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Should Peter Bourjos really play center field over Mike Trout?

Since this is my first post ever, I feel obligated to admit two things up front. First, I am obsessed with baseball statistics; so my posts will be more stats driven than most of you care about. Second, I love cheesy jokes, especially cheesy baseball jokes.

For those brave enough to continue, thanks. There are a lot of important questions I considered writing about. What will we get out of our pitching rotation? How good will the bullpen be? Who will hit second? And, as he had a second 15 minutes of fame in the World Baseball Classic, I even considered the question “who is Karim Garcia?” But all of these questions, in my opinion, are boring and over-discussed.

The starting rotation has its injury concerns, but outside of Tommy Hanson, they can all be counted on for 200 innings. The bullpen was so bad last year it’s nearly impossible for it to be any worse, especially with the exodus of Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins, and Jordan Walden. As for who will hit second, it’s a debate that couldn’t be a bigger waste of time. Besides Pujols, every hitter in the Angels lineup would make a great second hitter. Go ahead, find an Angels hitter that isn’t an ideal candidate for the two hole. It’s like finding a reason that Jeffery Loria is a good owner, it’s not possible. Plug in any player and the Angels have a great second hitter. As for who Karim Garcia is, the odds of Pedro Martinez reading this blog aren’t the greatest, so I won’t waste my time answering that question. The real question no one seems to spend time answering is, “how good is Peter Bourjos in center field?” We have all been told many times that he is the better fielder than Mike Trout. We have been told that his superior defense, coupled with the decreased mileage on Trout’s legs, mandated the new look outfield of Trout in left field and Bourjos in center field. But how do we know? Where are the numbers that back up this statement up? The answer: right here.

Before I start this analysis, my inner fan has to admit something: No matter what any defensive metric may show, Bourjos will never be as exciting as Trout. I still have dreams of Trout flying in Baltimore and J.J. Hardy’s bitter face. Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let’s start the analysis!  As there are only about four people on the planet who know what every metric means (I am not one of those four people), I will quickly explain some of the advanced metrics I used for this analysis:

rARM: Outfield Arm Runs Saved

–The number of runs saved by the outfielders arm above the average fielder

rGFP: Good Fielding Play Runs Saved

–The number of runs saved by the outfielder in spectacular plays above the average fielder.

RngR: Range above average

–The amount of ground covered above the average fielder

UZR/150: Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games

–The all encompassing defensive metric that measures the total runs saved above the average fielder over a 150 game period

 

2012 Mike Trout – 885.2 Innings, 2 Outfield Assists, 2 Errors, -2 rARM, 6 rGFP, 12.9 RngR, 13.9 UZR/150

2012 Peter Bourjos – 501.2 Innings, 2 Outfield Assists, 1 Errors, 3 rARM, 5 rGFP, 13.2 RngR, 39.1 UZR/150

*These statistics are only the fielding statistics while in center field during 2012, so the time spent by Trout in left field are not considered

 

The first stat that jumps out to be is how much better Bourjos’s arm is when compared to Trout. This is nothing any Angels fan needs advanced metrics to tell us. Now Trout is no Johnny Damon. He doesn’t need to throw the ball six feet only to have Manny Ramirez catch it and fire it into the infield. However, it was quickly apparent that runners weren’t afraid to try to take an extra base on Trout to test his throwing arm. In this sense, I understand the move to left field. The throw from left field to third base is substantially shorter than the throw from center field. This transition should help prevent runners from going first to third, a page out of the Scioscia playbook.

Look at the real issue though. As great as Trout’s range is, Bourjos’s is BETTER. Trout may save more runs with spectacular plays, which is not a shock to anyone who has ever watched a single inning of Trout in center field, but Bourjos had the second greatest range of any center fielder in baseball. Michael Bourn was the only player who covered more ground than him. For reference, Trout is right behind Bourjos as the center fielder with the third greatest range in baseball. The two UZR ratings tell the story of how Bourjos is the more complete fielder out in center field. Trout saves 13.9 runs per season over the average center fielder in a full season. Pretty impressive. However, when compared to the 39.1 runs Bourjos saves in a full season, the difference in their outfield defense becomes extremely apparent. Bourjos ranked as the best and most complete defensive center fielder in the major leagues, a whole 10 runs ahead of Craig Gentry, the next closest outfielder.

So where does this leave us as Angels fans? The most important thing to keep in mind is how incredible the outfield defense is going to be this season. Bourjos and Trout are two of the top 10 center fielders in the game, with Bourjos taking the nod as the best center fielder in the league and Trout ranking 9th. These two center fielders can cover an insane amount of ground and will save a ton of runs for the Angels this year. This should dramatically help the pitching staff. The outfield will be a black hole for flyballs. With the number of flyball pitchers on the Angels staff, they can confidently pitch to contact knowing that the there is no ball their outfielders can’t get to. Playing left field should result in decreased mileage on Trout’s legs and keep him fresher throughout the season. Theoretically this will decrease the number of times Trout goes crashing into the wall, but I think that the Angels could play Trout as the everyday DH and he’d still find a way to go full speed into a wall. That’s just who Trout is. Lastly, the incredible range of Trout and Bourjos should help alleviate the pressure put on Hamilton in right field. Hamilton should overcome his limited range as he will be responsible for less ground in right-center field due to Bourjos’s exceptional range. Hopefully, all this added defense will help Scioscia understand the value of playing Bourjos and keep him from starting Wells, regardless what offensive output Bourjos gives the Angels.

I say we should be extremely optimistic as Angels fans. This should be an awe inspiring 2013 season. We have the potential to see one of the greatest defensive outfields ever assembled in the history of baseball. I don’t know if this nickname will catch on, but I’m giving the Angels outfield the slogan: “Angels Stadium, where flyballs go to die.” Feel free to start using it.

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