Miami Marlins: Justin Bour’s Changing Plate Approach

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MIAMI, FL - JULY 10: Justin Bour #41 of the Miami Marlins competes in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Marlins Park on July 10, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JULY 10: Justin Bour #41 of the Miami Marlins competes in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Marlins Park on July 10, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /
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After Justin Bour’s big 2017, Marlins fans were hoping that Bour was a bright spot in the 2018 lineup. So far, Bour’s season numbers may not jump off the page, but the underlying metrics point to an improved hitter.

To this point, Bour’s power and average have not come around quite as expected. While Miami Marlins fans would love to see Bour to drive the baseball over the fence some more, his approach at the plate in 2018 signals a more mature hitter than we’ve seen in years past.

Each year Bour has been with the Marlins dating back to 2014, he has been an above average hitter according to wRC+. In 2017, he set the highest wRC+ mark of his career at 133 (100 is considered league average).

Bour is not the only one to improve some results while regressing in other categories. His wRC+ currently sits at 118, but that doesn’t tell the full story about Bour’s bat this year or where he may go from here.

What the Metrics Tell Us

Looking past his triple slash line, which happens to be down from 2017. Last season, he hit .289/.366/.536, and he’s down to .256/.360/.453 this year. Note that his walk rate has taken a  jump from 11% (2017) to 14.1% (2018) and his strikeout rate has decreased from 22.1% (2017) to 19.2% (2018).

This is a great sign for a hitter, lowering the rate between strikeouts and walks signals a refined approach at the plate. In 2018 his 0.74 BB/K rate ranks with the top 22% in all of baseball. In 2017, he was only top 36% with a 0.49 BB/K.

The biggest change Bour has made to his game that has a direct correlation to his walk rates are his swing rates. He is currently swinging the bat less and has lowered his O-Swing% (Chase Rate) by a large margin.

Free Swinger

Bour has lowered his O-Swing% from 32.4% (2017) to 22.3% (2018). This signals that he has an above average batting eye. Hitters normally chase on about 30% of all pitches outside the zone, Bour has gotten well under that mark by being very selective at the plate.

In 2017, Bour was swinging at 44.7% of all pitches, which is about league average. In 2018, he is currently swinging at only 35.4% of pitches. This has led to higher walk rates and lower strikeout rates, but he is giving himself fewer chances to do damage by not swinging the bat as much.

While it is good to be selective, we may be seeing Bour be a little too selective at the dish. Too much selectivity leads to a batter passing up opportunities to drive the ball and do damage with pitches.

Bour’s Power

Fans and fantasy owners alike might be slightly concerned when they see Bour’s slugging percentage has dropped from .536 to .453. While this isn’t a particularly great look for the slugger, there’s compelling reasons why it’s happening.

So far in 2018, Bour’s spray charts are very interesting. Last year, he hit 20% of his home runs to the opposite field. While this year we only have the small sample size of five home runs, he has hit two the other way other way.

This is in line with the fact that Bour has increased his Oppo% from 18.5% in 2017 to 24.2% in 2018. Based off of the numbers, Bour is now almost unshiftable which is a lot to say being that early in his career he struggled with the shift.

What Bour Needs

There’s a downside that coincides with hitting the ball the other way more frequently. There’s a corresponding drop in Hard Hit%. Last year Bour’s Hard% was at 38.8%, this year it is at 24.2%.

His Hard% is going to have to increase if he wants to see his home runs go up or his average rise. If he increases his Hard% that should correlate with a rise in BABIP.  More balls will be able to get through and past fielders for base hits.

A rise in BABIP will directly relate with a rise in average for Bour. If he can get his BABIP up around .290, expect Bour to hit in the neighborhood of .265 on the season.

Bour’s HR/FB have also fallen off due to the decrease in Hard%. Being that Bour is also hitting 3% fewer fly balls from last year, the HR/FB decrease could be problematic to his home run totals.

Lifting the ball with authority to the pullside would be the best way to combat this problem. A corresponding increase in his power numbers should follow.

Overall

2018 Bour is an improved hitter in some ways for the Miami Marlins. These improvements have not necessarily translated to success right out of the gate. Bour is taking his walks and getting on base at a solid clip. His power and average, unfortunately, seem to have fallen off.

While fans have a right to be concerned, some doable adjustments could lead to prolonged success for the 29-year-old first baseman. He has shown that he is patient and can drive the ball the other way. These are normally hard things for hitters to master — especially for a slugger like Bour.

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Now, Bour must show that he still drive the ball to the pull side. This should lead to a spike in his power numbers.

If Bour could put together the ability to take his walks, cut down his strikeouts and drive the ball the other way like he has this year. On top of the power numbers he displayed last year, he will be a really scary bat for opposing pitchers to face.

Next: Better Play Leads to Better Results for Marlins

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