out of Speedy Petey’s strengths without inadvertently exposing his weaknesses in the process.
Thus far this season Scioscia has only seen fit to use Bourjos in one of two spots in the batting order: first or ninth (well, almost, Peter has one start each at seventh and eighth). With the production we’ve seen from Peter of late, I think we can all agree that he shouldn’t be mired in the last spot in the lineup. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Bourjos just plain doesn’t have the tools to be an effective leadoff man. Sure, he has more than enough speed for the job, but his lack of patience and plate discipline just don’t jive with the job description. So where should he bat? The answer, it seems, lies somewhere in between… literally.
Here is the basic problem with Bourjos, he is insanely fast and that speed is always going to be something a team features in the top part of the lineup, however, Speedy Petey isn’t such a big fan of taking walks, making him not such a great tablesetter. Even now when he is hitting .321, his OBP is a very pedestrian .356, and there is almost no chance of him continuing to his for such a high average. Let’s say he regresses to the mean and sees his average settle in at abour .280, that would give him an OBP of roughly .315, which is just plain ugly for a top of the order guy. Speed or no, you just can’t have someone who gets on base at such a low clip batting anywhere in the top third of the lineup.
OK, so what about taking advantage of that nice shiny .235 ISO and placing him in the middle of the order? Once again, regression to the mean makes this a bit of a problem. Bourjos has some pop, but not .235 ISO pop. A more realistic expectation for him might be something around .175, which isn’t nearly as impressive, but it would still give him one of the better power numbers on the team. That makes Bourjos a great match for maybe the give or six hole… almost. The problem now is that Bourjos isn’t so great when it comes to contact skills and situational hitting. His RISP numbers are actually pretty good (.316 BA and .918 OPS with RISP), but the jury is still out on whether or not that is a fluke. The real concern is how much Bourjos whiffs, which right now is almost one out of every three at-bats. Just like his low walk rates at the top of the order, his high whiff rate could be a deal breaker for the middle of the order, especially since Mike Scioscia has always had a low tolerance for guys who strike out a lot when they are supposed to be driving runs in. Why else do you think Mike Napoli never really hit in the heart of the order?
That doesn’t leave a whole lot of options left for Peter. We are pretty much whittled down to either the seventh or eighth spot in the lineup. Give that choice, the seven-hole seems perfect. It is just high enough in the order that his power can still be useful at driving in runs, but low enough so that his low OBP doesn’t limit the run-producing opportunities of the big bats (and I use that term very loosely with the Angels right now) behind him. Some might worry that batting him there might hinder his ability to be aggressive on the basepaths, but it isn’t like there are a lot of plodders in the Angel lineup. If anything, Speedy Petey might be set free in the seven-hole since he should be given carte blanche to create havoc on the bases to push the issue and create scoring opportunities in front of light hitters like Jeff Mathis and Erick Aybar.
Bear in mind that I am only referring to the present for Peter. Hopefully as he develops over the years he can find a way to draw a few more walks and limit his strikeouts some so he can take his rightful spot atop the Angel order. Until then though, the seven-hole seems like the ideal way to make the most of his talents as currently manifested.