It is no secret that the Mets are looking to add a starting pitcher or two in free agency this year and they likely will be shopping in the discount rack rather than at the designer boutiques. The names most prominently mentioned are Erik Bedard or Brandon Webb or Chris Young. One name that flies under the radar is Jeremy Bonderman, the former Tigers star who is attempting to regain his status after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Unlike the three pitchers mentioned above, Bonderman has come back and pitched in 30 games last year, making 29 starts. He threw 171 IP and was able to throw his slider nearly 31 percent of the time. While the results were less than stunning (8-10, 5.53 ERA), Bonderman was still able to get batters to chase pitches out of the strike zone (31.3 O-Swing%) and his control was solid (3.16 BB/9). And while his ERA was poor, Bonderman did have some tough luck, mostly a low strand rate. His xFIP was 0.79 lower than his ERA.
Early in the season, Bonderman had an eight-game stretch where he pitched six Quality Starts with a 2.70 ERA and a 35/12 SO/BB ratio. The span featured four games both at home and on the road and he faced quality opponents in the Rangers, Yankees and Red Sox. While he pitched extremely well in this stretch, he had just a 1-2 record to show for it.
Bonderman’s fastball, which was in the 93 range from 2004-06, averaged 89.8 last year and Pitch Type Values showed it as a double-digit negative offering. He had a pronounced home/road split, with an ERA nearly 2.5 runs lower at home (4.40) than on the road (6.84). LHB absolutely killed him last year. While he limited RHB to a .673 OPS, LHB posted a .905 OPS against Bonderman, as he turned the average lefty batter into Adrian Gonzalez.
Outside of the month of May, Bonderman was sub-replacement level. In May, he had a 1.33 ERA in five games. His lowest ERA for any other month was the 5.08 he notched in June. After the All-Star break, Bonderman had a 6.50 ERA and a 1.609 WHIP.
Teams stacked their lineups with lefties when Bonderman took the mound. Picking a game at random, the Royals had six lefty hitters in the lineup when they squared off against Bonderman in September. Bonderman had 367 PA versus RHB in 2010 and 387 versus LHB. Opposing managers sent a lefty to the plate over 51 percent of the time versus Bonderman. Overall in the American League last year, over 55 percent of PA were by RHB.
Because Bonderman has come back and pitched essentially a full season, he is a better candidate than most of the other pitchers looking to come back from shoulder surgery. His poor results from 2010 are likely to keep his cost down to a level where the Mets can be players. They could do worse than have Bonderman be the fifth pitcher in the rotation, a pitcher to give innings and a chance to be competitive.
Clearly, Bonderman needs to come up with a pitch to throw to LHB. He is screaming out for a changeup, even a mediocre one that he can throw once or twice in a PA versus a lefty. Bonderman threw a change just 4.2 percent of the time last year, and the pitch did not have enough separation from his fastball, just 5.5 miles difference, to be an effective pitch.
Back in 2004, Bonderman threw his changeup 14.3 percent of the time and the pitch was nearly 10 miles per hour slower than his fastball. A good pitching coach could help. Bonderman get back closer to those numbers. But, is Dan Warthen the guy to help get that done?