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Bumgarner’s Accomplishment Goes Beyond Age

Last night, Madison Bumgarner turned in eight scoreless innings in a World Series game, earning the victory for the Giants in game four. Bumgarner also recorded six strikeouts and allowed only five baserunners in the entire outing (three hits, two walks). And, to top it all off, Bumgarner accomplished this as a rookie, starting his first World Series game as a mere 21 year old, only adding to the grandiosity of the achievement. Bumgarner’s heroics was the focal point of the media as the game concluded: after Ken Rosenthal finished his post-game interview with Madison Bumgarner and turned to interview Aubrey Huff, he asked (paraphrasing) “And all that at 21. How does he do it?”

The fact that Bumgarner is even making a World Series start at age 21 is remarkable. Bumgarner became only the 16th pitcher 21 years old or younger to ever start a playoff game, and the latest since Jaret Wright with the Indians in 1997. Unsurprisingly, Bumgarner’s start ranks in the upper echelon of this group. He is the sixth of the 21 or younger group not to allow a run, with his 80 game score ranking 5th (barely besting Bret Saberhagen in 1985’s seventh game) and his .472 WPA ranking 4th (above Whitey Ford in 1950’s fourth game).

Bumgarner’s performance is indeed one of the best among those in his age group. But – and a postseason with as many transcendent pitching performance as 2010 can make us forget this – pitching performances like the one we saw on Sunday night are rare from pitchers of any age. We don’t have to limit the comparisons to other World Series rookies or youngsters to come to the conclusion that Bumgarner pitched remarkably.

The games started by Tommy Hunter and Madison Bumgarner represent the 1,231 and 1,232 pitching starts in World Series history. Only 137 of them have seen a pitcher throw at least eight innings and allow zero earned runs. The number drops to 27 when we restrict ourselves to the modern era (1969-present) and only 13 in the Wild Card era (1993-present). Bumgarner’s game score of 80 ranks tied for 84th all-time. Only 19 pitchers have bested that game score since 1969, and only seven (Roger Clemens, Cliff Lee, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Chris Carpenter, Josh Beckett, and Randy Johnson) have done it since 1993.

There’s no doubt that Bumgarner’s age makes his achievement more impressive, both from the emotional and mental aspect as well as the sheer difficulty of accomplishing something of this degree in one’s first 22 years on this planet. But the greatness of this start goes beyond Bumgarner’s age. Rarely do we see pitchers dominate opposing hitters as Bumgarner did in the World Series, regardless of their age or experience level, and that’s what truly makes Sunday night’s start one for the ages.