Everyone seems to love Eddie Bonine these days. The Tigers reliever is having a breakout year according to a few hand-picked statistics. He’s 4-0, he has a 2.82 ERA. Many fans will tell you how valuable Bonine has been, how he’s saved the rest of the bullpen and pitched lights-out ball for most of the year. My Gawd, just look at his ERA, they say.
Let’s get something straight right away: ERA is just not a good indicator of performance when dealing with relief pitchers. And won-loss record is not a good indicator of performance for any pitcher.
To see what Bonine has done this year, you need to look a bit deeper. (Which I will do after the jump!)
I’m not well-versed in many of the advanced metrics of baseball, so I won’t pretend to be here. Talk to Matt for answers there (I’m sure he’ll back up what I’m saying). For me, one stat that has always seemed important in evaluating a good middle reliever is inherited runners. Frequently, relievers come into the game with men on base. The situations vary, of course, but whether your team is up by three or down by two, the idea is to prevent runs from scoring. Inherited runners that do score are charged to the pitcher that put them on base, so a reliever might allow three runs to score in one inning, but if he entered the game with the sacks drunk, none of those runs are his.
The league average for allowing inherited runners to score is 32%. The Tigers have a few relievers above that mark and a few below, as one might expect. Joel Zumaya was allowing just 23% of inherited runners to score (6 of 26), Ryan Perry has allowed just 16% of his 19 inherited runners to score, and Jose Valverde, who has only inherited five runners, is at 20%. Not surprising that the guys considered to be the better arms are leading the pack here. Phil Coke comes in at just under the average, allowing 31%.
If the better relievers are doing well with this number, one could expect that Bonine, with his ERA and W-L record being what they are, should be there as well. This is not the case.
While you would expect to see Fu-Te Ni and Brad Thomas as below average here, you do, with Thomas allowing 44% and Ni 41%. Those would represent the highest percentage of inherited runners scoring on the team (pitchers with a minimum of 3 IP) if not for Bonine. Our boy Eddie come is at a whopping 63%, nearly twice as high as the league average. He has inherited 19 runners, the same total as Perry, and allowed 12 of them to score. That’s just not getting it done.
Bonine has walked nearly as many batters (15) as he has fanned (19) in his 42.1 innings this year. He has benefited from an extremely low BABIP of .245. He’s stranding an amazing 87% of his runners, though he strands just 37% of runners the other guy puts on. He must not like his teammates much.
Simply put, if you were to look only at the numbers that show up on the screen when he enters a game, you’d think he’s been one of the Tigers more valuable guys. Looking deeper, Fangraphs has Bonine at a WAR of -0.6. For reference, they calculated the WAR of Ni at -0.1 and Thomas at a positive 0.1. Take that for what it’s worth, but no one has been overheard talking about the great seasons that either of those two are having.
For me, all I can tell you is that when Bonine enters the game, you should be shuddering, not cheering, especially if there are runners on when he comes in. Chances are, those runners are about to score.