It has been a long time coming but Jeremy Bonderman has finally reached the .500 mark for his career (53-53). Bonderman was put way behind the curve by being an unfortunate member of the 2003 Detroit Tigers. Management concluded that since the team would be dreadful anyway, Bonderman might as well develop “under fire” in the majors. The idea sounded good in theory but nobody really considered the effect that a disastrous season might have on Bonderman’s confidence. Management doesn’t necessarily get caught up with stats but the team’s decision to keep Bondo in Detroit in ’03 left a black mark on his career that will forever bog down his career marks. Bonderman finished 6-19 with a horrendous ERA of 5.56 at the ripe age of 20. When 99.9% of 20-year old big league prospects are working on their game in A ball, Bonderman was getting ambushed in the majors. His first season left him 13 games under .500. Considering the state of the organization, that number didn’t look to improve much over the next few years—and it didn’t.
Bonderman improved his ERA each of his next three seasons but he only managed records of 11-13, 14-13, and 14-8 respectively. On September 10, 2006, Bondo’s career record stood at 41-53. It looked like it might be the ’08 season or later before he had a realistic shot at reaching .500. Little did anyone know that Bondo was about to win 11 straight decisions. Bonderman has gone 17 starts without a loss which is one short of the Tigers all-time record. In those 17 starts, Bondo erased the equivalent of the entire ’03 season.
Justin Verlander is the Tigers pitcher that receives the most publicity and deservedly so. He doesn’t have the high loss count that Bonderman sports. His career winning percentage and ERA is also much better than Bonderman’s. Fortunately for Verlander, he wasn’t forced to pitch in the majors at the age of 20. While Verlander appears to be the glamour boy for the Tigers, Bonderman is the one with a realistic chance at reaching historical milestones. Roger Clemens racked up 52 wins by the age of 25. Bonderman is at 53 wins and he still has close to 2/3 of a season to go. Bonderman is ahead of the pace of virtually every active pitcher in terms of wins. He is also way ahead of those pitchers in losses by the age of 25 as well. However, those losses are mostly a function of being put into an impossible situation. There certainly does not appear to be as many losses in the future with how well the organization is being run as evidenced by his statistics thus far in '07. He is currently the only undefeated starting pitcher in MLB at 8-0.
Much has been of the need for Bonderman to develop a changeup. He has used it occasionally this year with some pretty good results. He still lacks confidence in the pitch which is evident by his reluctance to throw it with much frequency. While Bonderman certainly needs to develop a third pitch to increase his effectiveness against big-league hitters, I have actually changed my tune a bit with regards to what is keeping Bonderman from jumping into the role of an elite MLB pitcher. While Bonderman certainly has plus tools with his fastball and slider, he doesn’t locate as well as some of the elite pitchers. He frequently misses badly on the outside of the plate. If he could develop his command to the point where he can consistently pitch on the outside corner of the plate, he could be lethal. Greg Maddux became one of the 10 best pitchers in MLB history by being able to command his pitches. One feature that Bondo has added to his repertoire is a swing-back fastball that starts inside on left-handed hitters and swings back over the plate. That pitch is almost impossible to hit. Most hitters are jumping backwards before they realize that the pitch is going to hit the plate.
I’m not sure how caught up Bonderman gets in his numbers but I’m guessing he at least has some idea of where he stands. It has to feel good to finally get to a .500 winning percentage. He is a tremendous talent who deserved a much better start to his career. Hopefully the Tigers will be able to reward him with a ridiculous amount of run support over the remainder of the career. Congratulations Bondo!
Here is a look at how Bonderman compares to the elite pitchers of the last 20 years in terms of wins by the age of 25:
Greg Maddux 61
Jeremy Bonderman 53
Roger Clemens 52
Pedro Martinez 48
Tom Glavine 33
Curt Schilling 4
Randy Johnson 0