Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Thoughts on Madison Bumgarner

We have already talked at length about Madison Bumgarner's amazing accomplishments, especially in the postseason which have reached historical levels.  What I want to look at now is what the future may hold for this gifted pitcher.  Here's something to start with.  Madison Bumgarner is 25 years old!  A lot of players don't participate in their first MLB game until they are 25.  Peak physical years are generally considered to be ages 27-32 or so.  Madison Bumgarner has been pitching in the major leagues since 2010 and has pitched in 3 postseasons in dominating fashion, and he is 25 years old!  Is it possible that we have yet to see the best of Madison Bumgarner?  Yes, he may have a few more miles on his arm than the average 25 year old pitcher, but remember that a guy who breaks in at age 25 has been pitching innings in the minors too.

In addition to his age, I believe we have evidence that Bumgarner stuff is still improving.  This is based on my observations while watching him pitch on TV over the past several seasons, and these observations are confirmed by PitchFx data.  You see, Bumgarner made some adjustments as the season progressed last year.  By the end of the regular season, he really was not the same pitcher he was at the beginning of the season.  If you watched closely, the complete dominance he showed in the postseason came as no surprise. It was simply the culmination of transformation that evolved over the season.

So, what was different about the end of season Madison Bumgarner last year from the Madison Bumgarner we had seen over the past 4 seasons?  At least 2 things:  1.  He started elevating his 4 seam FB more and more and it became more and more effective.  By the end of the season, according to PitchFx data, Bumgarner's 4 seam FB was the most effective swing and miss FB in all of MLB!  Think about that for a minute.  Madison Bumgarner's 4 seam fastball is the most unhittable fastball in Major League Baseball!  In addition to elevating the FB, he added velocity as the season progressed.  His average FB velocity for the season was just under 92 MPH, but by the end of the season was routinely hitting 93-95 MPH.  2.  The other wrinkle Bumgarner added late last season, although much less frequently, was a slower version of the curveball.  I mean it is sloooow!  This pitch does not loop as much as the usual slow curve.  He releases it from the same low 3/4 arm slot, so it is a flatter version as opposed to Clayton Kershaw's slow curve.  The advantage to Bumgarner's version is it looks exactly the same as his standard curve and so is in effect a curve changeup.  It has more of a changeup effect on the hitter.  It is harder for the hitter to recognize early and lay off, so they end up lunging at it like a changeup.  He did not use it often, but when he did, it was devastating!  I have a feeling we will see more of that this season.  Hopefully not to often, though because a lot of its effectiveness is in the surprise value.

In summary, while his deadly cut fastball/slider is still his #1 pitch, I think we will see a full season's worth of increased usage of the Best Fastball in Baseball and a full season's sprinkling in of that slow curveball.  If the innings don't catch up with him, this could be Madison Bumgarner's breakout season, which considering what he has already accomplished, is simply amazing to think about.


  1. Simply amazing. Thanks for posting Doc!

    OGC has mentioned for several years now that the Giants are the "Team of the Decade"...well, I am a believer!

    As Shankbone says, "Flags Fly Forever!"

    He's already the greatest post-season starting pitcher in MLB's to Madison adding a couple more rings to his collection and setting even more post-season records of success. Add in a rejuvenated Cain and some success from Timmah, Huddy, Peavy et al...2015 looks good from here.


    1. Briefly yesterday, on CSN Bay Area, it was 'Window Closing?,' referring to a Bochy talk to the players. This morning, it's a more toned down "Bochy Has Message For Club(house).'

      With Madison, Posey, Crawford, Cain, Belt, Panik entering their prime production periods, why would anyone talk about window closing, when it's about seizing the moment (Bochy's message)?

      Sure, Hudson and Peavy will retire soon, but they just joined the team last year, when the writers at CSN probably thought there was no window at all.

      With Timmy, it couldn't have gotten any worse than the last 2 or 3 years, though possibility is there for him to get better. Don't see no window closing here, relatively speaking (relative to the last 2 or 3 years).

      As for Pagan, the window was there last October when he was recuperating from his surgery. I think the window will be there in the future with and without him.

