In the San Francisco Giants’ season to forget, starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner has established himself as a player to remember.
The newly minted All-Star has steadily improved since making his major league debut at the age of 20. Now a ripe 24 years old, Bumgarner’s third full season has brought five facts into the spotlight.
He Is the New Ace
Matt Cain was supposed to be "The Man" after signing a $127 million contract two years ago, but his early-season struggles allowed Mad Bum to take the reins.
Bumgarner owns an 11-6 record, a 2.69 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP in 147 innings this year. Opposing hitters are batting just .193 against him, and his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is an outstanding 3.07.
In each of his last nine starts, Bumgarner has gone at least seven innings and allowed two runs or less. Giants fans watching Cain, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito struggle can always pull up highlights like the example on the right.
He Has Bought Into the Giants
Even before helping San Francisco win the 2012 World Series, Bumgarner committed to a $35.56 million contract, keeping him in orange and black through 2017.
Most recently, Comcast Sports Net’s Casey Pratt reported Bumgarner and his wife Ali commissioned personal scooters from team chef Joe Day, joining Lincecum, Sergio Romo, Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt in the Giants’ “Scooter Gang.”
Female fans may still prefer Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford, but Bum has become one of the franchise’s most recognizable figures. And who’s to say he doesn’t have his share of admirers?
He Acts Like a Veteran
Bumgarner has always maintained a calm, quiet persona in front of the media, but he showed he has no patience for classless baseball on June 19 against the San Diego Padres.
After Padres pinch hitter Jesus Guzman knocked a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning, the former Giant walked slowly out of the batter’s box, yelled to the San Diego dugout, slapped high fives with extra gusto and gave pitcher Jeremy Affeldt a look before crossing home.
The showboating was not lost on Bumgarner, who threw behind Guzman in the following game’s second inning. Both hitter and pitcher jawed at each other, and the benches cleared as Bumgarner approached the plate.
When a member of the press asked Bumgarner about the incident, he shrugged off the question with a simple “no comment.” The lefty had made sure Guzman got the message, and he wanted to move on without causing more drama.
He Makes Adjustments When Necessary
Quick base stealers took advantage of Bumgarner’s long motion in 2012, swiping more bags (27) off the lefty than any other pitcher in the majors. The San Francisco Chronicle reported Bumgarner shortened his delivery over the offseason, and runners have stolen just six bases off him this year.
The next change Bumgarner must make is to stop throwing his slider so often, even though it is arguably his nastiest pitch. Sliders have accounted for 37.6 percent of Bum’s offerings this year, more than his league-leading 36.6 percent last season, according to FanGraphs.
As Bay City Ball’s Chris Quick wrote, a heavy workload and a reliance on breaking pitches often land young hurlers on the disabled list. Opponents are batting just .152 against Bumgarner’s four-seam fastball this year, so throwing less sliders will preserve his arm and keep hitters whiffing.
He Won’t Be Quite As Good Next Year
The Giants should be able to rely on Bumgarner for years to come, but his stats will likely not improve past the current point.
Bumgarner has been exceptionally lucky this year, as his .232 Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) is second-lowest in the majors. FanGraphs has proved that a high or low BABIP will eventually regress towards the league average of .288, as shown on the right, meaning Bumgarner will probably give up more hits and runs in the future.
Elite strikeout pitchers sometimes have slightly lower BABIPs, and Bumgarner’s career average of 8.2 K/9 could help his cause. Keeping his current pace, though, is pretty much impossible.