July 9, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; World pitcher Bruce Rondon (44) delivers a pitch in the eighth inning of the 2012 All Star Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Taking Bruce Rondon Deep

As we consider whether Bruce Rondon is ready – or perhaps even “good enough” – to take over the Tigers closer role for 2013, one big question towers over all the rest. And it isn’t the one you’re probably thinking of: can he throw strikes. Yes, that’s important too, but it isn’t necessarily paramount. You see, a lot of guys with nasty, nasty stuff get away with elevated walk rates because it is soooo incredibly hard for the guy at the plate to do anything with the pitches that he does swing at. Take Al Alburquerque for example. No… Rondon walked a ton of guys in the minors and has had sparkling ERAs in spite of it. Al Alburquerque has walked a fair number as a big leaguer the past two seasons, with good results in spite of it.

The two pitchers have both fared so well by doing one important thing right, and the question is whether it’s all talent or all luck or somewhere in between. They have not given up home runs. In 196 minor league innings, Rondon has given up only 5 of them. When balls never go over fences, it becomes much easier to pitch around walks. The issue isn’t so much whether allowing few home runs is normal in the low minors, but whether that makes walks matter less. And anyways, is that skill for real? It’s hard to tell – but I have to imagine that a lot of it is just due to the skill level of the hitters he has been facing, since the guy hasn’t even thrown 9 innings to AAA competition yet. Going by his “Davenport Translations” of his non VeSL minor league numbers, he projects to about a HR every 11 innings – which is pretty close to normal. That doesn’t factor in luck, just the increase in talent from MiLB to MLB. Alburquerque didn’t do so great vis-a-vis the long ball as a minor leaguer, projecting to 1.1 HR/9 as a major leaguer, but in 56 2/3 major league innings he has yet to allow one. If you want a reason for his 1.59 ERA there you have it, Alburquerque has been good but he has probably been lucky too. When it wears out, he’s probably a 3.50-4.00 ERA reliever. Rondon has not shown the ability to strike out every other batter he faces, so time will tell what happens with his free passes…

Tags: Bruce Rondon Detroit Tigers

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