Friday, April 2, 2010

A Dodgerhater verdict: Bowker deserves right field

I've slept on it. I've analyzed it. I've prayed about it. Hell, I was crying about it most of yesterday. It's just. SO. EMOTIONAL.

I'm not talking about Hot Tub Time Machine, although such a magical film could bring about such reactions. I am of course referring to the great right field debate for the 2010 San Francisco Giants.

I suppose Nate Schierholtz is the incumbent, while Johnny Bowker is the challenger. While neither is perfect, and both are generally unproven, one thing I know for sure: John Bowker has rightfully won the RF job for the Giants.

There is simply no way around it. I tried and tried to find a reason to designate Nate the starter. I like the guy. He's a decent baseball player with a stroke at the plate that when right, is just pure sweetness. During a few stages last season, I was convinced that he was well on his way to contending for a batting title some day. Something about his sweet, effortless swing and the way his liners find grass-surfaced gaps in the outfield.

Then, something strange happened. He lost it-- just totally effing lost it. He began swinging wildly at pitches fixing to hit him in the ankle. Granted, this is a guy who was never too keen on eyeballing pitches with the bat on his shoulder, but it was worse than that. As the great Eddie Money would say, Nate had "No Control".

But he did beat up a Chinese National for his country in 2008...

The one constant of Schierholtz's play at all levels is his magnificent gatling gun of an arm. I swear he reminds me of friggin Vladimir Guerrero circa 2001 when he digs a ball out of the right field corner then fires it on a line 275 feet to the infield. Forget the hitting right now-- his arm is simply world class. I could seriously watch him fire the ball from the corner to all four bases for hours and hours, just like I could listen to Jon Miller describe an apricot orchard or a sidewalk bistro for hours and hours.

Alas, Nate seems to be a bit of a basket case, and is having severe difficulty putting anything substantial together. Last season, nearly every total and percentage he amassed were subpar. This means everything from his .302 OBP to his 5.2 BB% and propensity to swing at garbage 35% of the time. It's just unacceptable plate discipline, and its byproduct is poor production.

As most of you know, I'm not huge on all of these metrics. I respect them to a certain extent, and in some cases they can't be denied. The problem I have is when these Stat Snobs and Saberjerks use them to make asinine arguments for guys like Fred Lewis. In Nate's case, they just don't lie though. His contact percentage was below average, his contact on balls out the strike zone (which he swings at too much) is a full 10 percentage points below the league average, and that just doesn't cut it.

The reason I choose to look at the Sabermetrics in this case is because, at first glance, Nate's '09 numbers don't look horrid. A .267 average, .400 slugging percentage, and 19 doubles in 308 plate appearances just isn't vomit-inducing. It's just not good enough to warrant a starting gig at a power position.

Then of course there's the matter of Schierholtz's disturbing Spring Training production. Yes, there's a great deal of pressure to be dealt with and all that jazz, but in 60 spring AB's, he only hit .233 and struck out a scary 27% of the time. John Bowker on the other hand, is absolutely crushing.

Just as he did in his 2009 season down in Fresno, Bowker is currently enjoying great success. There is simply no denying right now that "Bowkermania" could be at an all-time high. The correlation between torrid AAA numbers and the big show is never a guarantee, but I believe that this is a case that cannot be denied.

As the PCL's MVP last season, Bowker put up: 21 HR, 83 RBI, and sported a filthy .342/.451/.596 line. That's like the triple crown of averages right there. A new approach at the plate and extensive work with new Giants hitting coach Bam Bam Meulens has translated into amazing non-big league success.

Take his scorching hot spring into account.

He led the team with 71 AB's this spring, and man did he take advantage of them. We're talking about 5 dingers, 20 RBI, and a .310/.375/.606 line. Plus he drew 8 walks versus only 11 strikeouts, and 10 out of his 22 hits were for extra bases. We're talking legit numbers here.

Of course, Bowker's limited time as a pro has been underwhelming, but the guy really hasn't gotten a chance.

If we look back to Johnny B's only extended time as a pro in 2008, it looked very similar to Schierholtz's 2009. Their contact percentage, percentage of swings outside the strike zone, BB%, and OBP were nearly identical. The differences between the two lie in Bowker's apparent defensive deficiencies and superior home run power.

Obviously both will make the roster, as they should, but at this point there is absolutely nothing that shows me that Schierholtz deserves the job over Bowker.

Furthermore, a timeshare would be extremely detrimental to both guys. While Schierholtz has at times excelled as a pinch hitter, Bowker seems to fair terribly when not getting regular at bats. While both are lefties, Bowker is weaker versus LHP's while Nate, in a bizarre stat, hits LHP's better than he does righties.

I just hope to the real God and the baseball gods that this doesn't give Bochy an excuse to platoon these two young men. It's just not beneficial to the team or to the development of each as a player.

John Bowker has won this job fair and square, and if he's not out there every day, Giants management is doing their 2010 campaign an extreme disservice.


Quick plug: If you've got room for another Giants blog in your reading stable, check out Remember '51. It's quickly becoming one of my faves.


  1. I'm not a big fan of Schierholtz. Defensively he is great, but in my mind, people are really stretching if they think that Nate can be a consistent .300 hitter and 15-20 homer guy. His plate approach is not very good, and you point it out, his contact rates and him swinging outside the strike zone a lot prove that. Bowker proved a lot of plate patience last year in Fresno (crazy over 1 BB/K ratio) and has the power upside that Schierholtz doesn't.

    Yes, Nate has fielding. But Bowker has better offensive ability, more power and had a better Spring (and he's not atrocious defensively in right either, though Rowand would make him seem worse because he wouldn't be able to cover the ground in Triples Alley from Center like any good center fielder would).

  2. Also, thanks for the plug man! Appreciate it.

  3. And just like that, Schierholtz goes 3-for-5 with two more doubles.

    Don't let Nate's tinkering in spring training fool you, Sean. Yes, he has looked like someone trying to hit one of my nasty wiffle ball curves, but I assure you, Nate has not fallen off one bit.

    He went into ST saying that he was going to try a few new things at the plate. And I think he's realized that the sweetness that is his natural swing should not be tampered with. Enough tinkering. Arizona is so yesterday. Opening Day is tomorrrow. Game on.

    The fact is, 11 of Schierholtz's 17 hits in ST have gone for extra bases, including a team-high seven doubles. He's a slugging machine (.508).

    But, then, so is Bowker (.627).

    That being said, I approve of your Bowker-For-Rightfield campaign, because I believe Bonker is one of the big keys to the Giants chances this year. And I've rubbed the fur raw off my rabbit's foot, hoping to God that Bonker hits .290+ with 28-30+ HR and 90+ RBI. Cuz if that happens, we WILL win the West.