Monday, April 14, 2008

Wow-kers, It's Bowker's Time!

I had been hoping to write about Bowker's 2007 season at some point and show how good a season he had and thus is a good prospect to watch out for, but obviously that ship has sailed, so instead I'll explore a corollary question: is this real or not?

Feels Like the First Time

For Giants fans who were living under a rock this weekend, Bowker was called up this weekend, started Saturday and Sunday and only hit two home runs, going 4 for 6, and driving in seven runs. He got the call-up late Friday night and got around 3 hours sleep taking Fresno to S.F. route to the majors. Luckily, it was a home game on the weekend, so he was able to get tickets for his parents and I presume friends and family as well. Major league life can't get any better this this. What a dream start to a major league career!

His homer in his first game put him in a select group of eight San Francisco Giants who had homered in their first game, including Giants greats Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Bobby Bonds, Will Clark, Matt Williams, and John "the Count" Montefusco. With his homer yesterday, he is all alone, the only player in the Giants 50 year history in San Francisco to homer in his first two games.

Just all in two day's work. Today, he gets a well-deserved rest, no use testing the Baseball Gods and batting him against Randy Johnson, one of the nastiest lefties in baseball history, even if he is in his mid-40's now. Some may quibble, but why do that to him?

2007 Breakout Season

Despite playing in that hellhole of a park in Norwich, he was still 12th overall in OPS, 7th overall in SLG. And he was a 23 year old playing in a league where the average pitcher was 25 years old, which means that despite the two extra years of experience that the pitchers he faced had, on average, he still knocked them all around the park:

2007: .309/.364/.529/.893, 22 HR in 518 AB, 24 AB/HR
Home: .271/.330/.422/.752, 6 HR in 251 AB, 42 AB/HR
Road: .345/.397/.629/1.027, 16 HR in 267 AB, 17 AB/HR

As I have shown in previous analysis of the Dodd Stadium homefield "advantage", the park, for whatever reasons, damps down power, both doubles and HR power, relative to the parks in the rest of the Eastern League, costing our prospects some 30-50% of their slugging percentage had they played all their games on the road. Bowker, despite some heavy hitting, was not unaffected by this.

In addition, Bowker improved as the season went on, showing that he figured out the pitchers more than they figured him out:

APR: .306/.342/.500/.842, 3 HR in 72 AB, 24 AB/HR
MAY: .263/.303/.500/.803, 4 HR in 118 AB, 30 AB/HR
JUN: .345/.398/.584/.983, 5 HR in 113 AB, 23 AB/HR
JUL: .284/.364/.526/.891, 5 HR in 95 AB, 19 AB/HR
AUG: .330/.391/.509/.900, 5 HR in 112 AB, 23 AB/HR

Comparable MLEs

MLEs is a well established method of translating minor league stats into Major League Equivalent statistics (from, natch, Bill James), but, of course, like all in life, most have taken from the master and made their own proprietary try at this. Most try to translate based on level, age of player, and other variables. As I've noted, there is really no knowledge to be gained from utilizing his home stats because of the severe skewing of his stats there, and thus his road stats are a better proxy for how he would have performed in AA (and thus MLE).

The closest players in age and performance to Bowker are Nolan Reimold and Steven Pearce. Reimold is the same age (Pearce is a year older) but Pearce had the higher OPS. Neither had an OPS as good as Bowker's road numbers (1.027 vs. 0.986 for Pearce and 0.930 for Reimold), but they are close enough:

Bowker: .345/.397/.629/1.027, 16 HR in 267 AB, 17 AB/HR
Pearce: .334/.400/.586/.986, 14 HR in 290 AB, 21 AB/HR
Reimold: .306/.360/.565/.930, 11 HR in 186 AB, 17 AB/HR

From Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster:

Pearce: .293/.341/.496/.837, 15 HR in 412 AB, 28 AB/HR
Reimold: .271/.324/.501/.825, 10 HR in 186 AB, 19 AB/HR

Thus according to the MLE's of Ron Shandler's methodology, two hitters who were not as good as Bowker, are expected to hit around .830 OPS with around 20-25 AB/HR power (or about 20-25 HR in a 500 AB season). Both were singled out by Shandler's method as part of a pool of the best rising prospects.

