Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 10, 2007
BASEBALL: Declawed

Further to my note on Jeremy Bonderman the other day, yesterday's Tigers-Mariners slugfest - featuring a poor pitching performance by 21-year-old Felix Hernandez and yet another meltdown by the 24-year-old Bonderman - was a fine illustration of the difficulties of bringing along young pitchers these days, especially in the AL. You could scarcely find two more talented young arms than these two, and both have great stuff and good control and have been generally healthy (Hernandez' balky elbow earlier this year notwithstanding) while pitching in the two best pitcher's parks in the league. Yet, Bonderman's now sporting a 4.78 career and 5.01 season ERAs, has never had an ERA below 4.00, and had never won more than 14 games; Hernandez (let's not call him "F-Her") has a 4.03 career and 4.17 season ERAs, and his career high in wins is 12. Either or both could still become major stars as soon as next season, but the point is the struggles they have required just to become slightly above-league-average pitchers. Meanwhile, the most heralded young pitcher in the AL, Joba Chamberlain, has pitched the grand total of 14.1 major league innings and has yet to start a game.

For the Tigers, this portends a larger problem. They are in the unusual situation, for a Detroit team, of being awash in young arms - Bonderman, Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, Andrew Miller, Zach Miner, Jair Jurrjens. Yet their pitching staff has been awful, 9th in the league in ERA.

This got me thinking about the historic role of pitching in the Tigers franchise. If you look at the real ace seasons, 200+IP and an ERA of less than 3.00, only the Red Sox of the original 8 AL teams have had fewer such seasons since 1920 than the Tigers (the numbers: Red Sox 27, Tigers 29, A's 34, Twins/Senators 36, Orioles/Browns 37, White Sox 39, Indians 44, Yankees 61). Here's Detroit's list.

I also looked at the role hitting and pitching has played in team success, broken out by the team's winning percentages. I included the 2007 season, in which Detroit is 2d in the AL in Runs Scored, 9th in ERA, and has a .538 winning percentage. "Runs High" is seasons where the Tigers have ranked higher in the AL in Runs Scored than in ERA, "ERA High" is seasons where they ranked higher in ERA than in Runs Scored, and "Tie" is where they finished the same. The "Avg" figures show their average finish in each category in seasons when they posted winning percentages in that category.

W%Runs HighERA HighTieAvg RAvg ERA

First of all, we have a reminder here that, the 1994-2005 period notwithstanding, the Tigers have been an exceptionally successful franchise over the years. Of course, this is more a descriptive table than a predictive one; if there's a reason why the Tigers have far more frequently built winning teams around offense than pitching it's Tiger Stadium, which is no more. Still, historically there has been a very pronounced tendency for Detroit's teams to rely more on their bats, and that tendency has only been more pronounced in the years when they have had their best seasons.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:53 AM | Baseball 2007 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Somehow we have forgotten that pitchers don't normally become real pitchers until their late 20's. While there are exceptions, this has been the case for a long time. Asking pithcers less than 25 years old to be the aces of their staff or as consistent as their older counter parts is just not realistic.

My team (the Pirates) have a nice batch of good young pitchers but they are inconsistent. Give them some more years and then see how they turn out.

The price of a young staff is inconsistency.

Posted by: Lee at September 10, 2007 11:54 AM

That the Tigers are 9th in ERA is astonishing...they were really pitching well eary in the year. At least it seemed that way.

Bonderman has allowed big first innings most of the season, but until lately, he's been able to buckle down and b much more dominant as the game goes on.

His last few starts, those big innings have been so bad, he isn't around to get things under control.

Posted by: Mr. Furious at September 10, 2007 12:23 PM

I fully believe alot of Bondo's problems are due to his bad elbow.


Posted by: Sam at September 11, 2007 10:41 PM
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