Can Miami's Justin Bour Continue His Homer Surge?
The Miami Marlins aren't a very good baseball team.
At 21-31, they won't be challenging for any playoff spots this year, even in the worst division in baseball, the National League East. That's mostly because of their pitching, which came into Friday with a 4.51 team ERA that's ranked 10th out of 15 NL teams.
However, their offense has been a different story.
Miami's position players have a collective fWAR of 7.2 this year, 6th best in the NL, featuring a lineup that includes Dee Gordon, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Jacob Realmuto.
But the offensive breakout star of the 2017 Marlins has been hulking first baseman Justin Bour, who, in his third full Major League season, is having his finest year.
Bour enters the weekend with 15 home runs, tied for the second in the National League, just one behind surprise leader Scott Schebler of the Cincinnati Reds. Bour is tied with household names Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, and has career highs in batting average (.287), on-base percentage (.366) and slugging percentage (.575). His weighted runs created (wRC+) of 147 is tied for 13th in the NL with Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs, and his fWAR of 1.3 matches his career-high of last season.
He's been especially hot as of late. Since May 10, he's batting .384/.451/.877 with 11 home runs in his last 20 games. Unfortunately for Bour, he plays a position at which there are a number of players having fantastic seasons, leaving him 6th in the National League among qualified first basemen in fWAR.
Nevertheless, even though he may not make an All-Star team, Bour's season should not be ignored. Looking beyond the surface stats, there are a couple numbers that show why he is having such a solid 2017.
Mashing Vs. Lefties
Many left-handed power hitters suffer from the same condition - they can't hit left-handed pitchers. Coming into this season, Bour was no exception. But take a look at the change this year.
Last year, he didn't walk once against left-handed pitching in 30 plate appearances. This year, he's walked in 12.5% of his plate appearances against southpaws, and is actually hitting better against lefties than righties (133 wRC+ against right-handers).
The fact Bour has been in the lineup every day -- not to mention that he doesn't bail out against left-handers -- has helped him tremendously. So for now, nobody has to worry about sitting him against southpaws.
Hitting Everything Hard
Some of Bour's other peripherals indicate a player that probably shouldn't be seeing this much improvement year-over-year.
His walk rate is down from 11.8% last year to 10.7%, while his strikeout rate is up, from 17.4% to 23.4%. He's hitting more grounders this year than last year (47.8 to 43.8%), with fewer line drives (21.7% to 18.7%). However, whenever he does hit the ball, he is hitting it harder than most.
According to StatCast and Baseball Savant, Bour's average exit velocity of 93.1 mph is 10th-best among all MLB batters with at least 30 balls in play.
When you're routinely hitting the ball that hard, it often doesn't matter how you're hitting it. An increase in batting average on balls in play (BABIP) from .278 to .311 this year, despite his increase in grounders and decrease in liners, can largely be attributed to how hard he's making contact.
Beating The Sliders
Bour has also done much better against sliders this season, a pitch that typically gives hitters like him fits.
According to Brooks Baseball, he's hitting .357 with a .786 slugging percentage against sliders, whereas last year he batted .155 with a .250 slugging percentage against the pitch.
It's one of the reasons he's been able to do much better against left-handers this season.
Adding Another Tool
Oh, and one more thing about Bour. He's added some speed into his game.
OK, not really. But Bour did steal his first career base this week. Just sayin'.
In order for this pleasant 2017 season to continue, he's going to need to keep hitting lefties, although it's unreasonable to expect he'll be able to maintain a wRC+ over 200. Still, these are all encouraging developments for a powerful young first baseman on a team with a number of talented young position players.