Madison Bumgarner Carries Giants to 2-0 Series Lead

Last night, Madison Bumgarner finally found a groove, tossing seven scoreless innings en route to a 2-0 Giants victory. You’ll hear a lot — or, scratch that, have probably already heard a lot — about how Bumgarner didn’t have his best stuff last night, and I think that’s pretty fair to say. Despite the mechanical adjustments he made prior to the outing, his fastball didn’t gain any zip, and his slider was certainly not at its best. When Bumgarner is at his best, he’s touching 93 with the fastball, and he’s throwing the slider with considerably more velocity and movement.

But Bumgarner had no trouble shutting the Tigers down yesterday, as he limited them to two hits in total while also racking up eight strikeouts. His last time out, he’d struggled to get the Cardinals to swing and miss at his stuff. In total, he only managed five swinging strikes. Last night, though, Bumgarner more than doubled that, yielding 12 swinging strikes in all. This might, as Jeff Sullivan suggested, have something to do with increased differentiation between his fastball and slider. The charts on Brooks Baseball (10/14, 10/25) make this pretty noticeable. For example, check out the horizontal movement of Bumgarner’s pitches plotted against the velocity. In his NLCS start, the pitches were somewhat clustered together, whereas there was a clear distinction in last night’s start. I tend to avoid jumping to conclusions based on pitch f/x numbers because it’s very easy to get misled, and I’m no expert on this stuff, but I’d have to think this is a pretty good sign.

Maybe Bumgarner’s stuff was “bad” last night, but if that’s the case, it’s a testament to how damn good he is. A pitcher can’t luck his way into eight strikeouts over seven innings of two-hit ball against one of the better offenses in baseball. Nope. That’s not to say that Bumgarner didn’t encounter some luck last night — he got away with some mistake pitches, and had some help from the defense — but there was definitely more to it than that. Something was working for Bumgarner, and while it remains to be seen whether he can recapture that magic if he does happen to make another start in this series, Bumgarner was dominant last night.

Bumgarner in the World Series, career: 15 innings, 14 strikeouts, five hits, four walks, 0.00 ERA.

The Giants are two victories away from a championship, by the way.

Best Series Ever

Didn’t that all seem a little too easy?

The Giants scored in the first inning of the first game of this series, and never gave up their lead. They were never winning by a significant margin, but the way Madison Bumgarner was pitching, even two runs of support was enough to feel comfortable. Heck, even after Sergio Romo coughed up a solo homer to make it a one-run game, Javier Lopez came in and shut the door immediately. Just like that.

Last night’s game wasn’t entirely a walk in the park. But once again, the Giants got some runs up in the first inning, and never looked back. There was one moment in that game — one brief, isolated moment — that was cause for concern. Tim Lincecum was missing some spots in last night’s outing, so I was slightly worried when he worked himself into that sixth inning jam. Matt Kemp came up, representing the tying run. But in an instant, he smoked the second pitch into right field, and it was caught. And then there were two outs, and Jose Mijares came in to pitch against Andre Ethier — who is essentially Brandon Crawford when it comes to hitting left-handed pitching. Aside from that brief moment of tension with Kemp at the plate, it felt like the Giants were in total control the whole night.

And then the same happened tonight. Except tonight was a walk in the park. The Giants put three runs on the board in the first inning, and then Matt Cain took the mound. Cain retired the first seven hitters he faced, and then five of the next seven hitters he faced. Through five innings, the Dodgers were scoreless. And in the sixth inning, the Giants tacked on another three runs. By the end of the seventh inning, the Giants had a seven-run lead. Even when the Dodgers kept chipping away at that lead in the eighth inning, never did it feel like the Giants were actually in danger of relinquishing it. And Joaquin Arias, of all players, drove in five runs.

Not even a month ago, the Dodgers came to town and ripped the Giants’ collective heart out. The Giants had a three-game lead in the NL West before the series began, and by the time the Dodgers were gone, so was sole possession of first place. It was a gut-wrenching series, the kind that leaves a bad taste in the mouth for weeks. The first game was stolen by the Dodgers in the tenth inning, on a Hanley Ramirez home run off Sergio Romo — sound familiar? And in the subsequent two games, the Giants were shut out. The Dodgers scored 14 runs, and that was 14 more than the Giants. In that series as a whole, in their own home park, the Giants only scored three runs.

This was the polar opposite of that experience. There were runs, leads, wins. There were inconsequential homers hit by Hanley Ramirez off of Sergio Romo. The Giants waltzed into Los Angeles a second-place team, and they’ll exit with a modest first place lead.

Given how that last Giants/Dodgers series had gone, I was very nervous about the prospect of the Giants facing the Dodgers on the road. But it went well, shockingly well, and without much stress at all. It’s truly difficult to overstate how amazing this series was. Man, that felt good.

