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Can Justin Bour Sustain His Short Term Success?

Can Bour continue to be productive, or will his recent slump continue?

This off season, the Miami Marlins’ front office, led by then GM and current manager Dan Jennings, decided to go all in for the 2015 season, trading for players such as Dee Gordon and Mat Latos, and signing free agent Michael Morse to a two year/16 million dollar deal to play first base. Although Gordon has gotten off to a great start, Latos has proceeded to struggle with an ERA currently over six, as has Morse, who had an OPS of only .557 through 37 games before hitting the DL with a finger sprain.

To fill in for Morse, the Marlins decided to go with Justin Bour, a 27 year old, 6’4”, 250 lb first baseman who was called up towards the end of April, initially as a bench player. However, Bour played well in what was first a pinch-hitting and fill-in role, eventually taking away some playing time from the struggling Morse in late May, before Morse eventually hit the DL shortly after.

Bour continued his hot hitting, and now, through his first 86 plate appearances, is hitting a robust .316/.372/.544 with an impressive five HRs and a wRc+ of 152, which is 52% better than league average. However, as of late, Bour’s production has slowed down, as he is currently mired in a 1 for 15 slump. This leads me to question whether Justin Bour, who was never a very hyped prospect despite hitting well in the minor leagues for most of his career, could sustain the success he has had so far, and have a productive season, and possibly even a productive major league career.

In the minor leagues, Justin Bour has always shown impressive power. From 2011 to 2014, he hit 23, 17, 18, and 18 HRs respectively, with respective ISOs of .201, .172, .224, and .210. However, once he finally reached the major leagues last season, his power all but disappeared, as he only hit one HR in 83 PAs, along with an ISO of .081, a number more in line with that of a scrappy lead off hitter than a slugging first baseman. However, it should be noted that besides his absolute lack of power, Bour did hit well in 2014, hitting .284 with an OBP of .361 and a wRc+ of 105, 5 percent above league average.

Despite not showing the same type of power he showed in the minors, he still hit well in the all other aspects of his game, especially for a rookie who was first experiencing major league epitching. His 10.8 BB% was very impressive, demonstrating that he has a strong sense of strike zone awareness, and his 22.9 K% was not bad at all, especially for a player who walks a solid amount and is supposed to have power. However, all that was missing was the power.

In 2015, Bour’s power arrived. Although, very much like his 2014 major league debut, his statistics so far are still a small sample size (he’s only accumulated 86 PAs), he currently has a very impressive ISO of .228, along with the aforementioned five HRs. However, there are some signs that Bour will slow down. His HR/FB ratio is currently 21.7%, which would rank him in the top 15 in the majors if he had enough PAs to qualify. This number will probably decrease, therefore decreasing the number of HRs Bour hits.

Also, his fly ball% is pretty low for a supposed power hitter, at only 36.5%. That may be another sign that his HR rate will eventually slow down as he plays more games, as a high fly ball % could be a strong indicator for a power hitter. Finally, his BABIP currently sits at .345, which is high for a slow- footed slugger with Bour’s profile (he would place just outside the Top 30 in BABIP if he qualified), demonstrating that he has, to a degree, probably been somewhat lucky in getting hits so far.

However, even if the pending regression of Bour’s BABIP lowers his batting average somewhat, Bour does not need to hit .316 to be valuable with his power profile. However, if one looks further into Bour’s statistical profile, the answer to why his BABIP is so high may rest in his batted ball profile, which indicates that only 19% of the balls hit off of his bat were hit softly (per Fangraphs), which is a very low and encouraging number. 42.9% of the balls Bour has hit would be considered hit at medium speed, and 38.1% would be considered hit hard (per Fangraphs); both of which are very impressive percentages.

His Hard% (% of balls hit hard) would place him in the Top 30 if he had enough PAs to qualify.  Bour is also not strictly a pull hitter, only pulling 34.9% of his balls hit so far. This shows that he could hit the ball to all fields, another positive sign indicating that he may very well be able to sustain a strong hit tool in the bigs.

He also has a 23.8 LD% (line drive %), which would place him in the Top 50 if he qualified, right behind Mike Trout, whose LD% is at 23.9%.  Bour’s batted ball profile so far is very encouraging, as he seems to genuinely be hitting the ball well, demonstrating that his high BABIP may be partly due to the strong contact he’s been making. Therefore, if he can continue to hit this way, his BABIP may not regress as much as one might expect when just blindly looking at how high it is (it’s particularly high for a first baseman with little speed).

Furthermore, his 8.1 BB% and 18.6 K% both show that he has so far been a hitter with solid strike zone judgment who doesn’t strike out a lot. Of course, 86 PAs is still a tiny sample size, but the Marlins may seem to have something in Bour. Although many of the stats that are behind his hot start (BABIP, HR/FB ratio) may regress somewhat, Bour appears to be genuinely hitting the ball hard, without striking out too much and with solid plate discipline.  Players who do that tend do produce results, which is exactly what Bour has done so far this season.

Justin Bour probably won’t continue to hit over 50% better than league average (according to his wRc+, which currently sits at 152), but he seems like a good all- around hitter; one who hits the ball hard frequently (and not just strictly fly balls either). I doubt he will stay on pace to hit about 35 or so HRs over a full season’s worth of PAs, or hit .316, but he has always shown power and plate discipline in the minors despite making it to the majors relatively late for a player who currently seems like he may be a legitimate long- term major league starter.

Also, Bour has had a very impressive batted ball profile so far, hitting the ball hard and to all fields.  Based on all of this, I think he is a solid bet to remain productive, especially if he could continue to keep his strikeouts down and his batted ball profile relatively similar to what it’s been this season so far.

Justin Bour’s potential emergence would prove to be an unlikely success story for a team that has struggled to live up to expectations so far in 2015. Despite his recent slump, he still has terrific statistics entering Monday’s game against the Blue Jays. He may not hit 30+ HRs (as he would be on pace to hit over 600+ PAs), but he has the potential to be a solid hitter at first base with strong power to boot.

Steve is a diehard baseball fan (Lets Go Mets!) who lives in New Jersey. Originally from Brooklyn, he graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor's Degree in Economics. Steve loves to focus on the sabermetrics side of baseball. He is also an avid music listener, and is always willing to debate pressing topics on Twitter.

Steve is a diehard baseball fan (Lets Go Mets!) who lives in New Jersey. Originally from Brooklyn, he graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor's Degree in Economics. Steve loves to focus on the sabermetrics side of baseball. He is also an avid music listener, and is always willing to debate pressing topics on Twitter.

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