Here are their road numbers:

Bowker: .345/.397/.629/1.027, 16 HR in 267 AB, 17 AB/HR
Pearce: .333/.403/.587/.989, 6 HR in 138 AB, 23 AB/HR
Reimold: .330/.375/.546/.921, 5 HR in 97 AB, 19 AB/HR

Again, very comparable, and Bowker is on top.

Real or Not?

Given that he hit as well as two highly ranked prospects as Pearce and Reimold in AA, I think that Bowker is, if not the equal in prospect-goodness as these two, he is very close. Of course, the fear is that 2007 is the fluke and the prior suckiness he had was the real Bowker. But he is now 24 years old, 25 later this season (last season counted as his year 23 season), so he is at the right age when physical maturity and experience can start kicking in and he start hitting better.

And it was not like he was a lowly considered prospect. When he was drafted, he was considered a future power hitter. In their 2006 prospect book, Baseball America noted, "He [Bowker] has more raw power than most other San Francisco farmhands... He has premium lefthanded power, and the key to bringing it out is maintaining his aggressive approach. He had an injury-plagued career at Long Beach State, redshirting as a freshman because of problems with his right wrist, and still is gaining a feel for his all-out swing... Bowker's bat is his ticket. He's a below-average runner with decent outfield skills and a fringy arm. They played him at first base in instructional league..." He was ranked 21st that year.

In their 2008 book, they wrote: "Bowker held his own over his first three minor league seasons, but hadn't flashed the power San Francisco expected when it drafted him in the third round. The power arrived at an unlikely place last season, as Bowker finished third in the pitching-dominated Eastern League with a .523 slugging percentage. Bowker arrived in spring training last year with added muscle and began to flourish when coaches suggested he stand closer to the plate. He combines the ability to hit for average - he's a career .296 hitter - with pull power. He has strong hands and can hit good fastballs. The Giants loves his aggressive approach and work ethic. He's limited to left field because he has below-average speed and his range and arm are adequate at best..." He was ranked 9th this year.

On the other hand, the 2008 Minor League Baseball Analyst book by Deric McKamey, rates Bowker as above average for power, average for batting average, and projects him as a platoon LF/RF, stating "Tweener outfielder with quick hands and extension that allows him to stay on baseball and hit for BA. Produces moderate power to pull field, and could help fortune with improved plate discipline. Ranges well in outfield, but possessess slightly below average arm strength."

However, they are not accounting for the Dodd Stadium effect. Both Pearce and Reimold rates a premium power hitters. And I think why he was evaluated only as a platoon outfielder is because his MLE based on his Dodd-depressed numbers places him as a mid-700 OPS hitter. If you look at his splits, he clearly does hit RHP much, much better for power:

v.LHP: .331/.390/.460/.850, 2 HR in 139 AB, 70 AB/HR
v.RHP: .301/.355/.554/.909, 20 HR in 379 AB, 19 AB/HR

And given a projected mid-700 OPS, that smells like a platoon OF. But if he can hit in the low 800 OPS overall, that is a major league average OPS for a corner OF, and makes him starter material.

The key question this season is whether the Bowker of 2007 or the Bowker of Before is the real Bowker. Obviously, with the hitting display of this weekend, that small samples will drive Giants fans giddy with anticipation. I think, given the comments by Baseball America, the depressive effects of Dodd Stadium - else his breakout season would have really opened some eyes, leading the Eastern League in OPS, rather than simply being in the top 10 - and how players who are similar to him in hitting on the road were rated much higher than he was, the 2007 Bowker was the real Bowker, and hopefully he will get a chance to show what he can do in the majors this season.

