Trying to Understand the Giants' 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).
This 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 onto the scene in 2008.
However, despite my gravitation toward Bowker, I have to admit one thing— he 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 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, equivalent to Robert Downey's career jump after 2005 ).
Everybody, including me, was convinced. Bowker was ready for the Major League.
However, he struggled in his call-up 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. He had only six extra-base hits, including two home runs.
The worst part of it all for Bowker was the dip in his BB/K ratio. After putting up unbelievable numbers in 2009 in Fresno, he didn't seem to improve much since the Giants last saw him. His BB/K ratio in 2009 with the Giants 0.22 (compounded by a strikeout rate of 26.9 percent).
Bowker fans tried not to fret too much. They pointed out to the small sample in the Major Leagues as reason to not completely jump ship on him. They argued 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, look more like a rookie who swings at every breaking ball in the dirt?
Yes, he is somewhat improving. 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 seems 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 that he can find a 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 for now.
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