Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bowker, Schierholtz, Ishikawa, Burriss: What Does the Future Hold for These Giants?

If you're a Giants fan, take a guess the average age of the position players currently on the active roster...

If you guessed 29.4 years old, then you are correct (and John Nash from "A Beautiful Mind"-esque in math as well...congrats).

That isn't exactly young, especially when you consider the fact that most of the guys that bring that average age under 30 sit on the bench. Case in point: last night, the only players in the lineup under 30 years of age were Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey.

Now, this isn't exactly breaking ground. Giants fans have been used to Bruce Bochy's "Play the Vets At All Costs" mentality since 2007 when he first came on as manager. Some of the young guys have been solid under Bochy's tenure, and some haven't. That being said, there are some guys with solid potential, and some young guys that may just not be good enough for the big league level (ala Joe Borchard...he's tearing up Fresno, I know, but believe me, he is a Quad-A player).

John Bowker, Nate Schierholtz, Travis Ishikawa and Emmanuel Burriss are those players still with potential (whether you want to believe it or not...I'm saying it).

Of course, who knows if these four will get many opportunities this year. As a matter of fact, chances are, with the roster as veteran-stocked as it is, they probably won't get much, if any opportunities for regular playing time this year unless some injuries happen.

Yet, in terms of next season, these four arbitration-eligible players in 2012 should have some opportunities to play come Spring Training and I'll give you reasons why for each player.

John Bowker, outfielder, 26 years old.
Major League Stats: .303 average, .863 OPS in 552 games.
Major League Stats: .238 average, .678 OPS in 183 games.

What can I say about John Bowker? It's hard really. After being sent down to Fresno to make room for Pat Burrell, his 2010 season has been a bit of a disappointment. He tore up the Pacific Coast League last year, posting a .342 average, a 1.047 OPS and also hit 21 home runs in 450 plate appearances with the Grizzlies. Furthermore, he got off to a resounding start in Spring Training, hitting .312 with six home runs in 77 AB, which led him to getting the starting right fielder's position on Opening Day over Nate Schierholtz.

Unfortunately, the 2010 regular season has been anything but kind to Bowker. In 90 plate appearances this year, Bowker posted a .207 average, a .609 OPS and a .262 wOBA (his projected wOBA prior to the season was .350 according CHONE projections).To make matters worse, he didn't seem to transition the plate patience he showed in Fresno in 2009 to the big league level these first few months of Major League play. Bowker's 0.26 BB/K ratio (compounded by a 28 percent strikeout rate) is a far cry from the 1.16 BB/K ratio he sported with the Grizzlies (though, to look at it optimistically, it is better than the 0.22 ratio he had in 2009 at the Major League level).

However, despite the poor start, there is hope for Bowker.

First off, look at what he's doing in Fresno right now. In 10 games and 46 plate appearances with the Grizzlies, Bowker has hit four home runs and posted a batting average of .390 and an OPS of 1.166. Bowker is hitting the ball hard and hitting the ball with confidence, something you couldn't say he was doing in the Majors this year.

It is possible to think that Bowker will develop the confidence he needs in Fresno and will transition that to the Majors the next time he is called up. Then again, Giants fans thought that would happen this year (but Giants fans also thought he would get more of a chance as well).

Second, if you look at Bowker's plate discipline numbers, he has shown improvement, which is comforting. He has swung at less pitches outside the strike zone (22.5 percent, which is down 25.9 percent in 2009), and he is making better contact as well (his contact rate is up from 72.3 percent in 2009 to 78.7 percent this year).

The big problem for Bowker in the Majors? He is hitting more groundballs and he has struggled to find holes. His GB/FB ratio is abnormally high at 1.63 (he was under one the past two years in the Majors) and his BABIP is low at .241.

That being said, the numbers aren't as bad as they look. Despite only having a flyball rate of 31.1 percent this year, his HR/FB percentage is 15.8 percent (the highest it's been since he's been in the Majors). Additionally, his line drive percentage sits at 18 percent, an improvement from 2009 when it was 14 percent.

