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Bonderman stays away

Jeremy Bonderman turned in another disappointing performance in his latest start against the Yankees. It seemed to follow a pattern than Bonderman has established and has led to the worst set of peripherals in his career. Let’s go batter by batter through the first inning to see what went wrong:

Bonderman against Damon:
Bonderman against Damon
Things started out well for Bonderman. He got a first pitch strike on a fastball in the lower outside quadrant. Damon fouled off two borderline pitches on the outside corner before fanning on a slider that bounced up.

Bonderman against Jeter:
Bonderman against Jeter
I liked this sequence as well. Bonderman came inside with a fastball, outside corner with a slider, and inside with another fastball. He then went with on the outer half of the plate that Jeter drove the opposite way for a homer. It caught a little too much plate but at the same time it was a nice piece of hitting by Jeter who hadn’t gone deep yet this year. It wasn’t a horrible pitch and I liked the inside-outside aspect of the at-bat.

Bonderman against Abreu:
Bonderman against Abreu
Bonderman seems to regroup after the homer. He works at the bottom of the strike zone to Bobby Abreu and just misses on a couple pitches at the knees. He throws a sloppy change up out of the strike zone but throws a slider on the inner half and then one that just misses the outside corner. Abreu sends a fastball at the knees right back through the box. At this point there have been a couple hard hit balls, but he’s still been throwing okay.

Bonderman against Matsui
Bonderman against Matsui
Hideki Matsui took the first pitch he saw, a 90mph fastball, and hit it right back through the middle for another single. It was the grounder that Bonderman wanted but it was hit hard and split Renteria and Santiago.

Bonderman against Giambi:
Bonderman against Giambi
This was the first at-bat where it looked like Bonderman had lost it. His first pitch was a fastball that was borderline. Everything else was up and outside.

Bonderman against Cabrera
Bonderman against Cabrera
Now with the bases loaded Bonderman has to go after Melky Cabrera right? He got lucky with a called strike on a pitch off the plate. He then threw the next 5 pitches in the same spot before getting a fastball and a slider over the plate, both of which were fouled off. He then missed badly outside to walk in a run.

Bonderman against Cano

Bonderman against Betemit
Bonderman floated his change up way outside to Robinson Cano. He then threw a fastball on the outer black that Cano managed to pull sharply to second base resulting in an inning-ending/inning-escaping double play.

It’s my impression watching Bonderman this year that he is either unwilling to, incapable of, or instructed to not bring his fastball inside to left handed hitters. Bonderman started off this game locating well, but he was hit. And when things turned bad he stayed way the heck away from a left handed hitting lineup.

You can see it on the Giambi at-bat. You can see it in the Cabrera at-bat. And if I can see it you know opposing hitters can see it which is why Cano was able to pull an outside fastball sharply. There is no way that Bonderman’s fastball on the outer edge, set-up by his slider, should be able to be pulled like that.

One issue is that Bonderman’s fastball, like Justin Verlander’s, is down a couple miles per hour. The other issue is that there is nothing keeping hitters from lunging across the plate. We saw it in his start against the Rangers when he walked in a run throwing everything off the plate. We saw it in the first inning of his previous start against the Yankees where it was fastball after fastball off the plate.

I guess the good in this outing is that he used all his pitches in the first inning instead of just the 2-seamer. But either by design or out of fear he didn’t come inside to left-handers.

Bonderman’s fastball has a natural tendency to run outside against left handers. His inability to harness the movement has resulted in bouts of wildness in the past. But now he’s outside with all his pitches. We’ve seen Tigers left handed hitters frozen by fastball that start inside and swing on to the inside corner. When was the last time we saw that from Bonderman?

It’s a lot easier to sit here and criticize from behind my laptop, and I could be way off base here. But whether or not it has anything to do with pitching away, Bonderman is throwing a lower percentage of strikes than at any point in his career (58% in 2008, 63% in career). He’s only throwing first pitch strikes to 51% of hitters (58% for career). He’s allowing 50% more 3-0 counts than his career numbers and he’s getting to 0-2 on only 11% of hitters (19% every year except 2003). His 4.16 ERA is acceptable but not sustainable for a pitcher walking more than he strikes out.

Whether it is bad game planning, bad coaching, or simply bad execution, things are only to get worse for Bonderman until he can throw strikes with some consistency. And in my mind his biggest problem seems to be his failure to come inside to left handed hitters.

Posted by on May 11, 2008.

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Categories: 2008 Season, Pitching

16 Responses

  1. This is great stuff, Billfer. I had the same thought yesterday when Eric Karros was rattling on about how his two-seam fastball runs to the barrel of left-handed hitters.

