After watching the Nationals game on Sunday and watching Bowker hit the ball hard into some outs, I wondered, is John Bowker unlucky?
To figure this out I checked John Bowker’s FanGraphs stats page and noticed something, he’s hitting a bunch of line drives. In 154 PA’s this year, Bowker’s LD% is at 26.4% which is very solid. Check out the leaders in the National League for LD%.
LD% Leaders in the National League Min. 150 PA’s.
Name Team BABI GB/FB LD% Ryan Ludwick Cardinals 0.34 0.55 30.30% Brian Schneider Mets 0.3 4.86 28.10% Miguel Tejada Astros 0.32 1.36 27.20% Gregor Blanco Braves 0.34 1.84 26.80% Chipper Jones Braves 0.43 1.2 26.40% John Bowker Giants 0.28 0.72 26.40% Matt Kemp Dodgers 0.4 1.44 25.90% Xavier Nady Pirates 0.35 1.17 25.70% Ryan Church Mets 0.35 1.17 25.50% Jimmy Rollins Phillies 0.29 1.52 25.50%
Of course, 150 PA’s is a small-ish sample size but John Bowker is hitting line drives on par with Chipper Jones. Why are line drives such a good thing? Because of the three types of contact a hitter can make — groundball, flyball, and line drive — the line drive is the best type because they fall for hits 75% of the time. Hitters that hit a bunch of line drives tend to have high averages and good seasons. Garrett Atkins lead the National League in ’07 with a LD% of 24.5%, his final line of that year was: (.301/.367/.486) he was helped by the large amount of line drives that he hit.
You’ll notice that on our leader board everyone is sporting an average-to-high BABIP, except for Jimmy Rollins and John Bowker. Chipper Jones’ BABIP is currently .420 and a large part of that is because he’s hitting a ton of line drives this year. But Bowker’s BABIP is only .280, which is very low for the amount of line drives he’s hitting. In fact, Bowker’s current line of: (.248/.299/.411) looks very ordinary, definitely below average for a first baseman. You can crudely figure out expected BABIP (xBABIP) by taking a hitters LD% and adding .12 to it.
By this method, Bowker’s BABIP should be closer to .384 than the current BABIP of .284. All things being equal, Bowker is hitting a lot better than his current slash-stats indicate. The Hardball Times has a useful stat called PrOPS that can help us with John Bowker. Here’s the definition and what it can tell us.
PrOPS stands for “Predicted OPS.” It was developed by J.C. Bradbury amd introduced in this article. PrOPS isn’t really a new stat; it’s a formula for predicting what a player’s OPS is likely to be in the future based on his batted balls, strikeouts, home runs and walks.
PrOPS takes batted balls — remember line drives are one of the three types of batted ball –, K’s, HR’s, and BB’s and will tell you what a hitters line “should” look like in the future. By using the PrOPS metric, Bowker’s line should be closer to (.291/.331/.496) that’s good for an OPS of .834. That batting line and OPS would make John Bowker one of the best hitting Giants first basemen since JT Snow’s 2004 season in which he went crazy. Instead Bowker’s current OPS is .709, or -.124 under his predicted OPS. That’s the biggest difference on the Giants among any hitter with 150 PA’s or more.
To answer my question, yes, John Bowker has been a little unlucky this year. He’s hitting a ton of line drives and that’s always a good thing for hitters. If he can keep his LD% fairly high, you should start to see his overall numbers improve. Hopefully the Giants will keep sending him out there because he’s squaring up nicely on some balls right now. Keep an eye on Bowker.