Prediction for Bowker in 2011

The outfield situation is very touchy for next year. Aubrey Huff will be a free agent, but considering how well he has played this year, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Brian Sabean re-up him for another year, which would hurt Bowker's chances of playing. Second, Thomas Neal, Roger Kieschnick and Darren Ford waiting on the horizon don't make things easier, especially considering how much is invested in them. Bowker certainly has the opportunity to break out as expected, especially if he can continue to gain confidence at the plate, which is what he needs after such a horrid start this year. However, if he can't produce at the Major League level soon, it won't be surprising to see the Giants cut him loose ala Fred Lewis-style.

Nate Schierholtz, outfielder, 26 years old.
Minor League Stats: .308 average, .871 OPS in 627 games.
Major League Stats: .281 average, .732 OPS in 230 games.

I admit, it has take me a while to come to terms with Schierholtz. I love him defensively and his numbers certainly back him up (career 20.9 UZR). Prior to 2010 though, I wasn't too big a fan of him offensively. He was an extremely free-swinger (he had O-Swing percentages of 34.7 and 34.9 percent in 2008 and 2009) and I didn't think he had the power (.133 ISO in 2009) to back up his lack of plate patience (0.28 BB/K ratio in 2009).

In 2010 though, Schierholtz has changed himself offensively. The power still isn't there (.107 ISO this year), but he has become much more disciplined at the plate. His O-Swing currently sits at 29.1 percent, not exactly great, but a great improvement considering it was never under 34 percent in his time in the Majors.

What sticks out the most for Schierholtz is his BB/K ratio and BB percentage, which have greatly improved. His BB/K ratio is currently 0.76 and his BB percentage is 9.4 percent. How has he improved these percentages from 2009? In addition to swinging less outside the strike zone, he has made better contact at the plate as well. In 2009, he only made contact 77.7 percent of the time. In 2010? That percentage is 84.6 percent, four points above the league average.

Now, Schierholtz doesn't hit the ball in the air, which is a bit deflating considering his ability to make contact. His GB/FB ratio sits at 1.61 this year and his line drive percentage is 18.1 percent. The line drive percentage is disappointing considering the past two years it was above 20 percent.

And, not only has Schierholtz dropped in terms of hitting flyballs this year (his FB rate sits at 31.4 percent), but he hasn't been very effective in making those flyballs count. His HR/FB percentage is three percent.

To put that HR/FB percentage in perspective, only Freddy Sanchez (who doesn't have a homer this year) has a lower HR/FB ratio of Giants hitters with 50 or more plate appearances.

Prediction for Schierholtz in 2011

Schierholtz deserves regular playing time and he should get it in 2011. With Mark Derosa's health a serious question, Schierholtz could have a shot to finally capture the job that probably should have been his this year. After all, he has done nothing to merit losing his job. His offensive numbers aren't eye-popping, but they aren't detrimental either (his wRC+ is 98, only two points below league average). However, when you add it along with his defensive value, it makes sense why Schierholtz has a WAR of 1.1 this year (which accumulates to $4.2 million dollars according to Fangraphs).

Travis Ishikawa, first baseman, 26 years old.
Minor League stats: .261 average, .808 OPS in 707 games.
Major League stats: .264 average, .739 OPS in 204 games.

Ishikawa has been up and down in his tenure with the Giants. Like Schierholtz, he has earned his keep on the Giants roster because of his defensive value. Last year, he led all defenders on the Giants with a 10.2 UZR. Furthermore, he also pelted nine home runs, which gave him a HR/FB percentage of 10.2 in 2009.

Unfortunately, he has tended to frustrate Giants fans more often than not the past three years as a Giant. Despite having a walk percentage of 8.7 and 8.3 percent in 2008 and 2009, he only had BB/K ratios of 0.33 and 0.34, respectively. Furthermore, his wOBA in 2009 (.313) was disappointing considering the promise he showed in 2008 with the Giants (when his wOBA was .337) and in Fresno (his wOBA was .445 with the Grizzlies in 2008).

