Interview: Madison Bumgarner

In which I talk with Madison Bumgarner about his excellent season, Dave Righetti, and his disaster start against the Minnesota Twins, among other things…


Extending Madison Bumgarner, Part II

Three months ago, Zack explored the possibility of a Madison Bumgarner extension. It’s something that’s been discussed a lot lately though; with Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum set to earn monster deals, why not lock up Bumgarner as soon as possible for the purposes of cost certainty? As Zack noted, a pitcher of Bumgarner’s caliber — assuming he continues to pitch as well as he has — will inevitably cost a lot of money going year to year in arbitration. Even a deal that just buys out his arbitration years could save the Giants a good chunk of money in the long run. And a deal that buys out his arb years and — say — his first couple years of free agency? Well, that’s obviously more risky, but accordingly, leaves more potential for reward.

Anyway, over at MLB Trade Rumors, Tim Dierkes looks at Madison Bumgarner as an extension candidate. Given a) how talented Bumgarner is, b) how little the Giants would be risking in the grand scheme of things, and c) the modest potential for reward, I say go for it:

A Madison Bumgarner extension is risky, as is the case w/ any SP. But the potential rewards/savings make it worth pursuing.

2012 Bill James Projections

It’s the offseason. That means hot stove rumors. That means prospect rankings. And that means projections. Bill James’ projections, which he publishes in his yearly handbook, were added to Fangraphs player pages about a week ago. As far as I know, they’re not all published in one place (besides, of course, the handbook, which I highly recommend you purchase), so it’s hard to just look at all the Giants’ projections unless you want to dig through all the individual player pages.

Anyway, do note that they are widely considered to be overly optimistic, but I think that’s overstated.

Here are the Giants hitting projections.

A few thoughts:

— The best thing on here is the Brandon Belt projection. A .363 wOBA would do wonders for this offense, and it’s right up there with Buster Posey (.363) and Carlos Beltran (.367). Belt is one of the huge keys to making next year’s offense better than it was this year.

Andres Torres (.327) is projected for a higher wOBA than Melky Cabrera (.325). This is precisely why I wasn’t a big fan of the Cabrera trade. The Giants gave up rotation depth for a worse (arguably, and I’d make that argument) centerfielder.

Nate Schierholtz is projected to hit .328 — roughly as well as he did in 2011 — confirming that there’s good reason to believe he can be a quality everyday right fielder. Fangraphs had him at 1.4 WAR in 362 plate appearances last year (.327 wOBA), and that was with negative fielding value. I’m fairly certain that he’s capable of being a 2-3 WAR player in 2012.

— There’s not much to be hopeful about with Brandon Crawford. I’ve gradually become less enthused about the prospect of him as the Giants’ starting shortstop, and this doesn’t help. He’d have to carry a lot of value with his glove to be a viable everyday option, and I just don’t know that his fielding is good enough to stomach a .282 wOBA.

Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval, and Buster Posey form a pretty respectable heart of the order, and if the rest of the lineup carries their weight (granted, a big “if”), this offense could just be good enough.

And here’s the pitching.


— I’m a little disappointed by the Madison Bumgarner/Sergio Romo projections, but that’s only because I have such high expectations when it comes to those two. I’d bet they beat their projected FIPs.

— These projections only make me dislike the Javier Lopez/Jeremy Affeldt moves even more. It seems like that’s where most of the Giants’ offseason spending will have gone, when all is said and done. That doesn’t look too good.

— At first glance, the Barry Zito projection (sub-4.00 ERA!) looks quite nice, but it’s a) mostly pitching out of relief, and b) a small sample size.

A Madison Bumgarner Retrospective

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.

Madison Bumgarner gets a Cy Young vote

This season was woefully unsatisfying. Not a lost season, or a bad season; some might say, in fact, that it was a great season for the Giants — they did, after all, finish in second place in their division. But it was an unsatisfying season nonetheless. The team set high expectations by winning the World Series in 2010, and they failed to live up to these expectations in 2011. A playoff berth, I figured, was all but guaranteed. I was wrong.

2011 was chock-full of silver linings, though. For one, Ryan Vogelsong‘s story was incredible. He was, in essence, the manifestation of that magnificent element of unpredictability that makes baseball what it is. Pablo Sandoval, at 25, put up a second all-star caliber season after losing a lot of weight in the offseason, and was ultimately the only thing that kept the Giants’ offense from completely collapsing. Matt Cain, who’s widely considered to be a model of consistency, showed exactly why that’s the case. And that’s just to name a few. Among the many silver linings was Madison Bumgarner, and that’s the one silver lining that was most satisfying for me.

I can’t fully explain my fascination with Bumgarner. At least not well. He comes off as calm, cool, and collected, but he also seems to have a lot of personality. Here’s 1000 words on the matter. Bumgarner the player — the on-the-field product — is of course equally (if not more) fascinating, and it’s because of one thing specifically…

Baseball is a game of numbers, and one significant — albeit oft-neglected — number is age. Age is of paramount importance in baseball. It is the rule: it dictates when a player is ready for the majors, how he progresses, when he peaks, and when his skill-set begins to fade. Take the respective cases of Melky Cabrera and Andres Torres. There’s a lot of hope that Cabrera can continue to be 2011 Melky Cabrera — that, given his age, he’s entering his prime. Torres, coming off an extremely disappointing season, has caused many to believe that his career has all but come to an end. He’s on the wrong side of 30, at an age when players typically get worse and worse. A resurgence, while possible, seems unlikely. In these cases, age paints the picture.

