Yesterday, Julian wrote a piece on Madison Bumgarner getting a Cy Young vote and talked about how good Bumgarner is at such a young age. To further drive home that point, he has already thrown 325 innings in the Major Leagues. This is the first year that players from his draft class are eligible for the Rule 5 draft. He is a very good pitcher and we may be watching the development of a future Cy Young award winner right before our eyes. However, his success was not always pre-destined.
Bumgarner was drafted in 2007 out of South Caldwell High School in Hudson, North Carolina. The Giants gave him a $2 Million dollar signing bonus to get him to forego a North Carolina commitment. He was seen as a legitimate first round talent as he threw a mid 90’s fastball from the leftside, but he lacked a consistent secondary pitch, which gave some teams and draft experts pause. He spent the 2008 season in the South Atlantic League, and surprisingly was dominant. He posted a 10.1 K/9, 1.3 BB/9 and a 1.46 ERA, in 140 innings. After that he was rated as the #9 prospect in baseball by Baseball America heading into 2009.
Bumgarner started 2009 in San Jose along with fellow 2007 1st round draft pick Tim Alderson (who the year before had won an ERA title in that same league) and made just 5 starts and they were both promoted to AA once the weather warmed up. Bumgarner posted a 1.93 ERA at AA but his peripheral stats took a turn for the worse as his strikeout rate dropped to just 5.8 per 9, and his walk rate — while still good — went up to 2.5 per 9. He got a cup of coffee in the majors that year, throwing 10 innings and allowing just 2 runs. He also struck out 10 and walked 3. There was some concern though. Alderson was traded to Pittsburgh for second baseman Freddy Sanchez and there were rumblings that both of them had lost velocity on their fastball. Alderson’s velocity has never returned and he has yet to reach AAA.
He started 2010 in AAA as a legitimate prospect but one with a lot of risk. He struggled out of the gate, and got briefly suspended after getting memorably ejected (including chucking a baseball into CF). He ended up recovering and while his K/9 was still not great (6.4) he was still good at limiting walks and he looked like he could be a back of the rotation starter. He then was called up to the majors for good after 14 starts replacing the injured and ineffective Todd Wellemeyer. He then pitched incredibly well down the strecth, posting a 3.00 ERA, raising his K rate from his time in AAA (to 7.0) and lowering his BB/9 to 2.1. His most memorable start came on Halloween-roughly two months after he was able to legally drink-where he posted 8 shutout innings against the strong Rangers line up in their ballpark, coming off the Giants first loss of the World Series.
Before 2011 there was still concern though. Combined with the postseason he had thrown 70 innings more than the previous season which made a “Verducci effect” candidate. While the Verducci effect has been basically proven to be wrong, that is still a major jump in innings. Bumgarner though, had a fantastic season, once again increasing his K rate and (slightly) decreasing his walk rate.
Bumgarner has been a fantastic pitcher and given his age it’s likely that he’ll just get better. And if I was a betting man, I’d wager that over the next five years Bumgarner will be the best pitcher currently in the Giants rotation.