I think that Sabean needs to work harder at trying to move Randy Winn so that Bowker, Lewis, and Schierholtz get more ABs to start this season. It was risky to have done that in the pre-season as many Giants fans had clamored for, but I think all three prospects have shown enough that they deserve to get the shot to show what they can do in the Giants outfield, the time is right, now we need to find the right team to trade Winn to and get some good prospects for him.


  1. I meant to write to the Chron with this comment, but I'm lazy so I'll leave it here with you instead. The list of Giants who homered in their major league debut has at least one example of selective memory as it skips that immortal power hitter Johnnie Lee Lemaster who homered off Don Sutton in his first AB. As it happened it was an inside the park job, but a HR is a HR is a HR. Here's the box score from Johnnie Lee's debut:

  2. In fact, now that I've actually looked at this list and thought about what it's saying, there's something rotten in Denmark here. Will Clark of course HRd off Nolan Ryan in his first AB and Bobby Bonds hit a Grand Slam in his debut. But Willie McCovey quite famously went 4-4 with 2 singles and 2 triples in his debut, not a homer. Matt Williams broke camp with the team in '87 and played mostly SS for about a month before being sent down with a .100 ish BA. In his debut he collected 1 single in 3 ABs and a K. The next day he went 0 for 5 with 4 Ks. His first HR came in his 7th game.

    This stuff is so ridiculously easy to look up that if it weren't so pathetic I'd have to wonder if somebody in the Giants PR department didn't concoct the idea of trying to exite the fanbase re: Bowker by writing a up a list of great Giants sluggers, tossing in the Count for a fun factor and then saying Bowker joined them.

    Could anybody actually be that small and petty? Given that the alternative is incompetent, I'm not sure which is better and which is worse.

  3. Thanks for pointing those out Roger, I should have at least caught the McCovey mistake.

    But the Count did hit a homer in his first game, I watched him do it, he and LeMaster had homers in their first official AB (The Count walked his first PA).

    And it is possible that I made a mistake, so it is probably my incompetence (The Count was not in the list I copied from, I added him). I've found a good list from the Merc that appears to be correct:

    Orlando Cepeda (1958),
    Bobby Bonds ('68),
    John Montefusco ('74),
    Johnnie LeMaster ('75),
    Will Clark ('86),
    Randy Kutcher ('86)
    Eliezer Alfonzo ('06)

    FYI, KNBR announced this morning that somebody researched this and found that Bowker is the only Giants player in franchise history to homer in his first two games. If that isn't a reason for irrational exuberance, I don't know what is. :^)

  4. Hooray, Bowker! I like his swing, nice and short.

  5. Move Winn, move Roberts, you bet. Rowand, too, the hell with "gamers," I'd rather have AAA guys with 'upside.'

  6. That is the problem that I've been stating in comments at other sites and here, that many Giants fans don't seem to get: the Giants don't have AAA position prospects with "upside", except for Bowker and Schierholtz. Velez is exciting but he hasn't been exactly killing pitchers coming up the minors.

    Just because they are young, don't make them good prospects, or at least good enough to bring up and displace veterans who can still play. I think with Bowker and Schierholtz around and doing well, that finally makes Winn expendable.

    The Giants appear to see that too, they sat Winn down for a game over the weekend in order to play Bowker, and he was healthy and productive. He played over 150+ games last year, as he's been a pretty steady if average player (which is still valuable). Bowker and Schierholtz (and also Lewis) has made the case for more playing time, and that's only going to happen right now with Winn being traded or perhaps DLing Rowand. Given the pre-season hype on Rowand though, I don't see that happening. Playing Bowker at 1B will relieve some of that, but there are not enough AB's in the OF with Rowand and Winn around for all the young guys.

    But no one comparable is around to force the issue in the infield at AAA. Frandsen was the only one but he had such an unlucky break. He would probably have gotten a large percentage of the ABs at 3B and he is a hitter that I had some hopes for, though not a lot of experts saw him as anything more than a gritty player who plays above his skill level.

    I would like to see what Ochoa can do, but I know that we would be taking a flier on him, not that he can actually make it.