      Then we get to the bullpen. Perhaps we will see some turnovers in a couple of years. And we have prepared for that as well as we could have with the prospects we have.

      To be sure, lots of work remains to be done (and not trading away our top prospects last summer, while pocketing a 3rd championship, was a good start), but the A's-philes over at CSN is just being their usually 'putting down the Giants' selves.

    2. I took Bochy's comments to mean that individual players or groups of players have a short window, not necessarily the organization as a whole. I don't believe the Giants as an organization believe "windows" in the way Billy Beane talks about them.

    3. Bochy: “The window could be another 4-5 years, but that goes by fast. Let’s take advantage of the next 4-5 years.”

    4. Yup. Another 4-5 years? 3 more championships? Now THAT would be a dynasty!

  2. I enjoy watching Bumgarner pitch as much as any Giants fan. However, he is coming off a season where he did pitch a rather LARGE sum of innings. Do we have any data on how workload affects young pitchers in their 22-25 year old range? I'd personally like to see him closer to around 200 innings this season just to preserve his longevity, but I'm not sure if the data supports such a reduction in workload.

    1. Great question. After some quick and dirty Google research, the verdict is that postseason pitchers actually do better on average the following season in terms of beating their projections than non-postseason pitchers.

  3. Could it be that Bochy's window comments were related to him running up against his own sense of mortality? A little heart health scare will quickly drive home the point that we all have a limited time here. As a hot shot MLB player coming off a Championship season, some might subconsciously think, "we just did 3 in 5, this could go on forever, after all we are clearly invincible." Bochy's got a pretty hefty taste of vincibility and felt compelled, appropriately so, to urge the reinforce the point that it's over all too soon for all of us.
    If they use it to refocus their efforts, it could be a meaningful message. They do have a great returning core, promising pitching, unusually good chemistry, etc., don't get distracted or complacent. Bochy's dodged a bit of a bullet, I think he wants to make sure he stays focussed as well as keeping those around him on message.
    Just a thought.


  4. This is trite, but the season will play out as it always does on team health, player delta-performance, and unpredictable additions.
    Good GMs, like Sabean, provide players who CAN succeed, at least as much as the budget allows. SF has a large budget relatively, and of late has mostly avoided loser contracts.
    But ultimately success depends upon the players and that is unpredictable. Nearly every player has a major cycle (season to season) and a minor cycle (ebbs and flows within a season). And they are not conjoined. Major or minor. They have their own rhythm and team cycles are dependent on the player cycles, not vice versa.
    The Giants have a competitive team, certainly if they had an extra $50 million/year to spend like the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox, they could afford mistakes, but they don't. And can't. Maybe if some deep pockets owned the the Giants, like the Dodgers, they might outspend their resources, but I don't think they are in this for personal vanity, they are smart business people which is why they have the money to own a team. And, with their own resources with some help on the land, they have built an enviable franchise in a great venue with interesting components AND a viable system to provide young talent to complement the necessary acquisitions.
    We natives and semi-natives love northern California but most people would rather visit than live here. There are real costs involved with being here: homes and taxes being things that are well over the average US cost. Our gas is exorbitant, the rules are onerous, the political climate not balmy. A guy from Venezuela might find the grass greener somewhere else. Because we want to be here doesn't mean that most people do.
    So, rejoice: we have a competitive team and a shot at 4-in-6 which NO ONE ELSE HAS!
    Roll the dice, and see what happens.

    1. To be clear, Giants ownership does not have shallow pockets by any stretch. The Chairman of the Board is by himself one of the richest owners in all of MLB. The Giants ownership, while being not cheap by any means, has chosen to operate the team in the black, or at least not a loss, from year to year and not take excessive risks with payroll or untenable TV deals. In spite of that, the baseball people they have put in charge of the operation have produced 3 championships in 5 seasons. It all doesn't get much better than that!

    2. Yes, you're right, Mr Johnson is very, very rich. Deep pockets was the wrong term. Maybe should have been profligate pockets.
      Hard to argue with success: 3-in-five is great, 4-in-6 is definitely dynastic!
      On a sad note: Mr Spock is dead.