In case you missed it, yesterday James Schmehl of MLive gave a sobering look at the questions facing the Tigers in the upcoming off-season. In his piece, Schmehl noted that very few Tigers were sure things to be back next year. He listed the pitchers he sees being back as follows: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Jose Valverde, Phil Coke and Eddie Bonine. Wait, what?
One of these things is not like the others. One of these things doesn’t belong.
Bonine? Honestly? Eddie Effing Bonine!?! If Bonine is a sure thing to make the staff next year I will have to seriously consider stabbing myself in the eye with a spoon. I don’t want to do that. I am not a huge fan of pain. But I am also not a huge fan of Bonine. I had just assumed that one of the glaringly obvious areas the Tigers could easily upgrade was their “first guy out of the bullpen when the team is losing” guy. Or maybe they should focus on upgrading their “throw gas on the fire and allow every inherited runner to score” guy.
Now, you could make a compelling case that the roles as described above are also competently filled by left hander Brad Thomas. Which brings me to Rod Allen, who described Thomas, upon introducing him as the new pitcher last night as “having a very good year.”
I mean I guess I could see how one would think that both pitchers have been good. Bonine has a 4-1 record and Thomas is 6-2. Obviously, judging by win-loss record, Allen and Schmehl must think that Bruce Chen is better than Zack Greinke, I mean Chen does have a better record. Of course, in the real world of baseball, we know how little a pitchers record means when dealing with starters, it means even less when talking about relievers.
Earlier in the year I had to suffer through all the people talking about the great job Bonine was doing, as evidenced by his sub-3.00 ERA. Again, ERA for relievers is essentially worthless. When examining the merits of a relief pitcher, you need to look beyond the traditional statistics and see what’s behind the numbers. When you do that, you find two pitchers who are not very good at pitching.
Let’s begin with inherited runners, as this is perhaps the most important statistic a relieve pitcher needs to do well in. Often times, a reliever is brought into the game with runners on base. If those runners score, they are charged to the guy who put them on, not the reliever on whose watch they scored.
The American League average is 31% on inherited runners scoring. Bonine has inherited 27 runners and 16 of them have come around to score. That’s 59%, or 21% worse than the average AL reliever. Thomas has inherited 35 runners and 17 of them have scored. He has allowed 49% of runners to score, or 18% worse than average. Of all of the relievers the Tigers have used that have inherited a minimum of six runners, Bonine and Thomas (along with Robbie Weinhardt at 50%) are the worst at stranding those runners on base. For reference, Ryan Perry has allowed only 22%, as is Jose Valverde, and Phil Coke is at 33%.
Still not convinced? Let’s examine how well these guys keep their own batters from reaching base. Against Bonine, opponents have a slash line of .312/.367/.470/.837. In other words, if one batter was allowed to hit against Bonine for an entire season, he’d be making $18 million a year. Thomas’s opponents have had similar success at a line of .297/.367/.422/.789. Again, that batter would make good money in the big leagues. And it’s not as if we are dealing with terribly small samples here. Bonine has pitched 65 innings while Thomas has worked 64.2. They have faced a combined 583 batters this year.
Another wonderful place to see the effectiveness of a pitcher is in his strikeout to walk ratio. Again, both Bonine and Thomas fail miserably here. Remember Dontrelle Willis? Remember how he couldn’t throw strikes? Willis ended his Tigers season with 33 strikeouts and 29 walks for a ratio of 1.14. Bonine has been only slightly better, fanning 26 batters to 22 walks, or 1.18 ratio and Thomas has actually been worse than Willis, striking out 26 while walking 28. His ratio is 0.98. The only two Tigers worse than Thomas? Enrique Gonzalez, who was DFA’d, and Alfredo Figaro, who should be.
So there you have it. Rod Allen says Thomas has had a great year and James Schmehl thinks Bonine is a lock for next year’s staff. And why? because they are a combined 10-3. Ugh. Where did I leave that spoon…