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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

Detroit Tigers May Be Counting On Bruce Rondon A Year Too Early

By all accounts Bruce Rondon has filthy stuff. A fastball that regularly crosses 100-mph and a potentially devastating slider give him the raw tools to be an effective big league closer, but is he ready to step into the ninth inning role for a contender like the Detroit Tigers?

I’m not talking about “closer mentality” or the fact that he’s not “proven” – I don’t put much stock into those sorts of things when it comes to high-leverage relievers – I’m simply not convinced he’s ready for the Major Leagues from a developmental standpoint.

Obviously the Tigers’ front office and scouting department knows him better than I do. If they say he’s ready (and by “say” I mean more than just lip service: actually putting him on the team) then that would tell us a good deal more about his readiness than any stat sheet, but I’m a stats guy, and the stats don’t currently say he’s anything more than a question mark.

We’re talking about a 22 year old who’s thrown only eight innings above Double-A, so this isn’t meant to disparage his potential talent or prospect status, but his defense independent pitching numbers don’t paint him as the same pitcher as his ERA numbers do.

Here are those ERA numbers he’s put up across five different domestic minor league levels:

Level IP ERA
Rookie 37.0 1.95
A 40.0 2.02
A+ 30.0 1.80
AA 21.7 0.83
AAA 8.0 2.25

One could, for the most part, think of his Rookie ball season as 2010, A-ball as 2011, and A+ through AAA as 2012. That’s not exactly how it happened (he threw 6.2 innings of those A+ innings in 2010 and 11.1 of the Rookie ball innings in 2009), but pretty much.

It’s impossible to read anything but dominance from those numbers. We see a guy who went from very good to incredible as the competition got tougher, and he even passed with flying colors when after being promoted to AAA for eight innings at the end of last season. But if we add in two defense independent ERA estimators, we see a different picture.

Level IP ERA FIP kwERA
Rookie 37.0 1.95 3.52 4.34
A 40.0 2.02 3.00 3.86
A+ 30.0 1.80 2.53 2.37
AA 21.7 0.83 3.48 4.07
AAA 8.0 2.25 4.83 4.43

It’s not an entirely different picture, or even a different trend, but we may need to rein in the expectations of dominance a little bit. From the Rookie level to the Advanced-A level he had improved drastically (and was really quite good), but that level of dominance didn’t follow him to AA and AAA.

Perhaps I’m making too big of a deal out of the 30 innings he pitched at AA and AAA last season, but I don’t necessarily see a dominating major league pitcher in there. Not yet anyway. I see a guy that should probably be starting the year in Erie.

Of course, the Tigers front office (relatively) recently took a chance on a high strikeout, high walk pitcher who didn’t look like he’d be ready for the big leagues. I think everyone was a bit surprised that the Tigers signed Al Alburquerque to a major league contract back in November of 2010, but he’s been nothing but brilliant in 56 major league innings over the past two seasons.

That stats don’t necessarily show Rondon as being major league ready either, but I’m more than willing to trust the scouts on this one.

Tags: Bruce Rondon Detroit Tigers

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