After Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner is arguably the best starting pitcher on Major League Baseball's free-agent market. Teams should line up accordingly.
Save for the New York Yankees, that is.
The Yankees were strongly linked to Bumgarner ahead of the 2019 trade deadline, and it's now apparent they haven't forgotten about the four-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion.
"He's been a tremendous player for a long time," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said of Bumgarner, according to John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle. "We're going to look at everybody that's out there, obviously. Starting pitching is important, and he's been one of the game's better starting pitchers for a long time. So we'll certainly have a conversation."
The Yankees will have company in their pursuit of Bumgarner. According to reports, the Philadelphia Phillies (Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic), Atlanta Braves (Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area) and San Diego Padres (Jon Heyman of MLB Network) are also circling the 30-year-old left-hander.
It's no big secret that these teams aren't in the market for Bumgarner's vintage self. At his peak between 2011 and 2016, he averaged a 3.00 ERA, 214 strikeouts and 213 innings per season. Since 2017, however, he's battled shoulder and hand injuries and diminished stuff en route to a 3.57 ERA and 413 strikeouts over 448.1 total innings.
Throw in how he's in the market for a multiyear deal and tied to draft-pick compensation after rejecting a qualifying offer from the San Francisco Giants, and there's plenty of risk involved in signing Bumgarner.
Yet there's still plenty to like about him, too. He proved in racking up 207.2 innings in 2019 that his injuries from the prior two seasons didn't rob him of his durability. He also walked only 43 batters all season, and his fastball showed some life with extra velocity and spin rate.
There's also, of course, Bumgarner's postseason track record. He owns a 2.11 ERA across 102.1 career innings in October, and his other-worldly performance in the 2014 playoffs won't soon be forgotten.
For their part, the Yankees do indeed need starting pitching. Their rotation mustered a pedestrian 4.51 ERA and ranked 26th in innings this past season. Looking ahead to 2020, they can't plan on having 18-game winner Domingo German because of a looming suspension from a domestic violence case.
But more so than the general black marks on Bumgarner's free-agent resume, it's the specifics that should worry the Yankees.
Unless Bumgarner re-signs with the Giants, he'll lose the advantage of pitching regularly at Oracle Park no matter where he ends up. His home and road splits since 2010 suggest this could be a problem:
There have been some exceptions here and there, but Bumgarner traditionally hasn't fared as well away from Oracle Park. This has been especially true over the last two seasons, and it's no accident that his road ERA in 2019 was his worst yet.
Bumgarner tended to be a fly-ball pitcher even before 2019, but he took it to an extreme with a career-high 41.6 fly-ball percentage. That act played a lot better at home, where he allowed 1.1 home runs per nine innings, than it did on the road, where he allowed 1.6 homers per nine innings.
Not so coincidentally, fly balls underperformed their expected slugging percentage more at Oracle Park than they did at any other venue:
This graph shouldn't make every team think twice about Bumgarner. Yet it should get to the Yankees. Though Yankee Stadium wasn't the league's top launching pad in 2019, it was enough of one to live up to its reputation as a great place for hitters and a not-so-great place for pitchers.
The Yankees should have still another concern about how Bumgarner would match up against their chief competitors in the American League. It has to do with another split of his from 2019:
- vs. RHB: .258/.307/.456 with 26 HR
- vs. LHB: .200/.235/.320 with 4 HR
That's a pretty extreme platoon split, and it's relevant because the Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox accounted for three of the four best right-handed-hitting teams in MLB in 2019. The one exception, naturally, was the Yankees themselves.
In the face of all this, it's hard not to wonder if the Yankees' interest in Bumgarner is primarily motivated by their luxury-tax standing. If it is, they're frankly better off throwing caution to the wind and splurging on Cole, Strasburg or even Zack Wheeler instead.
Among the other teams rumored to be after him, Bumgarner would fit more comfortably with the Braves or Padres. They both have home ballparks that would suit him better than Yankee Stadium. Both also have young pitching staffs that could benefit merely from having him and his experience around.
Bumgarner wouldn't fit quite as well with the Phillies, whose own home park is not unlike Yankee Stadium. Even still, they could think of worse guys to target as a much-needed No. 2 behind staff ace Aaron Nola.
Besides which—and you knew this was coming—it would be a shame to waste Bumgarner's bat in the American League. His 19 career home runs are nearly twice as many as the next active pitcher (Adam Wainwright) has in his collection.
Ultimately, Bumgarner should only go to the Yankees if they make him the best offer. Considering the circumstances, they should leave that to someone else.