Much of the R.A. Dickey’s value comes his superlative name, but he also provides some top-notch production on the mound. It’s a formidable combination when joined by his surprise-under-dog-come-back story, and it all comes together to make the Dickey a legend.
Whenever a player comes along and does something unprecedented or shocking, people always want to know who “next year’s R.A. Dickey” is, or who “next season’s Jose Bautista” is. And to be honest, the answer is that there normally isn’t a “next season’s Jose Bautista.” These players’ stories are so unusual and intriguing because they just don’t happen often, and almost never in the same way twice.
That being said, Sandy Alderson and co. may have just found next year’s R.A. Dickey! Wouldn’t you just love to cheer for someone named Boof? Besides the quality of his name, Boof Bonser also resembles the Dickey that that he could actually be a completely-under-the-radar minor-league sigining yet really good major-league starter.
Obviously they are not the same in every way: Dickey throws a sweet knuckleball while Bosner has a more traditional repertoire; Dickey is 36 while Bonser is only 29. Both, however, were first-round draft picks but failed to achieve major league success early in their careers. Both suffered relegations to the bullpen before latching on with minor-league deals to a Mets team short on pitching.
But why do I think Bonser could be a good major-league starter and that he has as good a chance as anyone to be this year’s R.A. Dickey? Well let’s go to the numbers.
Boof has a career ERA of 5.18 in 416.2 major-league innings, but that number is deceptively high. He has a 4.55 FIP, a 4.31 xFIP, and a 4.34 tERA over that time frame (all number courtesy of fangraphs). Those numbers would suggest that Boof is closer to an average starter than a bad one. His strikeout and walk numbers more than back that up: he has a career 7.21 K/9 and 2.87 BB/9, good for a 2.51 K/BB ratio. Those are decently above-average marks for a major league starter. While Bonser has appeared out of the bullpen, a large majority of his innings have been as a starter, so his numbers do not need to be significantly regressed.
So if he has had such good strikeout and walk rates, why has Bonser struggled? The three main factors appear to be his BABIP, LOB%, and HR/FB% (Batting Average on Balls in Play, Left on Base Percentage, Home Run per Fly Ball percentage). And in case you were not aware, these statistics are all heavily based on luck, not a pitcher’s own skill. His career .329 BABIP and 67 LOB% are all significantly unlucky, and his HR/FB% of 12 is also above the major-league average and likely to regress. None of Bonser’s line drive, ground ball or fly ball rates appear particularly out of the ordinary either to account for the BABIP and HR/FB%. All things considered, we can expect big improvements from Bonser just by assuming, as we should, that his luck will even out.
A concern about Bonser has to be health, as he missed all of 2009 and much of 2010 due to surgery on his rotator cuff and labrum. He did pitch well in 25 2010 innings after the surgery, so we can look to that despite the small sample.
His strikeout rate was low in 2010 at 6.12, but he had a career high swinging-strike rate of 9.4%, so the decrease is not troubling. He still induced more swings-and-misses than most pitchers. Most notably Bonser cut down on his home runs, as he gave up only .72 HR/9, a far cry from the career 1.36 mark that has really hurt him. In fact, Bonser’s home-run rate has decreaed every season in the big leagues: 1.61 in 2006, 1.40 in 2007, 1.22 in 2008, and .72 in 2010. He also induced more ground balls post-surgery, as he burned worms at a career-best 48.2 percent clip. In the end, Bonser pitched to a 3.72 FIP, 4.32 xFIP, and 3.42 tERA in 2010 despite the 6.12 ERA. While it came in a small sample, if Bonser can continue improving on keeping the ball on the ground and in the park, he could be in line for a surprising season. Moving to Citi Field won’t hurt the improving home-run rate as well.
I would not be (terribly) surprised if Bonser provided the Mets with 80-120 innings, some of it probably from the pen, of mid- to upper-3 ERA ball. So if you are looking for a surprise pitcher on the 2011 Mets, Bonser is a guy to look out for. He probably won’t pitch too many innings because of health concerns, but he has the potential generate a lot of outs for the 2011 Mets if he gets a shot. On a minor-league deal, Bonser was a great signing by Alderson. It is these types of guys, pitchers who you can grab for next-to-nothing but have good numbers in important areas, that can come out of nowhere. If the new front office keeps bringing in people like Bonser on minor-league deals, expect for some unexpected production in 2011.
And how sweet will it be to see Boof and Dickey on the same roster.