Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.

Posted by Dave on Saturday, April 17, 2004

Jeremy Bonderman: The One That Got Away

Some explanation is in order. As you, the reader, may have noticed, Talking Baseball has taken on a rather two-flavored approach recently. This has happened for a few reasons. First, Mike is now posting once every eight days, rather than four. The stress of writing every fourth day is high, and he understandably wanted to cut back a bit. Second, it was finals week up at Bates. Normally, schoolwork wouldn't impede my ability to post, however instead of four finals this past week, I had two finals and two papers. With the tests, I can study just enough to do well; they aren't significant time commitments. With papers, however, especially the ones of the 15 and 30 page variety, one must put in an inordinate number of hours whether one wants to or not. Now, the responsible college student would have been doing the papers the entire semester, but there's a problem with that statement; the phrase "responsible college student" is something of an oxymoron. In any case, after one 15-page Holocaust paper about suicide (all these historians believe, probably incorrectly, that suicide was uncommon in death camps), one 30-page Advanced Econometrics paper about the efficacy of public housing (public housing really is effective at improving social welfare for the poverty-stricken), and one extremely long Thursday night (I had to be reminded of the benefits of sleep tonight - I had forgotten for about 40 hours), I've come back home to Talking Baseball.

And what a sweet home it is. Last night, I comatosely enjoyed the Red Sox besting the Yankees 6-2. Given that I was only relatively awake (let's compare...me and a cicada) for the game, all I can really remember was Snazzy Vazzy (look at the web-address, his name is DEB!) consistently leaving pitches up and Red Sox players consistently smacking those haphazard deliveries. After Williamson escaped the 8th it was smooth sailing.

But you read the headline - I'm not here to write about all that. I'm here to write about Jeremy Bonderman. The Tigers acquired Bonderman when they rid themselves of the eternal enigma Jeff Weaver in a three-team trade in which the A's obtained Ted Lilly (Ben was happy about that one), the Yanks got their albatross in Weaver, and the Tigers netted two prospects - Franklyn German and Mr. Jeremy Bonderman.

Looking at Jeremy Bonderman, he looks like just another prospect. The truth is, he carries the burden of a war. Bonderman was drafted 21st in the in 2001 amateur draft. Beane wasn't a little unhappy about the selection - he was furious. Bonderman's selection reportedly prompted Beane to send a chair crashing into a wall. Beane, who had come to trust college statistics as a predictor of success, did not approve of the selection, to say the least. The selection was approved by Grady Fuson, one of the remaining traditional, non-sabermetric, scouts left with the A's. Never content with the selection, it wouldn't be far-fetched to say that Beane was trying to rid himself of Bonderman throughout his stay in the Athletics' organization. When the chance to acquire Lilly came along, Beane seized the opportunity to unload Bonderman. Bonderman has become a symbol of the still raging battle between the polar ideologies in baseball: The sabermetric "computer geeks" vs. the traditional "subjective fools."

Grady Fuson believed he saw a future ace in Bonderman, which is why he endorsed the selection so heavily. Where Fuson saw future greatness, all Beane could see was an unproven and under-developed talent. Bonderman pitched well with the single A Modesto Athletics - but not well enough to convince Beane of his potential, it seems.
Year   Age   IP    ERA   BB   K     K/9 

2002 19 144.2 3.61 55 160 9.954
How can you dislike those numbers? Sure, the walks are a little high, but this is true of all fireballing youngsters. Ignoring the walks, you have a guy with an incredible K/9 at the ripe age of 19.

The age is important because it indicates that there's still about 9 years left of growth before peak value (around 28 for pitchers). The relation of age to potentiality is the chief reason why both sabermetrics and traditionalism exists in baseball. The sabermetricians will tell you that since there's less growth left to be had, collegians are the more probable to perform well once they start playing professionally. The traditionalists, however, argue that since there is more room for improvement, high schoolers are the better selection - a great high schooler could be the next Ruth or Bonds.

Well, Bonderman now looks like the next Kerry Wood. After just the one year in single-A ball, the Tigers shuttled Bonderman up to the majors where his performance was mediocre at best:
Year Age  IP     H/9    BB/9    K/9   WHIP   ERA

2003 20 162.0 10.72 3.22 6.00 1.549 5.56
Scouts were impressed, however. The K/9 still was a bit low - only 6 per 9 innings - but one must keep in mind that Bonderman still has a lot of room for improvement. The K/9 will improve, as will the BB/9. It may improve a little, in which case Bonderman is another Paul Wilson. However, it could improve a lot, in which case he's the next Kerry Wood.

It doesn't even look all too unlikely that he's headed down the road of greatness, given limited statistics this year:
 IP    H/9    K/9    BB/9   ERA

11.1 6.35 11.91 2.38 4.76
The ERA is not there, but if he keeps up those extremely impressive peripherals, that will undoubtedly fall. Another important consideration, he's done this against the vaunted Blue Jay offense which scored the third most runs (comment if that's wrong - they may have scored the second most) in MLB last year.

There's more at stake with the future of Jeremy Bonderman than just one man's success. With his success (or failure), it loads another bullet in the holster of the traditionalists (or sabermetricians) to fire at the adversary should the oft-debated subject arise. Currently, it's looking like Beane is losing the battle, but the season is a long one and Bonderman may bounce back(ward).

Update: Bonderman pitched horribly on Sunday, allowing seven earned through five and a third. Interestingly, the strikeouts were still there. He racked up six on the day, improving his already nice K/9. It seems Bonderman is just too inconsistent at this point in his career. Five or six years down the road, however...

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