The baseball talk in Cleveland is currently centered on Jason Kipnis and his historic month of May, but another slightly-less loved Tribe batter also just wrapped up one of his best months as a member of the team. Ever since he was demoted in the lineup and platooned against right-handed pitchers, Michael Bourn has thrived. I don't know how much I personally buy into the mental aspect of moving a player around a lineup, but whatever the reason, something clicked, and it resulted in Bourn putting up arguably his best season in an Indians uniform.
In case you've blocked it out of your memory at this point, Bourn was signed to a four-year $48 million contract prior to the 2013 season, and he's struggled to live up to the monetary value of it. When the Indians signed him to that deal thinking he would be their leadoff hitter for the near future, he was coming off of some pretty great seasons where he put up 3.5+ WAR in four consecutive campaigns. Since the contract, he's only managed 1.9 WAR in 2013, and 0.6 WAR last year. His speed numbers have dropped off considerably, and he can't get on base the way a leadoff hitter should.
That's a whole lot of sad statistics, but his results in May could point to some kind of mild turnaround within Bourn, or at least Francona finally found a way to use him. Take a look at Bourn's top five months as an Indian to date, according to my favorite all-encompassing stat, wRC+ (20 games played minimum):
Bourn has a clear love for the month of May in general, and his year was no different. He did end up with less plate appearances despite still playing in 25 games thanks to late-game defensive substituations as Francona shifted around the lineup constantly to work around the waves of LHP the team faced. But in those 86 plate appearneces, he tallied his highest on-base percentage and second-highest average of his career in Cleveland. A factor of that inflated OBP is his ten walks, which is another monthly record for Bourn - and keep in mind that is with 15-20 less PA compared to previous months.
All of this follows what was one of the worst months for Bourn: his 49 wRC+ in March/April was the third worst of his career. The only months where he's played in at least 20 games and had a worse output than that painful month were both in 2008, his second full season in the Majors. As we've documented before, his biggest struggle in March/April of this year was just making contact with the ball, but he seems to have solved whatever was messing with his swing (whether it was mental or physical) and turned it around into one of his best months for this team to date.
Historically for Bourn, May still wasn't anything all that special. He's had years where he's looked like a potential MVP as a complete player, and a 118 wRC+ month was par for the course. Now that he's on the Indians, 32 years old, and will likely never be that player again this may end up being the best utilization of Bourn we could hope for. Is a platooning, defensive-minded outfielder who won't steal many bases worth the $12 million/year contract the Indians signed him for? Not even close, especially as a leadoff hitter, but the money isn't going away, and a team could do a lot worse for a hitter in the bottom third of a lineup. Assuming Bourn can keep playing like this, his time in Cleveland may be salvageable at last.