    People think that McCain or Leone would be good call-ups, but to that thesis I submit Brian Dallimore as exhibit A of why they most probably won't work out, at least not the way they think it will. Of course these grizzled vets are performing well: they have the experience that helps them beat most AAA pitchers, enough to look good. It would be like a 15 year old playing ball with 10 year olds: he is that much more advanced, experienced, and physically mature. Sure that's exaggeration, but I think that gets my point across.

  7. People read Leone's hitting stats at AAA and say "give him a chance," as if the Giants somehow are just willfully ignoring the next "star." He got a chance in ST - he posted the worst fielding % on the team. He was out of position, didn't know where to position himself (on balls hit to the OF, for example).
    OK, assume the Giants don't know talent. How come 31 other teams haven't traded for him?

  8. Allfrank,

    Your logic on Leone has more holes than a slice of Sweese Cheese!

    1. ST stats mean nothing, nothinnggggg!

    2. You're judging him on 31 total innings of defensively play, less than 4 regular games. He's probably an average at best defender but not the horror show he might have been in the spring.

    3. "OK, assume the Giants don't know talent. How come 31 other teams haven't traded for him?"

    Thats just silly.

    I like Leone more than Castillo at third mostly because Castillo isn't a good MLB player. He doesn't hit for power (career SLG .398), average (career BA .255), or get on base (career OBP .296). He's also never been a good fielder, despite flashing a nice play now and then.

    Consider this.

    In his 2006 season with the Pirates, his only full season as a starter, at 2B he was next to last in the NL in fielding for that position by RZR. He scored a RZR of .777, which means that he only converted 77.7% of the balls hit into his "zone" into outs. Only Jose Vidro was worse (and not coincidentally, he's now a DH for the Mariners) at 2B.

    I'm convinced that the only reason the Giants have held onto him is because he can kinda-sorta play SS, but most likely not very good (remember, SS is harder to play than most other defensive positions). The difference between Aurilia and Castillo at short is probably very slim, defensively at least.

  9. Chris, I'm not comparing Leone to Castillo; I don't have enough knowledge to make that comparison, even though you can make the argument that I am, implicitly, making the comparison by attacking the call for Leone to be promoted.
    To address your comments, I don't accept a blanket statement that ST stats mean nothing. I agree they mean nothing when you are dealing with an established major leaguer. I agree they are not very helopful when a guy posts really high numbers because for much of ST the pitchers are behind and many minor league pitchers are throwing. I do think they have some - some, not total - value when it concerns a guy fighting for a roster spot AND the numbers are bad. So, if I'm being unfair, are Leone's ST fielding stats unrepresentative of him as a defensive player? I cannot really answer that, as I do not have access to his career minor league fielding stats. I did find his MLB stats and, while only 30 or so games, his % is 895 - which, tends to indicate his ST numbers may have some relevance. More important than the numbers was seeing him play. He was like a little leaguer. Now, if he was playing with a bad achilles, I'll forgive him, but my impression was he showed rather conclusively that he couldn't play defense at a MLB level. I really think he would make stone hands Durham look like a gold glove winner.
    My real gripe is people just making half an argument that they guy ought to b e promoted - an argument that is "supported" by selective stats, usually his best stats. Well, he has a career MLB OBP of 296. I know it is a small sample, but, while I wouldn't yell and scream if the team brought him up, on the other hand I don't think they can be faulted for leaving him in the minors - particularly when he got a chance to play in front of the brass in ST, was arguable right behind Frandsen, on the verge of a call up - and he was awful. And he hasn't exactly been tearing it up at Fresno.
    What I am seeing, especially at McC Chrons, which is spiralling into unreadability, is "bring this guy up", no, "that guy," or the other guy," always supported by some minor league hitting stats. The corollary is, "put player A at 1b." This is roto league type analysis, not MLB analysis - and the two should not be confused. In otherwords, these "analyses" always completely ignore the player's defense, or worse, procede as if it is completely irrelevant.



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