Splash Hits: 8/21/12

The Cool Things That Madison Bumgarner Does | Getting Blanked | Blogs | theScore.com
Madison Bumgarner does cool things.

San Francisco Giants pitchers excel at ‘stealing’ strikes – ESPN
Giants pitchers have excelled at “stealing strikes” early in counts, as Chris Quick notes.

Scouting Report: Kyle Crick (RHP) | Baseball Prospect Nation
A scouting report on Giants pitching prospect Kyle Crick.

Pence’s Impatience Costing Him with Giants – Baseball Analytics Blog – MLB Baseball Analytics
Pence has been chasing lots of pitches since coming over to San Francisco.

Melky Cabrera’s Positive Test, Not Performance, Proves PED Use – Pinstripe Alley
There’s no concrete evidence to suggest that Melky’s use of PEDs was responsible for the uptick in his production.

What’s San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera worth now? – ESPN
Jayson Stark on what Melky Cabrera is worth now.

Madison Bumgarner Outduels Clayton Kershaw in 2-1 Giants Victory

We all came into this game expecting a pitching duel. Clayton Kershaw, reigning Cy Young Award winner, 24 years old, going up against the just-turned-23-year-old Madison Bumgarner. This wasn’t the first time the two had faced — they’d met once before, in April 2011. But that wasn’t much of a battle. Today’s head-to-head, unlike the previous one, did not disappoint.

Bumgarner scattered four hits across eight innings; each of those hits was a single, and Kershaw, surprisingly enough, had two of them.

That fourth inning sequence of events, in which Bumgarner breezed past the heart of the Dodgers’ order, just blew me away:

  • He worked around Matt Kemp for six pitches, mostly staying out of the strikezone, and eventually got him to ground out.
  • Then after falling 2-0 to Hanley Ramirez, he came at him with four straight sliders, freezing him on a high-and-inside pitch for a called strike three.
  • And then to top it all off, after Andre Ethier fouled off a few pitches, Bumgarner got him to swing right through the high heat.

Of course, Bumgarner was on top of his game all night long. And that was the most amazing part, really. Even with his pitch count running well past 100, and the Dodgers’ hitters having gotten to see him a couple times, he was still untouchable in those final two innings.

Kershaw himself dominated the Giants’ lineup, though he wasn’t able to keep them entirely quiet — thanks to some timely hitting. Angel Pagan led off the game with a double, and came around to score on a sac fly; and then with two outs in the sixth inning, the Giants managed to string together back-to-back-to-back singles for the second (and final) run.

The final pitching lines:

Kershaw – 8 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 10 K, 0 BB.
Bumgarner – 8 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 10 K, 0 BB.

Surely you notice the symmetry in the two lines. Both went eight innings, notching ten strikeouts with zero walks. How often do you see that?

Well, I dug through Baseball-Reference’s Play Index and the answer is: never. Only twice before, at least dating back to 1918, have two opposing pitchers in the same game tallied ten or more strikeouts while not walking anybody. The last occurrence was on April 9, 2003, with Mark Prior and Javier Vazquez doing the pitching. But Vazquez failed to go past the seventh. Before that, the only other occurrence was on July 12, 1997, in a duel between Roger Clemens and Aaron Sele. But again, Sele only went seven innings.

Shockingly, as I tweeted earlier: This was the first occurrence in baseball history in which both starters have gone at least eight innings with 10+ strikeouts and zero walks.

In other words, we just witnessed an historically great pitching duel.

And the best part is that the Giants came out on top. Although not before making things a little more interesting… Sergio Romo was one strike away from securing the win for the Giants, at which point Hanley Ramirez unloaded on a 1-2 pitch and promptly sent it into the left field stands. If anything, this should serve as a reminder that Hanley Ramirez is still a dangerous hitter, and has certainly channeled his younger self since coming over to the Dodgers. This was his fifth homer (and 12th extra-base hit) in 25 games with LA. Hanley is definitely something to be concerned about.

Anyway, following the home run, Javier Lopez came in and finished off Andre Ethier, giving the Giants the 2-1 victory. And just like that, they’re back in first place.

Splash Hits: The Giants Are 51-41

Welp, the Giants blew their chance at a sixth consecutive win, falling 3-2 to the Braves today. Madison Bumgarner pitched very well (7 IP, 8 K, 0 BB, 3 H, 2 ER), but two of the three hits he allowed left the yard — and that was the difference in the game. But who can complain about a series win on the road in Atlanta? The Giants are now 5-1 in the second half; I’ll take it.

Links:

The Hall of Nearly Great

The Hall of Nearly Great is an ebook meant to celebrate the careers of those who are not celebrated. It’s not a book meant to reopen arguments about who does and does not deserve Hall of Fame enshrinement. Rather, it remembers those who, failing entrance into Cooperstown, may unfairly be lost to history. It’s for the players we grew up rooting for, the ones whose best years led to flags and memories that will fly together forever. Players like David Cone, Will Clark, Dwight Evans, Norm Cash, Kenny Lofton, Brad Radke, and many others.

