Minnesota Twins: Is Boof Bonser a Starter or a Set-Up Man?

Andrew KneelandSenior Writer IJuly 21, 2008

Ever since Boof Bonser was demoted to the bullpen back in early June, the question of his future has been tricky to answer. Will Bonser ever work his way into the rotation again? Or should he stick to his bullpen duties for a while?  

First off, let's take a look at why Bonser was demoted in the first place. He started the season in the rotation and threw the first pitch of 12 games.

In his first start, on Apr. 1, Bonser went six innings, giving up four runs, three earned, on eight hits. It wasn't bad, but it was a sign of things to come.  

He worked his way into a pattern, pitching two mediocre games then one great game. But starting on May 4, Bonser started another kind of stretch: rotten pitching after rotten pitching.

He was finally "relieved" of his duties after a poor appearance against the New York Yankees.  

During that string of 12 starts, Bonser had earned himself a record of 2-6, and an ERA approaching six. Opponents were batting .267/.316/.418 with an OPS of .734 against him. He had been awful as a starter, and Gardy moved him to the 'pen, where he would serve as a mop-up, long-inning guy.  

Bonser has now pitched in a total of 12 games from relief and has garnered an ERA of 8.27. Opponents are batting a whopping .370/.405/.493 with an OPS of .898 against the bullpen Bonser.  

That brings the question: If Bonser can't make his way back into the rotation soon, where does he fit it?

If Bonser can find his overall effectiveness again, I would have no problem at all if he became a starter again. Right now, I don't see where he would fit into the plans of the Minnesota Twins, but that would be worried about whenever he finds his stuff again.

I'm going to go through various aspects of Bonser's game and tell you where they rank compared to the rest of the major league.  

First off, Bonser's ability to work ahead in the count is pretty good. He has faced 375 batters so far this year, and 60 percent of those first pitches have been strikes. That is two points above the major-league average. 87 percent of Bonser's first or second pitches are strikes, again, two points above major-league average.  

Bonser is also very good when battling with individual batters on the mound. As said above, he gets ahead in counts often enough, but when he falls behind (2-0, 2-1, and three-ball counts) he still retires 52 percent of batters faced, which is two percent behind the major-league average.  

In fact, only 17 percent of plate appearances go into three-ball counts.

Bonser is very efficient. 71 percent of plate appearances are handled by him in four or less pitches—six percentage points higher than average. 41 percent of his innings pitched have been one-two-three innings, with no hits, runs, or walks.  

Control is also a strong point for Bonser. 68 percent of his fastballs are strikes, four percent above average, and 62 percent of his off-speed pitches are thrown for strikes, one percent above average.  

Finally, Bonser is also great at finishing off batters. When he gets two strikes on a batter, he ends up retiring them 74 percent of the time. That's good for two points above average in MLB.  

When you crunch these numbers, Bonser is an average to above-average pitcher. However, when you look at stats like his record, ERA, WHIP, and OBA, you cringe with disgust.  

From the numbers above you find that Bonser does a good job in individual battles. He usually throws four pitches or less in a plate appearance and has good control over both his fastball and off-speed pitches.  Bonser throws four pitches: a fastball, curve, slider, and changeup.

Of the four, his changeup needs the most help. Opponents are batting .356 against his changeup, .331 against his fastball, .215 against his curve, and .197 against his slider.  

A changeup is a crucial pitch for every pitcher. If Bonser can fix his changeup and make it much more effective, he could potentially be a great set-up man. His dominance score of 88 ranks fourth on the Twin's roster, behind only Nathan, Breslow, and Reyes.  

The bottom line is that if Minnesota fails to trade for a set-up man before the trade deadline, Bonser could theoretically fill that role.