Bumgarner, at 22 years old, is way ahead of the curve. He’s an exception to the rule — a rare specimen of refined 22 year old talent. At the age of 21 this season, he finished fourth in the majors in FIP, which speaks volumes about his potential. I’m thus extremely excited about his future — and hopefully understandably so.

Today, Bumgarner received one Cy Young vote. One lone fifth-place vote. He was one of four San Francisco Giants to receive Cy Young consideration, along with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Ryan Vogelsong. Lincecum, Cain, and Vogelsong each had excellent seasons, and I’m quite happy to see them get Cy Young votes; but no vote brings me more joy than that one Bumgarner vote.

When I first sat down to write this article, this is what I came up with:

Madison Bumgarner is awesome!

That one sentence, in its entirety, constituted the previous three drafts of this piece — except I misspelled “is” the first two times. After giving it a lot of thought though, and refining it a bit, I’ve come to what I believe to be the ultimate conclusion regarding Madison Bumgarner:

Madison Bumgarner is REALLY awesome!

So here’s to Bernie Miklasz: for recognizing that fact; for bringing a little more satisfaction to an otherwise (mostly) unsatisfying year; and for pumping a little warmth into this frigid heart of mine. Ya done good, Bernie. Take a week off — you’ve earned it.

NL Awards Voting

As a member of the BBA, and a contributor to Beyond the Box Score, I’ve taken part in a couple end-of-year award votes thus far. Here’s my NL ballot:


Matt Kemp: After a dismal showing in 2010, Kemp bounced back in remarkable fashion; in 161 games (he appeared in every single Dodgers game this year), he posted a .324/.399/.586 line and nearly joined the elusive 40/40 club (39 homers, 40 steals). That kind of offensive production from an up-the-middle position is quite special, and while his defense is no asset, he managed to lead the National League in wins above replacement by a pretty significant margin.

The rest:
2. Ryan Braun
3. Roy Halladay
4. Troy Tulowitzki
5. Justin Upton


NL Cy Young

Roy Halladay: It’s close between the trio of Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Clayton Kershaw, but I give Halladay the edge. They all had nearly identical innings counts, and vary when it comes to their fielding-independent numbers (Halladay, for example, is third in the NL in xFIP and SIERA, and first in tERA). However, he leads in FIP- (56) by a lot (Kershaw is at 66, Lee is at 67).

The rest:
2. Clayton Kershaw
3. Cliff Lee
4. Madison Bumgarner
5. Matt Cain


NL Rookie of the Year

Wilson Ramos: I doubt he’ll win it, but he really deserves strong consideration. Above-average offensive production (.267/.334/.445, 109 wRC+) from the catching position, combined with something most people probably didn’t notice: outstanding defense behind the plate. His ability to cut down would-be base-stealers, block pitches in the dirt, and frame borderline strikes accounted for an estimated +1.5 wins in value. All in all, that’s enough to put him over the top in my mind.

The rest:
2. Danny Espinosa
3. Craig Kimbrel

Two quick charts to illustrate Madison Bumgarner’s awesomeness

Rk Player SO/BB IP Year Age Tm Lg GS ERA ERA+
1 Bret Saberhagen 4.16 235.1 1985 21 KCR AL 32 2.87 145
2 Don Sutton 4.02 225.2 1966 21 LAD NL 35 2.99 110
3 Madison Bumgarner 3.93 193.2 2011 21 SFG NL 31 3.21 111
4 Frank Tanana 3.68 257.1 1975 21 CAL AL 33 2.62 135
5 Vida Blue 3.42 312.0 1971 21 OAK AL 39 1.82 185
6 Brett Anderson 3.33 175.1 2009 21 OAK AL 30 4.06 109
7 Bert Blyleven 3.30 287.1 1972 21 MIN AL 38 2.73 119
8 Felix Hernandez 3.11 190.1 2007 21 SEA AL 30 3.92 112
9 Denny McLain 3.10 220.1 1965 21 DET AL 29 2.61 134
10 Smoky Joe Wood 3.04 275.2 1911 21 BOS AL 33 2.02 162
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/22/2011.


This is nothing new. I’ve alluded — many times — to the fact that Madison Bumgarner’s K/BB this season is incredible considering his age. The guys listed above are the top ten K/BB ratios by a pitcher in his age-21 season (min. 162 IP).

But here’s what’s really awesome. To give context to his elite company, here are those same pitchers, and their career rWAR (Baseball-Reference’s implementation of wins above replacement).

Rk Player rWAR
1 Bret Saberhagen 54.7
2 Don Sutton 53.5
3 Madison Bumgarner (5.0)
4 Frank Tanana 55.1
5 Vida Blue 43.8
6 Brett Anderson (6.2)
7 Bert Blyleven 90.1
8 Felix Hernandez (29.5)
9 Denny McLain 16.8
10 Smoky Joe Wood 26.2