Meet Madison Bumgarner, the Most Underrated Pitcher in Major League Baseball

Bleacher ReportSenior Writer IAugust 22, 2012

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 4:  Starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner #40 of the San Francisco Giants delivers to home plate during the fifth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field on August 4, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.  The Giants defeated the Rockies 11-6.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Madison Bumgarner isn't a household name (yet), but not for lack of bona fides.

At the tender age of 23, the enormous southpaw tips the scales at 6'5", 235 pounds and already has three full years of major league service to his credit. In that time, he's amassed 497.1 innings and a 34-26 record with an even 3.00 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP.

Pop the hood and it's more of the same: 8.1 K/9, a 4.18 K:BB and an opponent's slash line of .248/.292/.376.

Just for good measure, he was a stud in his first taste of the postseason.

During the San Francisco Giants' 2010 World Series-winning campaign and at the mind-boggling age of 21, MadBum threw 20.2 innings in three starts and a relief appearance. He went 2-0 with a 2.98 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. Note that both numbers are improvements on his career averages (he got better against the best teams baseball had to offer that year). But his most impressive feat was tossing eight innings of shutout baseball and allowing only five baserunners in Game 4 of the Fall Classic against a potent Texas Rangers lineup.

I repeat, at the age of 21.

So, yeah, the kid's got talent and heart to match.

Which begs the obvious question: Why isn't Bumgarner getting his due?

Stephen Strasburg is an absolute force of nature with dizzying numbers, a first-overall-pick pedigree and has a loathsome mercenary as his agent. Consequently, the perpetual headlines devoted to the Washington Nationals' ace can be explained, if not totally justified. But he's also a year older than the Giants' young lefty with a shorter track record that includes no postseason exploits.

The last point is through no fault of Strasburg's, but a ring is the ultimate goal for every major leaguer, so postseason success cannot be ignored.

Clayton Kershaw is another freakish talent on the mound—as a Giants loyalist, that hurts to type so it must be true—and the Los Angeles Dodgers' front man has his 2011 National League Cy Young Award to prove it. Not to mention some video game-esque stats. Again, the media fascination is understandable, but unlike his fellow lefty in orange and black, he's had a rough go of it in the playoffs thus far in his nascent career.

And again, he's more than a year older than Bumgarner.

David Price is often mentioned as one of the best young arms in the Bigs and rightfully so. His body of work to date shows more than enough evidence to back up the claim, all the more so when you consider he's doing it for the Tampa Bay Rays in the most brutal division in baseball.

Of course, he's almost four years older than his Senior Circuit counterpart.

Jordan Zimmermann is a nuclear talent who is beginning to make national waves for Washington. He's more than three years older than Madison.

Chris Sale? Matt Moore? Yu Darvish? Jeremy Hellickson? Aroldis Chapman? All older than Bumgarner.

Even some of the newest phenoms are the Giant's senior: Jarrod Parker, Matt Harvey, Dan Straily, Stephen Pryor, etc. You get the point. The North Carolina native has been in the league for three years and is still one of its youngest hurlers.

So where's the love and why isn't the Giants' youngest ace drenched in it?

The answer can be found in Bumgarner and around him.

For one thing, you will not find a softer spoken, more laid-back professional.

He won't give you colorful antics on the mound or headline-grabbing quotes after he leaves it. The kid is exactly what you want in a starting pitcher, never getting too high or too low, just steady as she goes. A self-promoter he is not.

Stars like that are always the last to get their just deserts since many of today's journalists seem to go for the easy story with the built-in audience whenever possible. Why go to the trouble of building your own narrative when pre-packaged ones already exist around the likes of the Strasburgs, Bryce Harpers or anything involving the New York Yankees and/or Boston Red Sox?

Especially when you'll have to stay up late to build that narrative since its centerpiece is on the west coast.

The other issue that limits Madison's time in the spotlight are the stars around him; he's underrated even on his own team.

Tim Lincecum remains the super nova in San Francisco's pitching universe and rightfully so. The Freak wears the nickname for a reason, he has two Cy Youngs on his mantel and was equally as impressive during the Gents' magic ride in 2010.

If Big Time Timmy Jim is good, he's a story. If he's bad, he's an even bigger story.

Then, there's Matt Cain.

Cainer is the longest-tenured Giant, achieved perfection in 2012 and has been laboring in a relative anonymity of his own despite being one of the most reliable starting pitchers since his 2005 debut. Furthermore, if you're looking for the best flamethrower on that World Series-winning team, the big right-hander is your man. He contributed 21.1 innings without allowing an earned run to cross the plate and rocked a 0.94 WHIP.

Matty's turn on center stage was long overdue, but he's getting it now.

Ryan Vogelsong doesn't have the history or the superlative numbers that his running mates do, but he's got a story only a Dodger fan could ignore. The right-hander pitched himself out of the Show in 2006, then became a baseball nomad. Yet somehow he reinvented himself into a top-of-the-rotation arm. Although he's scuffled of late, Vogey is working on his second consecutive year of a sub-3.00 ERA after six years of ugliness.

Nor can we forget Barry Zito.

He will always be a media fixture courtesy of that seven-year, $126 million contract.

Slowly, however, things are beginning to change.

Madison Bumgarner is forcing his way into the conversation by doing what he does best: dominate the opposition.

With about a month left in the '12 regular season, Bumgarner ranks in the top 10 of all pitchers in ERA, WHIP, innings pitched, opponent's batting average, opponent's on-base percentage, strikeout-to-walk ratio, wins and complete games.

Narrow the field to just the NL and you can add wins-above-replacement, opponent's slugging percentage, strikeouts, quality-start percentage and shutouts. ESPN's Cy Young Predictor lists the southpaw as los Gigantes' top candidate, an assertion that is tough to argue.

Madison Bumgarner might not win the award as the field is littered with meritorious options, but hardware or no hardware, the spotlight is beginning to turn his way.

If history is any indication, it will like what it finds.


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