Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Trying to Understand John Bowker, "MLB-Version"

I really, really like John Bowker. I admit that. I like him more than Nate Schierholtz (though nothing against Nate, it's like comparing Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek; I just like Penelope and Bowker a little more), which is why I petitioned him for the starting right field position and supported manager Bruce Bochy's call on Opening Day.

Why do I like him? I'm not really sure. Maybe he's from Sacramento, and being a Sacramento-resident, I feel obligated to support my own. Maybe I like the power potential he showed when he burst on the scene in 2008.

However, despite my gravitation toward Bowker, I have to admit one thing: Bowker hasn't really impressed too much at the Major League level.

In 2008, Bowker put up solid numbers, hitting 10 home runs and driving in 43 RBI in 350 plate appearances with the Giants. His OBP (.300), OPS (.703) or wOBA (.307) weren't that impressive, but I think the 10 home runs gave some Giants fans hope that Bowker was on the cusp of being at least a solid, regularly-contributing player to the Giants roster in a couple of years.

One of the main beefs about Bowker at the time was his plate approach. In 2008 with the Giants, Bowker had a BB/K ratio of 0.26, which in all honesty is not very good. Thus, if Bowker was going to contribute at the next level, he needed to improve his eye at the plate and cut down the strikeouts or at the very least, up the walk numbers and ability to get on-base.

Surprisingly, in 2009 in Fresno, Bowker did that and more.

After never posting a BB/K ratio higher than 0.40 at any professional level prior to 2009, Bowker was incredible in Fresno. People talk about the home runs (21), the OPS (1.047) or the average (.342), but the most eye-popping statistic in my mind was Bowker's 1.16 BB/K ratio (an 86 point improvement from the previous season, which is equivalent to Robert Downey's career jump after 2005).

Everybody, including myself, was convinced. Bowker was set and ready for the Major League level.

However, he struggled in his callup in 2009, and looked far from comfortable in the batter's box for the Giants. In 73 plate appearances, Bowker hit .194, posted an OPS of .620 and sported a wOBA of .277. And, unlike 2008, he didn't add much power either. He had only six extra-base hits (including two home runs).

The worst part of it all for Bowker though happened to be his dip in his BB/K ratio. After putting up unbelievable numbers in 2009 in Fresno, he didn't seem to be any better from the 2008 version Giants fans saw in San Francisco. His BB/K ratio in 2009 with the Giants was 0.22 (compounded by a strikeout rate of 26.9 percent).

Then again though, us Bowker defenders tried not to fret too much. We pointed out to the small sample in the Major Leagues as reason to not completely jump ship on him. We pointed out that the large sample in Fresno was for real, and with Hensley Meulens (the Fresno hitting coach in 2009) taking over the Giants hitting coach position in 2010, Bowker was ready to break out.

Despite a solid Spring Training, Bowker continues to show more of the same.

In 45 plate appearances in 2010, Bowker is hitting .186 with a .525 OPS and a wOBA of .222. His BB/K ratio is almost laughable at 0.17 and his strikeout rate (27.9 percent) is almost six points higher than it was in 2008.

None of it makes sense. This was supposed to be Bowker's year. Everything was in place: the hitting coach, the starting gig, the "nothing to prove" factor in Fresno.

And yet, here we are again, with Bowker most likely heading down to Fresno once Freddy Sanchez returns off the Disabled List.

What is wrong with Bowker? What made him such a stud in 2009 in Triple-A? Why does he look like Albert Pujols in the Pacific Coast League, but in the Majors, he seems to swing at every breaking ball in the dirt?

At this point, I don't understand, and many Giants fans do not either. Yes, he is somewhat getting better. He swings at less pitches outside the strike zone (24.6 percent) in comparison to his first Major League stint in 2008 (when it was 32.3 percent). He has made better contact this year (76.7 percent) than last year (72.2) percent. He hasn't hit many flyballs (his FB percentage is 29.0 percent this year), but he makes those flyballs count (11.1 percent HR/FB ratio).

Bowker is getting there. He hasn't made the progress or had the luck we Giants fans hoped for this year, but Bowker is a better hitter now than he was in 2008. The numbers prove it.

However, with Bochy as manager, and average defensive skills, Bowker doesn't look like he has much time to prove to the Giants that he is the guy to be playing everyday for Orange and Black. Giants management and fans seem to be more in favor of other outfielders like Schierholtz and Torres, and in many ways, you can't blame them. Schierholtz is hitting well (.819 OPS, .370 wOBA, and 0.60 BB/K ratio) and Torres provides a ton of defensive value. Those are two things you can't necessarily say Bowker possesses at this moment.

As a Giants and Bowker fan, I hope he can gets his way out of this mess. I hope his BABIP (currently .233) rises and he can finally look better on paper for the Giants fans who constantly point to his average and other conventional stats (RBI!) as reasons why he is a bust.

Bowker is not a bust...yet. He just needs to catch some breaks.

Or at least that is what I'm telling myself now.


  1. Bowker is one of those guys who needs to play regularly to see the ball well. Some guys can hit intermittently and be great pinch hitters off the bench, ie; remember Sweeney? Others need to play everyday. I think Bowker is one of those guys, and I think he can get in a groove and carry a team during a hot streak. I would like to see an outfield alignment of Schierholtz in right, Rowand in Center and Bowker in left. But with Uribe, DeRosa, and Freddie SAnchez, it looks like DeRosa will be playing left. I like Torres to play several days a week and to be a late inning defensive sub. He is a very good outfielder. Some guys just need to play. Look at Rajah Davis at the beginning of the year with the gmen, hitting like crap last year and then he hit very nicely for Oakland. Not sure he can sustain that but some guys hit better as the season goes on. A good example is Texiera, also except last year Markakis, and Ryan Howard seems to come on strong in the second half every year. All we are saying, "Is give Bowk a chance"

  2. I think you make a good point. I think an outfield of Bowker in left, Rowand/Torres in center and Schierholtz in right makes a lot of sense. Schierholtz proves defensively (and as of now offensively) that he belongs to be playing everyday. And besides, Bowker is probably better suited to playing in left anyways. You have noted the problem: a lot of veterans clog this from happening, for Derosa is forced to play left. I think if Huff continues to struggle, I wouldn't be opposed to a Derosa at third and Pablo at first combo. This way, Bowker gets opportunities, while we don't sacrifice too much.

    Slow starts aren't bad. I think they tick fans off because it's the first impression, but quick, short stretches can hide overall failure (e.g. Eugenio Velez). Bowker just needs an extended chance, and an opportunity where he can play and not worry about getting pulled right away. If that happens, I think fans will be pleased with the results and we won't have to make this "Nate vs. Bowker" argument anymore (though overall, I still like Bowk...sorry "Juggernate" fans).