Like many Giants hitters, Ishikawa swings a lot outside the strike zone (he has a career O-swing percentage of 27.9 percent). Unlike some Giants free-swingers, Ishikawa doesn't make contact enough to justify it. His career contact rate is 73.1 percent (the league average is usually around 80 percent).

This year, Ishikawa has shown improvement. His BB/K ratio is up to 0.50 and he has showed some power (.844 OPS; .367 wOBA) in his 32 plate appearances.

But as a Giants fan you have to realize that it's only 32 plate appearances. That is way too small a sample to come to any realistic projection. And the worst part? He probably won't get many more plate appearances anytime soon.

Prediction for Ishikawa in 2011

Out of the four guys listed, the future looks the most bleak for Ishikawa. He's great defensively, but he seems to be behind a lot of guys on this Giants roster. Barring an injury to Huff and someone else, Ishikawa is regulated to backup duty because he is out of minor league options. I wouldn't be surprised to see him designated for assignment either this year or next season, which is a shame because he certainly wasn't too bad in 2009.

Emmanuel Burriss, second base/shortstop, 26 years old.
Minor League Stats: .282 average, .679 OPS in 228 games.
Major League Stats: .262 average, .629 OPS in 156 games.

Burriss is probably the biggest wild card of the four. He is very interesting because of his situation alone.

In 2008, he was pretty much rushed to the big leagues because a.) Omar Vizquel was fighting age and ineffectiveness and b.) Brian Bocock was only other shortstop in their organization. So, Burriss was called up in 2008 despite being 23 years old and only having played as high as Advanced Single-A.

Surprisingly, Burriss didn't do too badly. In 95 games in 2008, Burriss tole 13 bases and hit .283 with an OBP of .357 and a BB/K ratio of 0.96. While he didn't show much power (.046 ISO) and his average was a little deceptive of his offensive success (.316 wOBA and 91 wRC+), the start in 2008 definitely was a step in the right direction for the Giants' 2006 first round draft pick.

Unfortunately, in 2009, despite a stellar spring training that earned him the starting second baseman position over Kevin Frandsen, Burriss struggled. While he still stole a decent amount of bases (11), many of his other offensive statistics fell drastically from 2008, including average (.238), OBP (.292), BB/K ratio (0.41), wOBA (.258) and wRC+ (52). Also, Burriss was inconsistent defensively, as evidenced by his UZR numbers in 2009 (minus-3.9 UZR/150 in 2009 at second base).

Since he was demoted to Fresno in 2009, not only has Burriss struggled to regain his 2008 form, but he also struggled with injury. He injured his foot shortly after being called down to the Grizzlies and missed most of the remainder of the 2009 season. When he arrived in Spring Training, he injured his foot early and was immediately put on the disabled list to start the season.

Though he is still on the disabled list, Burriss is already back in action, playing a few rehab games in San Jose before being called up to Fresno on June 14th.

Even if Burriss is able to come back healthy, this year may be a wash for him. The infield is already crowded with Juan Uribe, Freddy Sanchez, Edgar Renteria Matt Downs, and Ryan Rohlinger all vying for spots and playing time. In all likelihood, Burriss will probably spend the remainder of the year in Fresno, which isn't necessarily a bad thing considering he's only played in 31 games above Advanced Single-A prior to this season.

That being said, can Burriss still contribute? He will certainly have an opportunity next year. Renteria and Uribe will be free agents next season, so the starting shortstop position will definitely be up for grabs if those two aren't re-signed (though Uribe could be re-signed). And, if he can have a solid season in the Pacific Coast League, he may be able to convince the Giants brass that 2009 was a sophomore slump rather than an indicator of things to come.

Burriss definitely has a lot to offer. He certainly is fast (24 stolen bases at the Major League level) and has defensive potential (he had a 15.7 UZR/150 in 2008 at second base). Furthermore, he can make contact really well at the plate, as evidenced by his career 87.5 percent contact rate.

