Analyzing Madison Bumgarner’s Pitches

The San Francisco Giants have one last game before they face their NL division rival San Diego Padres in one last three-game battle before the NL West division crown is decided (cross your fingers for a 163rd game). At this point in the season, with three or four games left on the schedule for most teams, a 2.0 game lead is an unsafe lead or a sizable mountain to climb depending on which team you are rooting for. For San Francisco, Giants fans look at this afternoon’s matchup with the Arizona Diamondbacks as a must-win if they want to put away the Padres for good. If the Giants win today and the Padres lose, San Diego will have to sweep San Francisco at AT&T Park this weekend in order to force a one-game playoff.

This afternoon’s start by the left-handed rookie Madison Bumgarner may be the most important game of the season for the Giants, at least up to this point. A young pitcher (legally allowed to drink less than two months ago) being handed the reins to a pivotal game, Bumgarner has put together quite a fine season, with a 6.71 K/9, 2.12 BB/9, 3.06 ERA, and 3.77 FIP. Bumgarner is looking for his first career win at home today, all six wins being on the road this season.

When Bumgarner was taken 10th overall in the 2007 draft, he apparently only had a plus fastball and little else. Since then, he’s quickly developed two breaking balls and a changeup, putting himself on the fast track to the Major Leagues. According to his pitch type values, Bumgarner’s most effective pitches this season have been his changeup (wCH/C of 2.88 changeup runs per 100 pitches) and his curveball (wCB/C of 1.60 curveball runs per 100 pitches).

Let’s take a deeper look at all four of his pitches and how he has fared against batters this season, looking at both swinging strikes and balls put in play. First up, let’s look at Bumgarner’s fastballs:

You’ll have to click the image to get a closer look. I’ve added the number of pitches Bumgarner has thrown for each pitch type so you can get an idea of the sample size. Bumgarner throws a 91 MPH fastball, and it looks like his fastball gets a decent number of swinging strikes. When Bumgarner throws fastballs to LHH, he goes outside a bit more, rarely throwing inside, while fastballs against RHH go down the middle of the plate. A lot of these fastballs are put in play, which may add to the fact that Bumgarner’s fastball run value is not as high as his breaking ball pitches. Let’s take a look at Bumgarner’s sliders:

Bumgarner has an 85 MPH slider with good horizontal and vertical movement. Looking at where he throws the slider, they seem pretty uniform between RHH and LHH, although it looks like he goes low and inside to RHH quite a bit, which has allowed him to get swinging strikes. Bumgarner faces much less LHH, so it’s hard to tell who whiffs more on his sliders because of the sample size. Let’s look at the curveballs:

Now this looks interesting, although a note of caution should be posted right away when looking at the sample sizes. Still, it’s interesting that Bumgarner locates his 75 MPH curveball all over the strikezone and out of the zone much more against LHH, inducing swinging strikes mostly on low and outside curveballs to LHH. Against RHH, he tends to keep the curveball over the plate or on the outside (which has more horizontal movement than it does vertical movement), sometimes going down below the zone where he’s gotten a few swinging strikes. Finally, let’s look at Bumgarner’s changeup, which has been his best pitch this season in terms of run value:

This L-R usage split is key. Bumgarner has only thrown 23 changeups against LHH all season, but has thrown almost six times as many against RHH. Granted, left-handed pitchers tend to face lineups filled with right-handed batters far more than left-handed, but it’s still quite a wide split. He has gotten quite a few swinging strikes against RHH and locates his 83 MPH changeup down and away, sometimes out of the zone on the outside to RHH or below the zone.

Against the Arizona Diamondbacks tonight, Bumgarner will face a few left-handed batters in Stephen Drew, Kelly Johnson, and Adam LaRoche. Look for Bumgarner’s curveballs against these batters, while the rest of the lineup will likely see his changeup once or twice as his punch-out pitch throughout the game.

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Albert Lyu (@thinkbluecrew, LinkedIn) is a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, but will always root for his beloved Northwestern Wildcats. Feel free to email him with any comments or suggestions.

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