    “Not if he starts it inside.”

    I can’t decide who’s been more frustrating to watch this season between Verlander and Bonderman.

    by Matt in Toledo on May 11, 2008 at 9:59 pm

  2. It all comers down to who owns the strikezone, the pitcher or the batter. A good pitcher, as well as having a good mix, will back hitters off to keep them off balance, be they right handed or left. You don’t want the hitter getting too comfortable or you get the results Bondo achieved on Saturday.

    billfer, have you happened to check back on Bondo’s last few starts to see if this pitching away has been a consistent pattern?

    by Vince in MN on May 11, 2008 at 10:23 pm

  3. It’s a common thread with both JV & JB – and Nate Robertson, I might add – that they’ve each lost a few mph on the heater in the past year and they’re all staying away from hitters. From my anecdotal view, they all consistently get behind hitters – even if they’re not walking them, by nit-picking outside instead of making a more concerted effort to get ahead.

    Its disappointing, because all three of these guys have good enough stuff to avoid being hit hard consistently if they challenged more hitters and worked from a pitcher’s count (which would make their mix of pitches more effective). I don’t know if they’ve all had mechanical issues or their game-planning is to beat up the outside corner, but its seemed to be a consistent approach and problem for the group.

    This common theme to all three of them leads me to think “coaching.”

    by rings on May 11, 2008 at 10:25 pm

  4. I can’t figure out some of those pitches Bonderman was throwing later in that 1st inning. They weren’t close. Was it a slider he was expecting to come back in and catch the outside corner? He was nowhere near the plate. Or do we have a 38 Million dollar bust on our hands that’s starting to realize it?

    by David G. on May 11, 2008 at 11:37 pm

  5. im an absolute bonderman fan, i bought his jersey back before 2004 knowing he was a dombrowski cornerstone after getting rid of weaver. but with that, i almost have him on a shorter leash.

    before this season, a major problem that i am absolutely upset with, is bondermans tough man attitude and not admitting when he is hurt, it has happened twice now in the past couple years. for such a young kid this cant happen, and im beginning to feel some, and if not all, his problems are from this.

    i don’t any specific evidence or info to support any claims. im not sure what is going on. is he just an overhyped 1 pitch pitcher? (slider) did his body just stop improving with age and growth and not progess? is pitching coach hernandez to blame?

    sorry for being general. im a big time bondo fan, and i just want him to get straightened out. it is a shame to see someone with 2 half seasons of dominance come crumbling down

    by JOE Z on May 12, 2008 at 12:43 am

  6. I am completely at a loss, Billfer. Like, Bondo’s been so far away from his career peripherals that I honestly cannot get my head around anything that can indicate to me his lack of success — especially with his control and command which is usually reliable. Heck, even xFIP numbers which normally LOVE Bonderman aren’t giving me anything to work with (5.24 xFIP this year, he’s posted xFIP’s of 3.99, 3.68, 4.10, and 4.15 working backwards from last year back to 2004 — all of those previous xFIP’s were at least .60 below his ERA).

    I’m just at a loss. His Left on Base % is at 71% and league average is 72%. His HR/FB percentage is out of whack, though at 16.2% of his FB’s are going for HR’s but he’s giving up hard contact as his IsoP Against is .214. I don’t know if it’s mechanical or if this not busting LHH’s inside with his 4-seamer is the culprit but it’s frustrating. Especially given how dominant he was in his first 18 starts last year.

    by Mike R on May 12, 2008 at 3:37 am

  7. Vince -
    I haven’t gone batter by batter, start by start like this. His problems on Saturday though seemed to be another example of just what I’d observed from him this season.

    It’s also something that I’ve speculated about Bonderman when he’s struggled the past couple seasons is that he throws his fastball toward the third base side of the plate and the slider toward the first base side with a lot of regularity. What I don’t know is whether he does this stuff all the time, and I just notice it when he’s struggling.

    by billfer on May 12, 2008 at 5:54 am

  8. If he is getting into some kind of predictable pattern, perhaps he is tipping his pitches as well.

    by Vince in MN on May 12, 2008 at 7:39 am

  9. His foot strike is drifting, that’s what the pattern looks like to me. However, that would be so easily corrected, so immediately seen, that this couldn’t be the case, right? Kinda like “Hey, Bondo, maybe you need a third pitch” repeated every year for five years — inescapably easy in theory.

