If I were a major league pitcher, I'd be scared to face Justin Bour too. Just one look and you'd be scared your next pitch will be launched into the stands. Bour's unintentionally menacing frame has caused pitchers to avoid throwing strikes. In fact, he's seen the lowest percentage of strikes in the MLB this year by a large margin.
Bour's 37.1 Zone% (a measure of what percentage of pitches thrown are strikes) is far and away the MLB leader, while Eric Hosmer's 40.4 percent ranks second among all batters with more than 100 plate appearances. If I were to assemble the Zone% leaders since the introduction of pitchf/x, and therefore the recording of such a statistic, I would have quite the lineup.
Of course, the obvious outlier here is Javier Baez and his 2014 campaign. Pitchers recognized his weakness for chasing pitches out of the zone and took advantage of the rookie's eagerness, however, every other batter here proved to be a difficult out. Vladimir Guerrero and Pablo Sandoval in particular, appear on this list twice, and even though we now know Sandoval's secret, he still deserves some applause.
That's not to say Bour doesn't have his own fair share of weaknesses. He can't touch lefties. The slugger has been able to maintain a 136 wRC+ against righties but he drastically falters to the point of a 35 wRC+ when put in the box against a southpaw. The Marlins are aware of this fact and consequently start him against right-handed starters . This has led to 222 plate appearances versus righties and just 20 plate appearances versus southpaws in his major league career.
Bour certainly owns the better share of the platoon advantage, but he's still not in the lineup enough to rack up counting stats one would expect from a lumbering first baseman. He's even usurped Michael Morse's job right out from under him during Morse's disabled list stint. Admittedly, that's not saying much, as Morse was producing a putrid 55 OPS+ before he sprained his finger.
Onto the possible reason(s) for pitchers' strike zone avoidance when facing Bour.
Perhaps, the pitcher is scared to throw a pitch in the zone for fear it will end up like this one.
Bour doesn't possess elite bat speed, but he delivers a strong swing through the zone, using his 6' 4" 250 pound frame to leverage the ball towards the outfield fences. Baseball America noted in the 2015 Prospect Handbook that "[Bour] has some pre-swing movement in his swing, but when he's on time, he's short to the ball. He has the strength to drive the ball out to all fields with plus power". With 10 home runs in only 141 at-bats this year, Bour knows how to make use of his powerful swing and is able to send baseballs 450 feet into the stands, which is the record for his longest home run.
Otherwise, his plate discipline doesn't suggest that Bour regularly chases pitches out of the zone. Pitchers aren't just exploiting a weakness as they did with Javier Baez. Bour's strike zone judgement is actually pretty average, ranking in the middle of the pack in terms of swinging at pitches outside the zone and making contact with pitches outside the zone. His 0.53 BB/K ratio places him 83rd among all batters with over 100 plate appearances. If anything, Bour is rather mindful of his swing and only swings at 42.9 perent of pitches (46 percent is major league average) while making contact with 75.4 percent of his swings (80 percent is major league average). Therefore, Bour is actually selective but below average when it comes to turning on the ball and making contact.
Although Bour is fun to watch, and can deliver spectacular home runs, he doesn't warrant the kind of fear treatment that he's receiving from pitchers. He may look menacing standing in the batter's box but he is not as selective as one would expect, and pitcher's should make him chase balls outside the zone.
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