The fruit of the Jeff Weaver trade to the Yankees in 2002, Jeremy Bonderman actually came as the player to be named later from Oakland to Detroit in the three team trade that summer.
Advance to 2003. Bonderman debuted at the age of 20 with very little service time in professional baseball. At the time it was felt that he was ready. Bear in mind there wasn't much to look forward to on the diamond in Detroit, either. 2003 sported a cheaply built team that was short on talent, all favorable circumstances for putting the ball in the hand of a green 20 year old.
On a team that was so short on talent, Bonderman was the one that fans wanted to embrace. In Bonderman many saw a budding ace, a power pitcher who could be a dominant Cy Young contending force for many years to come. He was the future of a team that had an awful present to overcome, which they were not equipped to do, and subsequently lost 119 games.
When the present is so abysmal you want to look to a developing prospect and dream of glory for the future. And so after debuting in April 2003, Bonderman was given the ball every fifth day and began shouldering the burden of trying to be the bright spot on a team that so desperately needed one and didn't have it.
To his credit, and for his lack of seasoning, Bonderman did a marvelous job. It's because of this that it is heartbreaking to see where he is at now. Injuries have derailed him to mediocrity.
It raises the question: Was Jeremy Bonderman rushed into the big leagues too soon? I'll skip answering that question and instead let the stats do the talking.
Bonderman was shut down late in 2003, not to avoid the personal embarrassment of losing 20 games(Mike Maroth, good luck this year), but because it is prudent to do so with a young arm. He was on an innings limit, and as he approached it he was removed from the rotation and sent to the bullpen for the final weeks of the season.
For the season he made 28 starts, five relief appearances. 6-19 record, 1.55 WHIP, 5.56 ERA.
In 2004 his innings limit was upped, he pitched 184 innings, 22 more than in 2003. His record improved(11-13), his WHIP went down, as did his ERA. (1.31 and 4.89 respectively)
2005: 14-13 record, gave up more hits but shaved his walks down(57 versus 73 in 2004). Only pitched 189 innings.
2006 was his best year in the majors. Made a career high 34 starts, logged 214 innings. 14-8 record with a 4.08 ERA and 202 strikeouts.
The Tigers, their first year under Jim Leyland, were postseason bound. Jeremy Bonderman was electric. He was turning the corner and developing into the pitcher everyone hoped he would.
Bonderman didnt slow down heading into 2007. He just missed making the American League All Star squad. At the break he was 9-1 with a 3.48 ERA. Unfortunately elbow problems derailed the second half of his season. his record floundered to 11-9 and his ERA ballooned to over 5.
2008 was an utter disappointment. Thoracic outlet syndrome ended his season at the beginning of June, also amid questions over the health of his elbow.
The question I left open earlier, was Bonderman rushed to the big leagues too soon? Perhaps he was, but his yearly progression seems to show that he has adapted just fine to big league hitters, without any lingering confidence issues.
Perhaps his pitch and inning counts were too generous, however. You have to take care of young arms to make sure you do not damage them. His lingering elbow problems may be a result of too many pitches thrown while he was still early in his 20s.
Something else was neglected in his development, however. The firm grasp on a third pitch, and the confidence to use it. Bonderman has an explosive 96 mph fastball and a great slider that makes the best hitters in the league look foolish. However, two-pitch pitchers as starters are never prone to overwhelming success.
Batters will sit on one pitch and wait for it, knowing they will get it. By the third time through the batting order the batters know what the pitcher is featuring and proceed to slaughter him.
For Bonderman to finish his rise to elite status he needs to firmly introduce a changeup that he can throw with confidence, for strikes, in nearly any count. He does have a changeup that he rarely features and has little confidence in. This is the one last lingering item keeping him from greatness in Detroit. This is another task for the new pitching coach Rick Knapp to undertake.
If he does successfully, Bonderman could exceed his career bests from 2006. Wouldn't that be lovely?
Stay tuned for more roster breakdowns.