The Right Field Dilemma
Before I begin, I’m willing to bet you’ve noticed the new layout, as well as the advertisements. The reason for all this is that I’ve been asked to join the Yardbarker Blogging Network, which brings with it the promise of exposure and ad revenue while still allowing me to maintain my own operation here at Croix De Candlestick. So with that, I now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.
Recently, the Giants front office as well as Bruce Bochy (prematurely) declared Nate Schierholtz the Opening Day right fielder after initially insinuating that John Bowker would have a fighting chance. With Bowker banished to the obscurity of the bench, there are few factors that need to be taken into account about the merits of a decision made before Spring Training games are even played.
Firstly, I will concede that Nate Schierholtz plays a mean right field. Defensively he’s the better player by a longshot, with an UZR 150 of 13.1 in 2009, to Bowker’s -17.5 (in a sample size of innings to be fair). For those of you not familiar with UZR 150, it’s basically a measure of defensive efficiency per 150 games. In layman’s terms, Schierholtz is a defensive asset and Bowker is a liability.
Offensively, it’s a different story altogether. Schierholtz is projected by CHONE to hit .286/.325/.457, while Bowker is has a projected line of .276/.349/.456. Nate takes batting average, while Bowker wins in OBP. What it comes down to is the fact that even an optimistic projection for Schierholtz indicates that Bowker will be the superior hitter based solely on the fact that he’ll make fewer outs. This is also taking into account that last season Schierholtz swung at not one, but two pitches that hit him. Let that sink in for a second. Think of the monumental lack of plate discipline needed to accomplish something like that. It’s frightening isn’t it?
The one huge leg-up that John Bowker possesses in my mind is the dramatic change in his hitting approach he experienced over the course of one year. He went from hacking at every slider at his back foot in 2008 to getting on base at a clip of .451 in AAA in 2009. He got sporadic playing time in the majors last season but it was nothing substantial enough to draw any conclusions off of. It’s hard to say that he’ll be a good Major Leaguer based completely off of his minor league numbers from a year ago, but it’s hard to ignore the drastic change in approach he undertook in such a short amount of time.
Keeping all this in mind, the battle for right field is really the least of the Giants’ problems going into this season, but still represents an important positional competition. Assuming Bowker isn’t playing right this season, it’s safe to assume he’ll have to battle Mark DeRosa for playing time in left field, as well as Aubrey Huff at first base. Knowing our current manager’s pension for playing veterans over anyone under the age of 30, Bowker will be hard-pressed to find his way into the lineup. Meaning a guy who could potentially be the second or third best hitter on the club would be riding the pine, barring the possibility of an injury. Hardly seems fair, but them be the breaks.