I cannot recommend this book enough. I got an early copy a week ago, and I’ve worked about halfway through it so far. It’s just a fantastic collection of essays on a fantastic group of players by a fantastic crew of writers. (At full disclosure, I’m part of the affiliate program for the Hall of Nearly Great, so the added benefit is that I’ll receive a few bucks for every purchase that comes through this link; that’ll help go toward keeping this site up and running, so any support is appreciated — I’ll have to renew domain registration/hosting within a couple weeks.)

Will Clark Saved The Giants, And I Missed It
An excerpt from the Hall of Nearly Great, and a wonderful one at that: McCovey Chronicles’ Grant Brisbee on Will Clark.

An Inner Circle for the Hall of Fame | Baseball: Past and Present
A list of the best of the best: the top 50 players in the Hall of Fame. A certain Say Hey Kid received more votes than any other player.

Game Day Six-Pack: “Buster Posey Is The Perfect Human.”
In which I answered a Phillies blogger’s questions to preview the upcoming Giants/Phillies series.

Giants’ Schierholtz not happy – SFGate

Schierholtz said neither he nor his agent, Damon Lapa, specifically asked the Giants for a trade, but when asked if he would welcome a deal, Schierholtz said, “I think whatever the best fit for the team and me is would be ideal. I can’t really make those decisions. It’s all up to them. Whether I’m here or not I’m going to give my best effort every day and bust my tail.”

Lefty Malo – In Appreciation of Barry Zito
Here’s to Barry Zito.

2012 First Half Review: The Starters

Since there’s no baseball today or tomorrow, I figure I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a stab at a first half review. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll divide it into three segments: the starters, the offense, and the bullpen. Without further ado…

Matt Cain

Oh, Matt Cain. Where to begin? Right as the offseason was drawing to a close, the Giants signed Cain to a rather massive long-term extension, tying up roughly $150M in him through 2018. I was pleased with the deal, but as I noted, pitchers tend to a) get worse with age, and b) get injured. Cain has done neither those of things. In fact, at age 27, Cain is currently performing better than he ever has.

He’s struck out one in four hitters that have come to bat against him, which is far and away the best strikeout rate of his career. And while the strikeouts have gone up, the walks have actually gone the other direction. Of the 473 batters he’s faced this season, only 23 have drawn an unintentional walk. Put the two together, and Cain’s tallied nearly five strikeouts for every walk; that’s significantly higher than his previous best (2.9 K/BB in 2010), and it’s more than double his career rate (2.4 K/BB). Cain has also tossed quite a few memorable games this season, including one particular game that solidified his place in the history books.

Put simply, Cain has been nothing short of spectacular thus far, and his performance even earned him the nod as the National League starter for this year’s all-star game — a role which he, unsurprisingly, handled well, tossing two scoreless innings to set the pace for the NL.

Madison Bumgarner

Madison Bumgarner has pitched, well, as expected. He’s been great. The strikeouts disappeared for a while at the beginning of the season; through the first eight starts, he had only recorded 30 strikeouts. Then he proceeded to strike out ten Brewers in his next start and from that point forward, he was himself (he’s got 69 strikeouts over his previous nine starts). Overall, Bumgarner’s seasonal strikeout rate has slightly dipped, but he’s also shaved off a few walks. His control, of course, has been remarkably consistent this season; in all but one start, he’s allowed two walks or fewer.

In other words, Madison Bumgarner has been Madison Bumgarner. Halfway through the season, he’s at 2.0 fWAR and 1.5 rWAR — although with that last start in Washington in which he allowed three home runs, his numbers sort of took a beating. Anyway, he’s still 22 years old, and he still never ceases to amaze me. Of particular note was that recent one-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds, a team that had feasted on left-handed pitching all season long.

Ryan Vogelsong

Before 2011, Ryan Vogelsong was somewhere on the list of the top 100 worst pitchers of all time. 315 career innings pitched, 217 runs allowed. Then he made his first major-league appearance in five years, and went on to have an all-star season, finishing out the year with a 2.71 ERA. He entered this year at age 34, with a minimal track record of success; given how good he had been in 2011, the expectation of “solid fourth starter” seemed reasonable, but Vogelsong was anything but a sure thing.

To say he’s exceeded expectations would be an understatement. Through 16 starts (110.2 innings), Vogelsong has actually managed to post a lower ERA (2.36) than he had in 2011 (his FIP, 3.72, while less incredible, is still good). The term “consistent” is often bandied about meaninglessly when discussing baseball players, but I can’t seem to avoid it in writing about Vogelsong. He’s epitomized consistency this season. Here are his innings pitched by start this season: 6.1, 7, 6, 7, 7.1, 7, 7, 6.1, 7, 7, 7.2, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7. Fifteen of those were quality starts.

