Bowden is ready for the big leagues

Michael Bowden had a fantastic season in 2008. He began the year at double-A Portland, where he posted a 101/24 K/BB ratio in 104 innings. He also allowed only five homers. He was then promoted to triple-A, where he put up a 29/5 ratio in 40 innings, while allowing five homers. On the surface, those are some excellent numbers.

But if you look beyond the surface, you’ll see that Bowden was even better than his overall numbers suggested. Bowden’s tRA* (which can be found over at Stat Corner) at double-A was 3.20. That’s the best tRA* of any starting pitcher in the minor leagues this year, at any level.

And yes, the Eastern League (in which Portland plays) is generally pretty favorable to pitchers. But still: Bowden’s tRA* was over 25% better than the next closest pitcher in the Eastern League. Bowden’s led the league in tRA* by a larger margin than any other pitcher in the minors led his league. In other words, relative to his own league, Bowden was by far the most dominant starting pitcher in the minor leagues.

Furthermore, Bowden showed no visible home/road splits, nor any lefty/righty splits. To be sure, Bowden’s raw stats were enhanced by a .247 BABIP and a low HR/FB; however, tRA* takes these things into account, by ignoring BABIP (instead focusing on what types of batted balls a pitcher gets), and regressing HR/FB. Therefore, while Bowden’s overall stats may represent a semblance of good luck (low BABIP, for example), his tRA* is luck-free.

Finally, Bowden is not a “trick” pitcher – his velocity and stuff backs up his stats, suggesting that he could find continued success at the big league level. In his one start at the major league level, his fastball averaged 92 MPH, and he showed four pitches: a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup.

Of course, there is no guarantee that Bowden will be able to have success in the future. However, using tRA* gives us a better understanding of the pitcher Bowden was in 2008, and therefore gives us a better insight into what kind of pitcher he can be in 2009 and beyond: namely, a top-tier starter.

The Red Sox already have an impressive array of young pitchers – Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester, Justin Masterson, and Clay Buchholz (who I still believe will be good) are all under 30 years old. Bowden can get lost in the shuffle, but he was the very best starting pitcher in all of the minor leagues in 2008, despite being just 21 years old.

Of course, the Red Sox’s tremendous amount of pitching talent means that Bowden may not make too many starts in the majors in 2009. The Red Sox will carefully monitor his innings total – he pitched 150 innings last year, after totaling 142 innings in 2007 and 112 innings in 2006. The Red Sox probably won’t want him to exceed 160-170 innings in 2009.

However, there may be room for Bowden at the major league level: Beckett, Matsuzaka, Lester, and Wakefield are all ahead of him, but Buchholz may have fallen behind him, Masterson may be a full-time reliever and Wakefield is very risky. Bowden has demonstrated that he’s ready to pitch – and be successful – at the major league level, and if given the chance to make some starts in 2009, he could be quite a steal for your fantasy team.

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