Unfortunately, Burriss' defensive inconsistencies (his career UZR/150 at shortstop is minus-17.7) as well as his questionable plate discipline in 2009 (28.5 O-Swing percentage) and lack of power in the Majors (career 0.38 ISO) and minors (career 0.65 ISO) don't exactly make Giants fans feel confident that he can be a long-lasting solution at the Major League level. Also, with higher end infield prospects Brandon Crawford, Conor Gillaspie, Nick Noonan, and Ehire Adrianza waiting on the horizon, Burriss may not get long to show what he can offer at a starting infielder position.

Prediction for Burriss in 2011

If Burriss is healthy (and that's a big "if"), then it isn't impossible to think that he can nab the starting shortstop position if Renteria and Uribe leave town. The potential is there, and I think Burriss is enough of a fan favorite that Giants fans could rally behind. His ability to make contact is promising, and with the relative lack of speed on this roster, Burriss offers a much needed quality.

Of course, Burriss needs to polish up his game on both ends. He has the ability to be a very good defensive player, but it seems, according to UZR, that he may be a tad overrated. Also, while he has an ability to make contact consistently, swinging outside the strike zone as much as he did last season certainly isn't going to help his cause.

He could go any way, and that's what makes him so interesting, and so hard to predict. Let's hope Burriss can improve in Fresno this year, and in 2011, be the player Giants fans and management hoped he would develop into after he made a splash in 2008.


  1. I share similar thoughts about these prospects and thought I'll share what I think will happen.

    Bowker I think they will keep around and they will leave RF open for him and Schierholtz to battle for it. I think DeRosa will be a super-utility guy in 2011, playing all over to get his ABs (assuming he is even healthy). I think that was the plan for him if the young guys (Bowker and Schierholtz) both did well enough to start, he was more insurance if either faltered, he's never been a full-time starter ever, he's ideally used in a platoon situation with a lefty.

    Schierholtz I still have hope for too. He has done well in the minors, enough to suggest he can do it up here. And he has up here when he wasn't injured. His hot start this season was killed when he injured himself and tried to play through it. He has to stop that, I think he did the same thing last season. Which means he needs to take better care to not get injured.

    His pattern in the minors has been to first figure out how to hit at his new level first, then ratchet up the power after he figures that out. I think that once/if he figures out how to hit consistently up here, the power will come.

    I think he and Bowker battles for RF, with the other guy sitting on the bench. With Rowand already sitting for Torres this season, I can see Rowand sitting for RHP in 2011 to allow both of them to start, obviously as long as Torres continues to hit.

    Ishikawa looked to have a platoon role with the Giants in 2011 and beyond, with Posey stealing starts there when resting from his catching duties. But Huff's great hitting puts a crimp into that because the Giants are probably going to try to resign him, and given his joy from winning, I don't think it would take more than the contract they had offered LaRoche to play 1B, $6-7M per season for 1-2 years plus option(s). The key question is how much he wants, as Ishikawa would be a cheap alternative.

    Then again, they were talking about keeping Ishikawa around even when talking LaRoche for multi-years, so they might decide to keep him as a bench player as long as they control him, maybe play him in LF as they said they would. He has done well as a left-handed power bat and defensive replacement at 1B.

    Burriss, I think that he'll either be the starting 2B at Fresno next season if Noonan continues to struggle in Richmond, but could be the utility MI off the bench in the majors if Crawford and Noonan earns their way to AAA for 2011. Unless Uribe cools off totally, I don't see how the Giants don't sign him to be their starting SS for 2 years plus options, unless he asks for Renteria type money. That would probably kill their interest, as more payroll will be going to the pitchers in 2011.

    With Uribe and Sanchez starting, then Burriss could be the utility MI, provide speed and contact off the bench, maybe learn from Sanchez to be more like him. He's still only 26 next season, so maybe he'll be ready in a couple of years when Sanchez's contracts end, as most evaluations of Burriss have noted the likelihood that he ends up playing 2B eventually, he doesn't have it for SS, reportedly. And the UZR stats here seem to confirm that.

  2. For some reason my other post died, but basically, I disagree with the "Play the Vet" rep that Bochy has been labeled with by Giants fans. He has played young players and given them starting opportunities. As well, there has been situations where he sat the vet when the younger guy was producing (Lewis/Roberts, Torres/Rowand, though I think they are same age).

