Ladies and gentleman, John Bowker.
It’s tough to overshadow a dominant Tim Lincecum start — 11 punch outs over 6, we’ll go into more detail later — but John Bowker has made quite a name for himself in just two games. The Chronicle noted this morning that Bowker has done something that Giants’ legends — Bobby Bonds, McCovey, Cepeda, Clark, and Williams — had never done before; hit home runs in their first two games at the major league level. Bowker did just that when he blasted the first pitch he saw from Joel Pineiro into the arcade during the 4th, his 2nd longball in just two days.
While this season will mostly be dark, dreary, and depressing at times, it should also give us glimpses of hope. Tiny slivers of hope poking through the dark clouds of a franchise on tough times. John Bowker is one of those tiny slivers of light. He’s not going to turn into Mickey Mantle, but he could be an-honest-to-goodness decent homegrown player produced by the Giants minor league system. In years past, Brian Sabean would have traded off Bowker for a middle reliever sometime over the summer months and that would be the last we would ever see of him. But not this season, this season the Giants have the luxury — or curse, however you want to look at it — of losing. And that luxury gives them the bittersweet chance to play younger players like a John Bowker.
Bowker’s surprising first two games isn’t totally surprising. Last year he had a nice season in AA and during the dog days of July, I wrote a brief post on some minor league players that were giving me hope for the future. Bowker made the list.
6. OF John Bowker – A 3rd round pick in 2004 Bowker has blossomed as a hitter in a harsh environment not conducive to hitting, the Eastern League and more specifically Dodd Stadium. A quick glance at Bowkers splits show a tale of just how hard it can be to hit in Dodd. Bowker’s home stats (.263/.321/.421) which is good for a OPS of (.742) Meanwhile, Bowker’s road stats are (.319/.370/.582) which is good for a OPS of (.952) Bowker is only 24 and can give Giants fans hope for a potential homegrown bat from the minors.
Since his promotion to the bigs, Bowker has knocked in 7 runs over just two games. It’s been great to see a semi-interesting Giants prospect on television. Bowker’s swing is nice and compact, short and quick without a trace of slowness or unneeded bat wrap. You can see why this guy might be able to pop out a few HR’s now and then at the yard. Tonight, the Giants take on the Arizona D-Backs and Randy Johnson. It’s going to be Johnson’s first start of the year and there’s a good chance that Bowker could take a seat tonight. Rowand is reportedly feeling better and should be in the starting lineup and with Bowker being a lefty, Bochy might be tempted to start Ort or Davis over him. However it shakes out tonight, I hope to see Bowker get an AB or two, because right now, he’s one of the most exciting things about this team.
Don’t Forget Tim
Tim Lincecum, who shall never be forgotten, also had himself a great game against the Cardinals. Striking out 11 over 6 innings — the highest K total for a Giants starter yet this season, beating Sanchez’s 10 against the Pads.
In the previous PITCHf/x article on Lincecum I noted that he’s been developing a slider for the 2008 season and that I would try to keep an eye on it’s development. So far, it looks like the slider has been very kind to Tim. I recorded each of Tim’s strikeouts by hitter, inning, pitch type, velocity, and result.
Let’s check out the results.
K# Batter Inning Pitch Velocity Result 1 Ludwick 1st Slider 84mph Swinging Strike 2 Duncan 2nd Change 84mph Swinging Strike 3 Pineiro 2nd Fastball 94mph Swinging Strike 4 Kennedy 3rd Slider 86mph Swinging Strike 5 Miles 3rd Slider 85mph Swinging Strike 6 Washington 3rd Slider 80mph Swinging Strike 7 Pineiro 4th Fastball 95mph Called Strike 8 Kennedy 4th Change 82mph Swinging Strike 9 Schumaker 5th Slider 86mph Swinging Strike 10 Ankiel 5th Fastball 95mph Swinging Strike 11 Ludwick 5th Slider 83mph Called Strike
These numbers were all generated from PITCHf/x. A cool feature of this year’s PITCHf/x incarnation is that the system now classifies pitch types from the get-go. For the first time, the system has the ability to differentiate pitch types by using algorithms developed by Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM). Dan Fox of BP had a brief update about PITCHf/x on BP Unfiltered that proved to be a quick and interesting read. The system is making awesome strides in accuracy and reliability, great stuff.
Of the 11 strikeouts, 6 of them came on sliders. 5 of the 6 sliders were swung at and missed, while one was a called strike. It’s very encouraging to see Lincecum have a good game with his “new toy”. The early progress that he’s shown with his slider speaks to the skill level he has. Last year he turned an average changeup into an awesome weapon in his repertoire. He quickly developed that pitch and made it an asset. The early results for the slider suggest the same. He’ll probably have hiccups with it now and then — new pitches can be tough to get a feel for — but the early results are very, very encouraging.
Besides the slider, Lincecum got 3 strikeouts on the fastball and 2 strikeouts on his changeup. 9 of the 11 strikeouts he recorded were by swinging. Like we learned in the Lincecum FX article, he’s hard to make contact against. I’m planning on comparing Lincecum’s strikes swinging % from ’07 against some of the top tiered pitchers in baseball, I’ll be sure to post my results when I get them.
Another nice surprise this year has been Freddie Loo’s play since he moved into the lead-off spot. In the Cardinals series he went 9-17 with 6 doubles, 1 triple, 2 walks, and 1 RBI. That’s good for a line of: (.529/.579/1.579).
Something that I’ve noticed while watching Lewis hit, is that he really loves to hit the ball the opposite way into left field. Let’s take a look at his hit chart, courtesy of MLB.com’s player page on Lewis.
Listed on this hit chart are: triples (t), doubles (d), and singles (s).
Lewis appears to be extremely comfortable with letting the ball get deep in the zone and then shooting to to LF. He’s smacked 3 doubles right down the line and single in the same area. He hit 2 more doubles and 2 singles to left-center. He pulled a triple deep off the wall in right-center and pulled a double down the RF line.
Of the 10 hits depicted, 8 of them were hit left off center. It’s possible that teams will start to pitch Lewis inside more because if they keep pitching him middle away, he’s just going to serve it to LF most of the time. It’s possible that if teams start to come in on his hands more, he’ll have to try to pull the ball down the RF line or lay off the pitch. Just something to think about. But it’s great to see someone like Lewis who isn’t afraid to go the other way, if only Pedro Feliz could have done this.