Breaking Down Madison Bumgarner

The Giants saved their ace for the Wild Card game. Though Madison Bumgarner has been a snot-rocket champion for some time, and a top pitcher, he’s turned it up a notch the last two seasons. A couple adjustments — one in approach and the other in mechanics — seem to have fueled this latest improvement. Those changes can also provide us the nitty gritty to watch for when he takes the mound with the Giants’ postseason on the line tomorrow.

For a few years now, Bumgarner has thrown about as many cutters as four-seamers. That puts him in the top 30 year-to-year in cutter+fastball usage. But something looks a little different recently. Check out his pitch mix according to Brooks Baseball:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (7)

Looks like he’s been going to the fastball more recently. “I’m big on doing whatever’s working at the time,” Bumgarner said before a game with the Padres in the final week of the season. “So if I have a good one I’m going to stick with it until it’s not working. Whatever’s working I’ll try to use to get outs with.”

In particular, the lefty has gone to the high fastball a bit more often recently. Particularly in his near-no-hitter against the Rockies , the lefty has lived higher in the zone. Check out his pitches earlier in the year on the left compared to his work since August first on the right.

EarlyLateBumGpitch

Bumgarner agreed that he’d noticed it, particularly in that start against Colorado. “It’s a game of adjustments,” he felt. “Pitchers are always taught down in the zone, down in the zone, get ground balls. So the hitters are going to adjust to that. They’re not going to want to be okay with not being able to hit that pitch. It’s about staying ahead of the game and trying to make adjustments as fast as you can.”

Another change in the lefty’s game has come from his positioning on the mound. You can spot it fairly easily on our game charts because it changed from one game to the next mid season. On the left are his release points from the July 13th game against Arizona at home. On the right are his release points from his next start, July 18th in Miami.

chart (30)chart (31)

Bumgarner confirmed the move, saying that he now sets up on the third base side of the rubber. “I face more righties than lefties, so I feel like the closer you get to them, the tougher you’ll be on them,” he said. We know from early research on effective velocity that this is true, and we can see that his first-half numbers against righties (.263/.320/.402) were worse than his second-half numbers against righties (.215/.246/.381).

Those two changes may help augment his cutter as well. He knows that some people call it a slider, or think he has two different pitches. “I call it a cutter but I feel like it’s in between the two — I think people call it different things because I change speeds with it,” he said. “But I throw it the same.” Sliders and cutters traditionally have the same grip, so no big deal really.

That doesn’t mean it’s your traditional cutter. It changes shape according to Bumgarner’s intent. “The slower you throw it, the more it’s going to break, so it’s going to go down more,” the lefty said. “The harder one is not going to break as much, so it looks flatter. If I throw it lower in the zone, it’ll go down more because of the angle. I’ll throw it high too though, to make it look flatter.”

That’s how you get a heat map for the cutter that shows a willingness to throw the pitch anywhere in the zone:

chart (32)

And if you look at the break and velocities on his cutters, you’ll see those subtle differences highlighted. Take particular notice about how the harder cutters (darker green circles, in the upper right corner) move more like his fastball, and the softer cutters (lighter green circles, in the lower left part of the graph) move more like his curveball.

But if you watch two cutters from different ends of the spectrum, it’s not that easy to tell them apart. On the left is a slow cutter (85.7mph, bottom 3% in velocity this year), on the right is a hard cutter (90.2 mph, top 3% in velocity this year). The difference is more subtle than stark — only three inches of movement separate the two after all — but can still show you what some would call the gap between a slider and a cutter.

BumgarnerSoftSliderBumgarnerHardSlider

Bumgarner has worked hard to make his pitches very similar. Even though he’s messed with grips in the past (“a thousand different ways”), he’s settled on what he’s got. “Right now, I try to make everything look the same with the spin on the ball,” he said. “So they see the same spin, it’s harder for them to adjust.”

That work does include video from time to time, but the technology isn’t quite there yet for Bumgarner. “Usually I find that I can’t really see it on video,” Bumgarner says of trying to fix mechanical issues. “It’s hard to see because of the frames per second that the video gets — sometimes it moves too far and you don’t really get that resolution that you need.”

So he works with a mirror, doing dry drills and watching his keys, making sure he sets up in the right places, his hands go to the right places, and everything feels right. “I’m analytical about a lot of it, but some of it I just let it happen how it’s going to happen,” Bumgarner explained. “The biggest key for me, besides lining up and making sure that’s the same every time, is staying slow until the very end.”

With a couple adjustments in hand — the high fastball and the new spot on the rubber in particular — Bumgarner is ready to make the most of his old playbook. Throw lots of fastballs, cutters, and curves, all from the same release point, all with similar spin, and all exploding out of a slow, deliberate delivery — and watch as the batters barely miss each pitch.



