Bond. Jeremy Bond…erman.

Do a Google search “post-hype sleeper” and you’ll return a bevy results, as you should expect when using the prominent search engine.  Many of the links involve a columnist’s ideas on this year’s post-hype sleepers for fantasy baseball.  Given that fantasy baseball is the primary landscape in which sleepers are discussed, that makes plenty of sense.  Looking more from a “real” baseball perspective, I think the prime candidate to be a post-hype sleeper in 2006 is Jeremy Bonderman.  In the lead up to 2005, there wasn’t a set of sleeper lists that found Bonderman’s name absent, in fact, so hyped as a sleeper was Bonderman that he become a non-sleeper.  If you didn’t know about him and his expectations, you simply weren’t paying attention. 

The results?  Modest, at best.  He was able to shave a third of a run off of his earned run average (down to 4.57), but the inflated delusions of grandeur by pundits vaulted the 22-year old into stardom far too early with an expected ERA somewhere in the 3.00s.  His WHIP was bumped slightly to 1.35, he saw his strikeouts per nine innings drop from 8.2 to 6.9, and he gave up over one extra hit per nine innings from 2004 to 2005.  So what is there to like so much?  The fact that he is still so young and didn’t completely cave-in on himself for one.  Also, Bonderman has three-year trends of increasing his strikeouts-to-walks ratio as well as his groundball-to-fly ball ratio.  Finally, a 27-point up tick in batting average of balls in play to .313 explains some of Bonderman’s struggles.  All the talent in the world from a pitcher (one man) can’t cover up the ineptitude of a poor defense (eight other men). 

Simply put, the unmet desired excellence from Bonderman last year at age 22 is no indication that he will not soon become the ace pitcher that many suggest he can be in the near future.  Bonderman had racked up 162 (mostly poor) innings before he was even able to legally drink and enters the season with 535 major league innings in all.  The concern, if any, with Bonderman shouldn’t be whether he has the talent necessary for great success, but whether or not he’s primed for a breakdown.  The 535 innings pitched total doesn’t take into account the added 156.2 innings pitched in the Oakland A’s farm system before being traded to Detroit.  Call it wishful thinking, what with me being a Tigers fan and all, but I don’t guess that Bonderman is in for significant time missed due to injury.  Of course, it isn’t really something that is quantitatively predictable, unless you’re discussing two particular Chicago Cubs’ pitchers.

The Tigers are once again a chic pick for a surprise team, though they are likely still a year away from any serious competition.  Bonderman, however, is ready to take a significant step into the upper crust of American League starting pitchers.  Maybe not by Cy Young measures (read: leading the league in wins), but if he can get any measure of worthwhile help behind him defensively, he will enjoy a fine season and finally post his first sub-4.00 earned run average.  In addition, he will likely show that he is closer to a 6.5-7.0 K/9 kind of pitcher as opposed to 8.2 he notched in 2004.  Make no mistake; Bonderman has fallen out of the limelight for the likes of Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano and Tampa Bay’s Scott Kazmir, but for any prognosticator to hold his 2004 results against him is only fooling himself.  However, the exercise of predicting greatness for young pitchers well beyond their years won’t end as everyone is dying to be the one to forecast the next big thing.  Bonderman will be the next big thing… in 2008. 

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