Here's a riddle for the Houston Astros to chew on: how valuable is an incredible base runner that rarely reaches base?

When the Astros acquired Michael Bourn as part of the deal that sent Brad Lidge to Philadelphia, it seemed like a great fit. Bourn was born and raised in Houston, played at the University of Houston, and was originally drafted (but not signed) by the Astros.

Most of all, Houston envisioned a spark plug at the top of the order, a speedy center fielder who could get on and steal bases.

So far Bourn has fulfilled only the less important of the two expectations: he leads the Majors in stolen bases with 17, but that's only because he steals just about every time he reaches base. In 34 games, Bourn is hitting .198 with an OBP of .269.

Make no mistake about it, Bourn's base stealing abilities are outstanding: he hasn't been caught once. But an 0-4 every third night -- and a 1-4 or 1-5 on the other two -- just doesn't get the job done. Among regular Major League leadoff hitters, Bourn ranks near the bottom with just 16 runs scored. Rafael Furcal has 34, and even a slow-starting Ichiro has 26. Teammate Lance Berkman has a Major League-leading 40.

Houston is playing some great baseball at this stage of the season, so it's easy enough to overlook Bourn's struggles. But at some point, a "slow start" or an "early-season slump" are no longer fair descriptors for plain ineptitude.

If the Astros plan to make a run at the NL Central, they need to end the Bourn Experiment sooner rather than later. Let Hunter Pence play center and bat leadoff, and use Bourn in the role best suited for his talents: pinch runner.

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