    I have come to the conclusion that Bondo is just not a bright man. When his mechanics happen to fall into-place, just on random starts, maybe every 9th start, he’s a tantalizingly good pitcher and that excites the Leyland\Dromboski axis so much they are willing to throw lots of money at the possibility that Bondo will figure things out and have repeatable good starts, but it’s still random because he has no flippin’ idea why his stuff works when it works.

    by Palmcroft on May 12, 2008 at 12:46 pm

  10. What I don’t know is whether he does this stuff all the time, and I just notice it when he’s struggling.

    Can you pull up a gameday from one of his better outings last year and check?

    by Jeff Molby on May 12, 2008 at 1:44 pm

  11. Leo Mazzone for years got his pitchers to work away-away-away and hammer the outside corner, so it’s possible to pitch that way and be successful. But Mazzone also had his guys occassionally come inside to keep hitters from diving across the plate, and that’s an important element.

    I suggest Occam’s Razor on this one for Bonderman and Verlander: they do not possess the consistent command to pitch effectively inside due to a mechanical issue. Over time this should be corrected; until then prepare for inflated walk totals and high ERAs.

    by Mark in Chicago on May 12, 2008 at 2:36 pm

  12. Check out my analysis of some of the former Tigers:

    http://ordosopinion.blogspot.c.....igers.html

    by Dan on May 12, 2008 at 6:19 pm

  13. I suggest Occam’s Razor on this one for Bonderman and Verlander: they do not possess the consistent command to pitch effectively inside due to a mechanical issue.

    Indeed and those mechanical issues could very well be caused by an injuries either past or present.

    by Jeff Molby on May 12, 2008 at 6:22 pm

  14. His foot strike is drifting, that’s what the pattern looks like to me. However, that would be so easily corrected, so immediately seen, that this couldn’t be the case, right? Kinda like “Hey, Bondo, maybe you need a third pitch” repeated every year for five years — inescapably easy in theory.

    I have come to the conclusion that Bondo is just not a bright man. When his mechanics happen to fall into-place, just on random starts, maybe every 9th start, he’s a tantalizingly good pitcher and that excites the Leyland\Dromboski axis so much they are willing to throw lots of money at the possibility that Bondo will figure things out and have repeatable good starts, but it’s still random because he has no flippin’ idea why his stuff works when it works.

    So was it just complete luck and randomness that for the first 18 starts of the year in 2007 Jeremy Bonderman was one of the 5 best pitchers in the American League?

    by Mike R on May 12, 2008 at 11:12 pm

  15. Well, Bondo is a career .500 pitcher with one of the best sliders EVER. So, account for the rest of his career on either side of those 18 starts — of the ones where he was in injury-free, of course. He did try to fight through some arm problems mid-season last year.

    The primary question with Bondo is why does he suck 1/4 of the time and why is he mediocre the other 5/8 of the time? I suggest he does not have the ability to self-correct. I personally think this is because he is an idiot.

    Look, I could be wrong, he could be a very bright fella. But his inconsistency is certainly not due to a lack of coordination, which is a kind of IQ in and of itself, because Bonderman was a phenomenal AAU basketball player in Washington state.

    Why isn’t Bonderman becoming a great pitcher? Why hasn’t his location developed? Why has it taken so long to expand his mix? I think the answer is that he does not have the awareness to control these factors in a meaningful way.

    Compare Bonderman to Granderson. Granderson develops every month, alsways aware of and working on his weaknesses. Granderson has the IQ and habits of improvement that Bonderman lacks.

    by Palmcroft on May 13, 2008 at 9:02 am

  16. Why would you compare a hitter to a pitcher in terms of development? They develop and different rates. Nevermind that Granderson is a full two years older than Bondo.

    His intelligence, I think, has little to do with this. There were all the stories about Bobby Jenks and how he could throw 100 mph but couldn’t even write his own name on paper. Did he suddenly get smart to become a dominating reliever?

    Now, I’m not disputing his ability or inability to self-correct — I don’t know if that’s the case or not. My take on that is while it would be nice that he could correct these problems on his own, but there is a pitching coach and hundreds of hours of film that should be helping him through that and counting on Bondo to do that by himself, to me, is dumb.

    Also, his location has developed. His K:BB Ratios have improved every single year until this year (I don’t count last year because I think he pitched about 4-6 weeks on a bum elbow from July into August) which is why his immense struggles are so hard to figure out as they can’t be attributed to just bad luck or something else of that ilk because his K:BB Ratios are brutally bad.

    Oh and: Is Granderson really improving on his weaknesses? He’s still striking out over 20% of his PA’s and walking in less than 10% and that’s just undesirable — especially from the leadoff spot (where he shouldn’t be, but that’s 100% another topic).

    by Mike R on May 13, 2008 at 5:51 pm

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