Vogelsong takes the mound every fifth day for the Giants, so we’re just supposed to accept it as reality at this point. But he still makes no sense to me. In 2010, he was released by two organizations. Now he’s got the third best ERA- among qualified starters over the past season and a half. There he is on a pitching leaderboard, right between Clayton Kershaw and Roy Halladay. It’s absolutely crazy.

Barry Zito

I expected the worst out of Barry Zito this season. He was downright awful in 2011, even by Zito standards, having surrendered 35 runs in 53.2 innings. And his peripherals were no more promising, as his 5.60 FIP had marked a new career-worst. With Zito another year older, coming off a dreadful season, I figured he’d reached the end of his effectiveness.

In his debut, he pitched a four-hit no-walk shutout — in Coors Field, no less. And it was on that day that I ate crow. Zito went on to pitch two solid months to begin the season, in fact. Through May, he had a 3.41 ERA in ten starts. Then he crumbled. He ended up finishing out the first half with a 4.01 ERA, though the peripherals tell a different story. Zito has struck out just 12.7% of the hitters he’s faced, and his walk rate (11.1%) is also quite poor; not to mention, he’s got a 0.80 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his last six starts. If you go by FIP (5.05), Zito has been replacement level material thus far.

So despite the fact that his 4.01 ERA has come as a pleasant surprise, I can’t help but continue to have the same concerns about Zito that I had coming into this season.

Tim Lincecum

And we close it out on an especially miserable note, with Tim Lincecum. He allowed 66 earned runs in 2011. He’s allowed 69 earned runs in 2012 …through 18 starts. I had hope that after dominating the Los Angeles Dodgers to carry the Giants into first place, he had finally started to turn things around. That he did not. Lincecum closed out the first half with disastrous starts in Pittsburgh and Washington, and here we are now: Lincecum, halfway through the season, has the worst qualified ERA in the majors. This isn’t August 2010. He’s ventured deep into this mess of a season, and he has yet to return to form.

Over at Baseball Nation, Jeff Sullivan recently took an in-depth look at Lincecum’s season. Lincecum has been Lincecum with the bases empty, which seems like a good sign. I’m not sure what the root cause of his struggles are; his command disappears when runners reach base — is it mental? Mechanical? At this point, I have no idea what to expect from Lincecum. He’s an enigma. I’m almost at a loss for words. I’m cautiously optimistic that he’ll find his groove eventually, but we’re dangerously close to Brad Penny starting games for the San Francisco Giants.

Madison Bumgarner: Super-Excellent

In the past couple years, I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words in appreciation and admiration of the accomplishments of Madison Bumgarner. He’s good. Unfortunately, I’ve just about run out of ways to say that. I suppose I could dig through a thesaurus and pick out every word I haven’t yet exhausted.

Bumgarner’s having a shipshape season. What a super-excellent start that was. 

I’m not all that good with words though, as you can see. Frankly, the numbers tell a better story than I could:

  • Madison Bumgarner had a 2.67 FIP last season.
  • Madison Bumgarner struck out 12, and allowed zero walks in 7.2 innings tonight.
  • When Madison Bumgarner walked four opposing hitters in his last outing — which isn’t an absurdly high walk total, that was the first time he had allowed that many walks in a start since April of 2011.

I could go on and on. I want to. I probably will, eventually. But for the time being, I’m sure I’ve made my point.

The most important stat, something I’ve stressed again and again throughout the existence of this blog, is this one:

  • He’s 22 years old.

He’s done some great things. But in that context, “great” just doesn’t do him justice.

Tonight’s game was classic Bumgarner. Pinpoint control, weak groundouts, decent right-handed hitters swinging and missing at that slider over and over again. And as if his pitching wasn’t enough, Bumgarner belted a home run off Bud Norris in the third inning of tonight’s game. A home run at AT&T Park. That’s something that none of the Giants’ hitters could manage to do over the last month. Only one to go before Bumgarner ties James Loney!

As a National League pitcher, Bumgarner will be getting at-bats for a long time. And though nobody really pays much attention to what pitchers do with the bat, it kind of matters — especially over a long period of time. That Bumgarner has established himself as an above-average hitter is icing on the cake. It’s a modest impact — maybe an extra 10% of value at most — but it all adds up.

Basically, what I’m trying to get at here is that Bumgarner is good.

And the best part? That magnificent contract. Man, what a steal that is. If you’re ever feeling low, mull over those contract details — that’ll surely cheer you up. It’s truly a sight to behold. Roughly $70M to hang onto Bumgarner until he hits 30. I mean, wow.