Madison Bumgarner throws a pitch on June 1 against the Cubs.
Just in case you've hibernated for the past two years, let me update you on the Giants' pitching.
Jonathan Sanchez is no longer a Giant. Ryan Vogelsong has stepped in and pitched very well. Barry Zito is playing well. Brian Wilson has a beard, Sergio Romo does too, and Javier Lopez was traded to the Giants and he has played very well.
Oh, and there's also this other guy named Madison Bumgarner, and he's pretty good.
Bumgarner stepped in during June 2010, and he played well throughout the regular season. He was good enough to earn a starting spot in the playoffs, where he went 2-0 and pitched in four games (all won by the Giants).
In 2011, he was great, and in 2012, he's played well too. Although he is only 6-4, his ERA is just above 3.00, and he has anchored San Francisco's staff. With San Francisco's offense improving, so should Bumgarner's stats.
Bumgarner isn't even in his prime yet, which is a scary thought for opposing hitters. He has great stuff, and he is developing into one of the game's best pitchers. However, I think he's already in that class.
Here are four reasons why Bumgarner is one of the MLB's best pitchers.
Bumgarner celebrates with teammate Buster Posey after winning the World Series, where he pitched very well.
Madison Bumgarner is a 22-year-old with the maturity of a 35-year-old.
Bumgarner can pitch at any stage in any situation. He pitched eight shutout innings in the World Series and never seems to be fazed by any lineup, any stage, or anything in general.
Bruce Bochy gave Bumgarner a shot in the 2010 playoffs, and Bumgarner justified his manager's faith by pitching very well. Nothing seemed to distract Bumgarner, and because of his maturity, he picked up two wins and pitched well in the postseason.
With runners on base, Bumgarner's attitude doesn't change. He pitches very, very effectively with runners on base, and he doesn't carry one bad inning into the next inning. He strikes guys out and is always prepared for whatever may happen.
San Francisco's lack of run support has caused Bumgarner's record to be worse than it should be, although that doesn't faze him either. Simply put, Bumgarner's attitude and maturity are exceptional.
And that's just one thing that makes Bumgarner a star.
Madison Bumgarner throws a pitch in Game 4 of the World Series, in which he lasted 8 innings (and could've gone 9).
I don't care if you like him or not, you have to agree that Bumgarner is a durable pitcher.
He can definitely go the distance, and he usually pitches into the seventh or eighth inning. He can go this long because he doesn't carry one bad inning into the next, like some people, he doesn't show his frustration, and he knows how to pitch late in games.
Bumgarner always has the potential to throw a shutout, which he does a lot (even if he doesn't go nine innings). Last night, Bumgarner gave up a lot of hits, but got strikeouts to end innings. The only runs credited to him were when he gave up two hits, Santiago Casilla replaced him and gave up a home run.
The bullpen's arms are saved for the later innings or the next game because of Bumgarner, and when he doesn't go the distance, only one or two relievers are needed to close the game out for the Giants.
Bumgarner's ability to continue pitching well no matter what the inning and what the circumstance is has made the Giants a better team. Even when there are runners on and no outs late in the game, he can still pitch effectively.
Which brings us to the next slide...
Madison Bumgarner throws a pitch against the Marlins on May 26.
Alright, he may not be as good as Brian Wilson in this category. However, he is very good.
Bumgarner often brings up San Francisco's motto of "torture" by giving up leadoff hits and being forced to pitch out of a jam. While he isn't a ground-ball pitcher, his funky delivery and pitch movement can cause ground balls, which may lead to double plays.
If he can't force a ground ball or a fly ball, he'll turn to swings and misses. Bumgarner happens to be very good at getting guys to strike out, with his great stuff, location, and pitch command.
Last night, against the Cubs, a lot of dejected Cubs walked out of the batter's box and into the dugout, knowing they stranded runners on (or just missed) by whiffing at a Bumgarner pitch. In the second inning, Bumgarner demonstrated exactly what to do with runners on.
After giving up back-to-back singles, he got Steve Clevenger to ground one of his changeups right to Brandon Crawford. Crawford stepped on second and threw the ball to first for the easy double play.
In the fifth, Bumgarner gave up a hit into left field. Melky Cabrera raced over to the ball and fired the ball into the infield, preventing a double. The next batter grounded a changeup into a double play. (Coincidentally, it was Clevenger.)
Even though he doesn't get double plays too often, he does strike guys out a lot. Which brings us to the final slide...
Madison Bumgarner pitches with the "K Wall" behind him, showing off Bumgarner's 11 strikeouts.
In his last three starts, Madison Bumgarner has gone a total of 21.2 innings. While that may not sound like much, how does his 28 strikeouts in those games sound?
His funky delivery puzzles batters and leaves them whiffing at or watching Bumgarner's third strike. He doesn't throw faster than 95 (which he can rarely throws), but he knows how to get guys out.
He has good location, so if he wants to throw a pitch somewhere, he'll get it there. He has good command, so he rarely throws wild pitches. He has good stuff, so batters don't know what he'll throw.
Sometimes, you'll be expecting a fastball, and he'll freeze you with a curveball right down the pipe. Sometimes, you'll expect a curveball, and he'll breeze a fastball right by you. Or, he may throw a tempting changeup that looks like a fastball but ends up being a double play ball.
No matter what he throws, Bumgarner can always strike you out. His delivery makes hitting off of him even harder. Bumgarner's secondary pitch, a slider, moves across the strike zone and freezes batters, because they don't know where it will cross the plate.
At first, his curveball looks like a wild pitch, but it dips down right over the plate and freezes batters. Even if they swing, his pitch throws them off, and they're probably going to miss.
Overall, Bumgarner is a great pitcher, with strikeouts being a big part of his game. And while I believe his traits and pitches put him into the elite class of MLB pitchers, he hasn't even reached his prime yet.
That's a scary thought for the MLB.