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Miami Marlins: What Should We Make of Justin Bour?


Justin Bour just had himself a pretty good week. Coming into today’s game, his slash line for the week was .313/.353/.750. After today’s game, that is now .350/.381/.857 for the week. A week’s worth of production basically holds zero weight, but it’s coming at a time when the Marlins are trying to turn their season around and make the playoffs and the player they signed to play first base struggled mightily before hitting the disabled list. 

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Suffice to say, Bour has earned himself a greater role for the time being. What should be made of Bour and his 192 wRC+ going forward? What happens when Mike Morse returns from the disabled list?

While Bour’s production this season has (deservedly) earned him some attention, it goes without saying that its way too early to draw any conclusions about him. After all, he was a 25th round pick and had good but not great offensive seasons for a first baseman as he moved up. His age was also roughly league average at each stop, so his performance wasn’t coming against players that were older than him. He basically looked like a quad-A player at best; one of those guys that bounces back and forth between the bigs and AAA. He drew a good number of walks and much more often than not posted BABIPs of .300+, but his one good tool coming up was his power.

Bour was never a prospect, especially considering the fact that he’s a first baseman and was 26 when he made his debut. In hindsight, his solid numbers probably should have earned him more praise but he also didn’t have a future in Chicago with some guy named Anthony Rizzo playing first base there. But since he never even got a cup of coffee while with the Cubs and was basically given away via the Rule 5 draft, no one should have ever expected him to become a starting first baseman in the big leagues.

However, Bour is starting games now, with 56 of his 70 plate appearances coming as a starter. Is Justin Bour really a starter on a team that’s 11 games under .500 and still trying to sneak into the playoffs as a Wild Card team?

Based off his pedigree and good, but not great performance in the Minor Leagues, Bour should not be a full-time starter. He definitely deserves a shot at a platoon, one in which he would see the bulk of playing time since he is left-handed. Bour has had good success against right-handed pitchers in his brief career. He fared well against them in 2014 despite not hitting for much power at all.

While he won’t continue to hit home runs on 22% of his fly balls, his power is definitely showing up in games now, supported by the fact that he’s hitting the ball hard. We don’t know his average batted ball velocity from last season and we still don’t exactly know what to make of average exit speed, but his hard hit % this year is 45.1%, up from 36.4%.

His platoon split has been pretty obvious. The Marlins have limited his exposure to left-handers so far with just 10 of his 149 plate appearances coming into today against southpaws. In that very limited action, he has slashed .200/.200/.300. While 10 plate appearances also doesn’t mean anything, it’s pretty obvious that he should face left-handers as little as possible.

In comparison, Bour has slashed .328/.396/.488 against right-handers, with good walk (10.8%) and K (18%) rates. His slash line, good for a 146 wRC+, is being held up by a .379 BABIP which will definitely fall as he sees more action.

His 2015 season says the same thing. His .383 BABIP coming into today isn’t going to hold up. Ditto for his .246 ISO, although he will hit for more power than he did last season. His walk and K rates have been good this season, sitting at 7.6% and 15.2% respectively. Both are down from last season and while his contact rate is basically the same compared to last season, 66 plate appearances provides a good amount of information regarding K rates.

That percentage is going to creep up as the season goes on, but he should be striking out less than he did last season. Combine that with an increase in power and you have a solid hitting first baseman against right-handers.

The one hang up is Mike Morse. The Marlins, despite not having the financial resources to spend much on free agents, decided to spend $16 million over 2 years for a player that was worth 4 wins over 2509 plate appearances coming into this season, with 3 of those wins coming in one season. He was always a risky signing, especially for a team like the Marlins, but that’s a moot point now.

Coming into this season, he probably wasn’t a starter. After his performance thus far, he definitely isn’t a starter. Morse losing his starting job is what gave way to Bour’s emergence, so to speak. When Morse comes back, however, he should get the starts on days when the Marlins face a lefty.

Spending $8 million a year on the small side of a platoon isn’t efficient for any team but at this point that really shouldn’t matter. The Marlins had a pretty small margin for error coming into this season. Things haven’t gone their way so far for various reasons.

The team needs to extract as much value as they can from their roster if they want to even hope for a turnaround. As far as the first base situation goes, Morse cannot be the starter anymore. It remains to be seen what kind of hitter Bour really is but he is most likely a better hitter than Morse, at least against right-handers.

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It is by no means a surefire solution, but it is definitely something the team needs to take a shot at. The team’s season is quickly slipping away after just two months and their margin for error is now zero. Bour isn’t a star and, heck, he probably isn’t even a starting caliber player.

But he is a guy that looks like he can hit right-handers pretty well and considering he isn’t a free agent until after the 2020 season, he should have fairly big role on this team for quite some time.

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