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July 31, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Bourn to Run Tour Atlanta: Tickets Now Available UPDATED

by R.J. Anderson and Kevin Goldstein

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Acquired OF-L Michael Bourn from Astros for P-L Brett Oberholtzer, P-R Paul Clemens, P-R Juan Abreu, and OF-L Jordan Schafer. [7/31]

Thirty-six hours after the Phillies acquired Hunter Pence, the Braves went out and added an Astros outfielder of their own. The Phillies probably got the better player, but the Braves get a good fit at a reduced cost.

Bourn bats lefty and plays a good-to-great center field, depending on your defensive metric of choice. He has hit .268/.334/.356 since 2008, but that includes a rough 2008 season, so his slash line from 2009 onwards (.279/.348/.373) is potentially more telling of his abilities. Barring something unforeseen, like an 0-for-40 performance on Sunday, Bourn will enter August in the midst of a career season with the chance to finish 2011 with new highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. At 28, it isn’t impossible that Bourn is enjoying the fruits of his prime, but be cautious in expecting the .303/.363/.403 line to hold static over the rest of the season. 

When you picture the archetypical leadoff hitter, you envision speed, some ability to get on base, and plenty of contact—whatever power comes with that contact is the gravy rather than the mashed potatoes. Bourn offers not only plenty of speed, but the best kind of speed; he is not only fast, but he leverages his quickness well on the basepaths on stolen base attempts (an 83 percent career success rate) and during the run of play (he takes the extra base more often than not). As for the other aspects, Bourn has never walked more than 9.8 percent in a season, but his ability to maintain a higher than normal batting average on balls in play has helped him sustain decent on-base percentages over his career. He does swing and miss more than you’d like from someone with a sub-.100 career ISO, but again, he is able to maintain decent batting averages regardless.

With that in mind, Bourn is going to solve two problems for Atlanta. The first is obvious, as he will take over center field on an everyday basis. The Braves have not received much production out of the position from Nate McLouth or Jordan Schafer this season, and along with the other options they’ve run out there, they have a cumulative line of .241/.322/.324. As for the Braves leadoff hitters, they have hit .254/.306/.365 this season but somehow have managed .320/.389/.443 to open games. There probably isn’t much to that discrepancy other than selective sampling breeding some weird results, and Bourn should be an upgrade overall. 

Bourn will not qualify for free agency until after next season, so this isn’t the typical rental situation. The guy who stands to lose the most in Bourn’s acquisition is McLouth as he will concede playing time and now stands even smaller chance of returning next season—although his play and the looming team option valued at over $10.5 million were doing a nice job of eliminating that possibility on their own. Barring the Braves doing something silly, like demoting Jason Heyward, McLouth figures to slide into a reserve role once he returns from the disabled list.

The Braves held an 87 percent shot at the postseason prior to today’s trade; look for those odds to increase and for Bourn to appear in the playoffs for the second time in his career this October. —R.J. Anderson

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Acquired P-L Brett Oberholtzer, P-R Paul Clemens, P-R Juan Abreu, and OF-L Jordan Schafer from Braves for OF-L Michael Bourn. [7/31]

Center field has been the biggest hole for the Braves all season long, and somehow, the cash-strapped team acquired the best one on the market without trading away one of their “big four” pitching prospects. That said, they did deliver some quality talent to Houston, who have gone from having one of, if not the worst system in baseball to one with considerable depth.

The prize—but hardly the sole talent in the package—is Oberholtzer, a wide-bodied lefty with a 3.74 ERA in 21 starts at Double-A Mississippi. An eighth-round pick in 2008 out of a Florida Junior College, Oberholtzer profiles as a strike-throwing innings eater who some think could be big league ready as early as next year. Both his fastball and curveball are average or a tick above, and his changeup is a solid pitch, but all of his offerings play up due to his command of them and his fearless, aggressive mound style that has made him a scout's favorite. He's not sexy, but number four starters are worth $10-12 million on the open market these days.

Clemens was selected one round earlier than Oberholtzer in the same draft, and like his former Mississippi rotationmate, he's had a solid season at Double-A with a 3.73 ERA in 20 starts and 93 strikeouts in 108.2 innings. While Oberholtzer is wide, Clemens is long and almost skinny, using a whippy arm action to generate plus velocity on his fastball. He’s also capable of flashing a good curveball when he's on. “When he's on” is an important phrase to use when discussing Clemens, however, as there are days when his fastball gets straight, his curveball flattens out, and he just gets hammered. His changeup has always been a problem, and some scouts wonder if he'd throw harder and be more effective in shorter stints. He profiles as a back-end starter or a 7th inning reliever in the big leagues.

Abreu is a 26-year-old Dominican with some eye-popping numbers at Triple-A, especially his 68 strikeouts in just 48 innings. Signed out of the Royals system prior to the 2010 season, Abreu is a short righty with a quick arm and a violent delivery that allows him to constantly get into the mid-90s with his fastball. He throws a solid but unspectacular hybrid breaking ball, but what has kept him in the minors is a lack of control—he's walked 5.4 batters per nine innings in his career—and his extreme flyball tendencies. At his age, it's hard to see him suddenly turning things around, and it seems likely he’ll be an up-and-down relief type for years.

The biggest surprise in the trade was Schafer, once the top prospect in the system whose unfortunate claim to fame remains a 2008 suspension for his involvement with HGH. A third-round pick in 2005, his breakout year came two years later when he hit .312/.374/.513 across two A-levels, but he's never been the same player since, hitting just .204/.313/.287 with Atlanta after winning an Opening Day job, and it's been nothing but injuries and ineffectiveness since. He remains an impressive athlete with plus speed and very good center-field defense, and plenty of teams have discussed him as a potential change of scenery candidate over the past two years. —Kevin Goldstein

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Michael Bourn

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