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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DrBGiantsfan
Guest
1 year 7 months ago

Nice analysis. This is exactly what it looks like from watching his games and listening to Kruk’s commentary. I don’t think Kruk has commented on which side of the rubber he sets up on.

mch38
Member
mch38
1 year 7 months ago

;_; please win Pirates

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
1 year 7 months ago

Two words, Edinson Volquez

channelclemente
Guest
channelclemente
1 year 7 months ago

Also, it’s subtle, but that cutter in the hands has 2 stage break, or late tilt as Krukow calls it.

Shankbone
Guest
1 year 7 months ago

Great stuff Eno. 1st inning has been rough for Madison from time to time, especially this year but also throughout career. Josh Harrison saw him extremely well. That will be a key matchup.

Daniel Schwartz
Member
1 year 7 months ago

Eno – I just ran Bumgarner’s RMSE/Pitch Release Point Consistency up until the 7/13 game and from the 7/18 game per your rubber move above.

Here are the results up until 7/13: .22316
Here are the results from 7/18 onward: .21097

This is pretty darn consistent…haven’t seen someone approach this close to sub .2 yet albeit a small sample of pulls so far.

Not only was he pretty darn consistent prior, but he actual jumped in consistency after his mound move (wonder how long he’s been practicing this in the mirror).

To compare Bumgarner’s pre & post RMSE with others i have run to date (from a few weeks ago):
Collin McHugh = .395
Jered Weaver = .248
Carlos Carrasco = .300
Zack Wheeler = .302
Matt Shoemaker = .323
Lance Lynn = .284
Ervin Santana = .253
Johnny Cueto = .327 (big repertoire though)
Marcus Stroman = .257 (nice to see)
Garret Richards = .246 (more verification)

I can’t locate sale’s, kershaw’s and petit’s but i believe they were: .215ish (kershaw), .24ish (Petit) and .25ish (Sale) as i talked about it in a past post.

So, Bumgarner is by far the most consistent from this list after his mound move and only trailed Kershaw prior to the mound move.

It’s unfair that Kershaw is this consistent but that’s one reason he’s so damn dominant. Maybe another time we look at Kershaw’s RMSE this year vs. past few years to see if that’s partly the cause of his additional dominance.

Ideally we could look at TM’s RPM so we can see how consistent Bumgarner’s “spin” is despite break/movement differences as well. Too bad it’s not public.

Eno Sarris
Guest
1 year 7 months ago

This is awesome. Thanks dude!

Daniel Schwartz
Member
1 year 7 months ago

I forgot to mention that i naturally omitted pitches >/< 6" from the mean prior to running RMSE for both the pre & post mound move.

Matthew
Member
Member
1 year 7 months ago

This make sense. Doug Thorburn AKA pitching mechanics guru, gave MadBum a 70 in consistency and an overall A in mechanics. Only Big Fern,Gio, and Jordan Zimmerman got an A believe.

Avattoir
Guest
Avattoir
1 year 7 months ago

I’m not really arguing against your point, so much as maybe suggesting limits to it. Bumgarner was Pitche of the Month twice this season, May and August, about as dominant in one as the other. He was not NEARLY dominant in starts OUTSIDE those months. To some extent, the impression of consistency is a product of each of those 2 dominant months falling on either side of the line you chose.

Which isn’t to say he was INconsistent April/June compared to July/September; but he was far from dominant in those 4 months. If his 2 dominant months had happened say April and June, tho …

Dolemite
Guest
Dolemite
1 year 7 months ago

This is fantastic!

Matty Brown
Member
Member
Matty Brown
1 year 7 months ago

not to mention that home run power! (unless you mentioned it, I didn’t read it all)

Avattoir
Guest
Avattoir
1 year 7 months ago

He did.

Don’t mention it.

obsessivegiantscompulsive
Guest
1 year 7 months ago

Great article, loved it!

Thought I would add this factoid, makes the above seem even more amazing: when he joined the Giants, he didn’t know how to pitch.

That is, he didn’t understand his mechanics well enough to know when he is getting away from a good mechanic. He couldn’t tell what he was doing mechanically when he was successful pitching. That’s why Dr. Tidrow was called in early in his second season to come in and fix his mechanics, he wasn’t feeling it.

So this article and all the great quotes are amazing to me, to see how far he has come from his early days as a raw pitcher.

I was reading your article and it made me realize that Bumgarner is kind of a mix of Cain and Lincecum. Bumgarner has the raw talent that Lincecum had (not that Cain didn’t have plenty himself, but Lincecum clearly had more) and has combined it with the maturity and competitiveness that Cain brings to the game. A great combination for greatness in any sport, a deadly combination for opposing teams.

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