Justin Bour has what many may consider an underwhelming profile. He slugs about average for a first baseman and he hits about average too. His defense is equally sub-par and he is slow like many other big corner mashers. It is thus unsurprising that many fans saw the news that the Angels will sign Bour to a $2.5M contract and rolled their eyes.
The corner infielder does have a career slash line of .260/.344/.466. That is pretty good of course, but his 2018 was a step back. A 119 wRC+ is definitely above average for a 1B in this modern era, but still nothing that is going to particularly move the needle when paired with mediocre speed and an iron glove. And let’s not forget that it dropped to 107 last season. What purpose could the Front Office possibly have for signing this Pujols platoon partner?
Despite a down year in 2018, Bour managed to pull off a remarkable feat. As Dan Szymborski of Fangraphs noted, his xwOBA dropped a good deal to a steep decline in exit velocity which accounted for a steep drop in batting average, losing around 60 points compared to the previous year. Yet somehow, Bour managed to end the season with a .341 OBP, almost dead-on in line with his career numbers.
So clearly, Bour is good at walking. This leaderboard will give you a good idea of just how good he is at it.
I wrote about Justin Bour back in May when referencing how Mike Trout was walking at levels that rivaled Ted Williams:
It is no secret that Mike Trout is walking at an incredibly high clip. In fact, his 21.3% walk rate is the highest in the majors at the time of this writing and is 1.4% above second place Justin Bour. That is easily in the elite category of walk rates and falls 38th all time, a fraction of a point behind a Ted Williams season. But that is just the beginning.
So on the morning of May 26th, Justin Bour had a 19.9% walk rate on the season. Here is a list of the Angels’ walk rates on that same date.
By the end of the season, the Angels’ team walk rate was 8.4%, and that’s including Mike Trout of the 20.1% walk rate. Only 3 players on the entire team that had a BB% above 10% by the end of the season, the other two of whom are Justin Upton and Shohei Ohtani.
Everyone and their mother has said that the Angels need guys who can get on base. Regardless of whether Pujols is on the team or not— regardless of whether Justin Bour has another 2017 where he slashes .289/.366/.536 or another 2018 where he is almost batting like Mario Mendoza— regardless of where he gets slotted in the lineup, this is exactly the type of player that the team’s offense has been lacking.
Every single person should be excited about a poor man’s peak Chris Iannetta, whose underrated performance in 2014 helped guide the team to the playoffs. Every last fan should praise the fact that Eppler acquired Harper’s most prized skillset (coming from the resident Bryce Harper enthusiast himself) at about an a hundred fiftieth of the price.
This is not—forgive me—Bouring as the pundits have all claimed. This is exciting! We have a guy who will get on base at a clip that rivaled Yunel Escobar while actually providing the pop he never had!
This isn’t Cron all over again. This is 95th percentile best case scenario CJ Cron. Cron couldn’t take a pitch to save his life. Cron’s best year is basically Justin Bour’s career average after his statistical worst year. Bour is Taylor Ward’s most optimistic career projection and then some.
No, this won’t be the move that gets the Angels into the playoffs. But this is precisely a move that a playoff team should make.