Why John Bowker Should Play Every Day
At the onset of Spring Training, Bruce Bochy all but handed Nate Schierholtz the starting job in right field, making it his to lose. With Cactus League play coming to a close, Schierholtz may very well have lost it. This is in part due to the phenomenal hitting of John Bowker, who is second among all hitters in Spring Training with 20 RBI’s to go along with his 5 home runs and .308/.378/.631 line.
Compare this to Schierholtz’ paltry .235/.288/.491 line and things start to become clear. What’s most disturbing about his numbers from the sample size of at-bats he’s take is his 14:4 K/BB ratio. From what I’ve watched in Spring Training games, he’s looked pretty lost at the plate, which isn’t a good sign when you’re facing Schlubby McSchlub who’s never pitched above A-ball.
Taking that into account, spring statistics can be slightly misleading. From the 5th inning on in most games, both teams start playing their minor leaguers, severely decreasing the level of difficulty when it comes to hitting and pitching. Bowker’s impressive spring numbers mean just about nothing in the scheme of just 65 at-bats (which really is a textbook sample size might I add). So why would I advocate for him to start in right field when I know full well that his numbers now mean next to nothing? The short answer is in his approach.
Bowker is light years ahead of Nate Schierholtz in terms of his approach at the plate, as evidenced by Schierholtz’ inability to take a walk at any level in the minors as well as in the Majors. If you’re a 25 year-old who would be a 4th or 5th outfielder on most other teams, you better be able to take a walk. If you can’t by the, odds are you’re not going to magically learn anytime soon. And yes, I know John Bowker actually did, with his miraculous turnaround last year thanks to Hensley Meulens, but cases like this come around once in a millenia. Since Bowker’s already filled this “once in a millenia” quota, the odds are against Schierholtz making a similar turnaround, even with Meulens.
On the defensive end, Schierholtz is the clear winner. His UZR/150 (a rating of his defense over 150 games at a position) rates out a 19.0, compared to Bowker’s -17.4. This is enough of a gap in defensive prowess to raise concerns, especially given Aaron Rowand’s defensive decline over the last few years. At the same time, this is a problem that can solved by moving Mark DeRosa to right field (career 21.6 UZR/150 in RF) and letting Bowker play in left where he has a 34.2 UZR/150. If this were by some miracle to come about , the outfield defense would actually see a significant upgrade in overall quality.
My biggest concern with this situation is rooted in Bruce Bochy’s attachment to sample sizes. If Bowker gets the starting gig in either left or right field but doesn’t perform well in April, then odds are he won’t see significant playing time again. What he needs is solid, consistent playing time over the course of say, 2-3 months to really get comfortable. If after that amount of time he’s a sub-standard hitter, than someone else can move in for more regular playing time. If Bowker manages to hit well in April, you can bet that he’s set for the rest of the season if Eugenio Velez’ 2009 season is any indicator of how talent is evaluated on this team.
Photo used with express permission of Joseph Pun and AZGiants.com.