Who is the best pitcher in San Francisco? The answer may soon be young Madison Bumgarner. The third wheel to baseball's best young rotation rose quietly through the ranks in 2011, going from unlikely World Series hero to the most consistent arm on the staff by year's end.
Tim Lincecum is still the ace of the Giants. To declare otherwise at this point would be treasonous. But the thought of Madison Bumgarner having a higher long-term potential is more than just a defense mechanism for the thought of Lincecum fleeing to the Bronx in two years.
Compare the 2011 second half stats of the Giants' three stars:
|2011 2nd half||ERA||WHIP||K/9||K/BB|
You say Bumgarner can't strike people out? Clearly not true. And while Cain and Lincecum have struggled with command at times, Bumgarner's control makes Tom Glavine a not-so-far-out-there comparison.
Advanced statistics paint an even brighter picture for MadBum in 2012. Baseball stat magicians tell me that xFIP attempts to project a player's future ERA based on past performance. BABIP represents the opponents batting average on balls in play with the assumption that a high average signals a certain measure of bad luck. Conveniently, these two stats also help my argument:
Where is Madison Bumgarner's ceiling?
In terms of xFIP, Bumgarner's 2011 stats place him seventh in the major leagues, and actually ahead of all-world names like Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and David Price.
So what does all this tell us? That the youngest gun in the Giants arsenal is at least on equal footing with his two veteran comrades. Getting away from objective stats, there is one other thing that sets Bumgarner apart from known quantities like Cain and Lincecum:
We have not seen his best season.
Bumgarner is 22 years old with only one full season under his belt. He's been through the fire of a World Series run, shutting down the Rangers in Game 4 in Arlington in 2010. He started the 2011 season 0-6 and then battled back on close to zero run support to finish 13-13.
There's an embarrassment of riches by the Bay. For now at least. It's not as fun when young pitchers grow up , start sniffing free agency, and threaten to leave the nest. Cain's and Lincecum's uncertain contract statuses have added anxiety to an already dreary off-season.
However, the pressure is eased by the fact that Bumgarner will likely be a Giant through 2016. Whether the other guys stick around or not, we may soon be looking at Madison Bumgarner the long-term anchor of the Giants rotation.