    The last few seasons, the Giants have clearly left open positions without vets at some point for their young players to try to play and win the position or keep the position, 2B and 3B in 2008, 1B, 2B, 3B, LF in 2009, 3B and RF in 2010.

    The problem is that Giants management mandated a team that tries to win while developing prospects. If the team just tanked it, SF has shown before that it would abandon the team, that it would not support a losing team. So they took risks on free agents to prop up the team while also allowing the team to get younger.

    And many people forget, the whole pitching staff is pretty young, they are not playing vets there, though now some of the young are vets, they have allowed those good prospects who prove themselves to keep jobs at the major league level, it is just that they predominantly been pitchers and not position player.

    Compare the Giants to other teams, and you will find similar ratios of young prospects to vets, it is just the Giants have focused on finding and developing pitchers, they have made their bets on pitching with their first round draft picks, which has the best odds by far of developing into a MLB player than any other pick.

    The thing that bothered people was that Bochy would play the vet when there was a young guy there. But the fans didn't realize that the young guy just wasn't performing for a long while, like Lewis last season. And with the mandate to win as much as possible, do you stick with a struggling young player or go with a vet who has done it before? You go with the vet.

    It would have been different if Lewis was hitting, but he was stone cold for two months, mid-April to mid-June, at what point do you give up and try someone else?

  3. Oh and I also noted that I thought that this was a great post, I agree with a lot of what was written about the players, good analysis.

  4. Wow! Thanks for the awesome responses OGC! Great points, especially on the four guys. You make an interesting suggestion with the Bowker-Nate situation, which I believe is a shame because I do think both guys could be playing at the same time. Also, Burriss situation seems to be very dependent on how Crawford and Noonan develop. Crawford seems to be developing nicely. Noonan? Not so much. Many were skeptical of his promotion to Double-A this year, and so far, it seems that he hasn't adjusted to well.

    In terms of Bochy, he always just seems to have a longer leash with vets, and that has been the case since his Padres days when he was giving extended PT to Vinny Castilla when Kouzmanoff was waiting in the wings (Towers had to release Castilla). It just seems to me, as a Giants fan, that if a vet like Rowand or Renteria or Molina is playing poorly, Bochy claims it's a "bad stretch" and keeps them in. However, if it's a young guy, he's yanking them out and regulating them to the bench almost immediately. I just don't find that style conducive to developing young players.

    As for the Lewis example, that is a great point, but Roberts also wasn't healthy either, which I think is why Bochy couldn't justify playing him. Thankfully, it worked out for the best, but I do believe that if Roberts didn't have the injury problems he went through in SF, he would have earned a lot more playing time.

    Thanks again for the comments!

  5. I think the Giants should trade each one of these kids. For one reason, to give them an honest shot of playing. All would respond very well... Lets honor these kids a bit and give them a chance of making a big league career. Trade them like we traded Fred Lewis.

  6. Oh I forgot to add to the please do them a favor and trade list: Geno Velez, Ryan Rohlinger, Jesus Guzman, Steve Holm, and Matt Downs. Please give these guys a shot at doing something for there families. Because there is no chance with the current management of the SF Giants that they will ever get a honest shot.

    Load the Minor Leagues from the bottom and start over.

  7. Rick:

    I don't think these guys have much trade value. Seriously, the only way we're going to part with these guys is to DFA (with the exception of Schierholtz, who might have some value for his defense). That being said, they still are relatively young and relatively proven. 26 isn't bad, and they still have years left before they become free agents, so the Giants should just use them instead of spending big money of "fringe" free agents.

    Look at it this way? Would you rather save money on guys like Bowker, Ishikawa, Schierholtz and Burriss, and save the money for our pitching (Lincecum and Cain) and a big bat in the future? Or would you like for us to just keep spending decent amount of money on peaked free agents (e.g. Mark Derosa)?

    I'll stick with the young guys. And at this point, I would be cautious with some of the young Giants in Double-A and below. It is still too early to call how good a lot of them will be.