Is It Time to Worry About Madison Bumgarner?

The St. Louis Cardinals have a ferocious offense, capable of putting up runs in bunches against any pitcher in baseball. So, on one hand, the fact that they torched Madison Bumgarner for six runs and chased him from the game in the fourth inning can simply be chalked up to a good opponent. On the other hand, the lousy performance was the continuation of a six week trend, and there are reasons to think that perhaps Bumgarner has worn down over the course of the season.


Split IP BA OBP SLG BB% K% HR/9 BABIP FIP xFIP
Mar/Apr 32 0.225 0.283 0.359 6% 13% 0.84 0.240 4.09 4.30
May 34 0.235 0.271 0.403 4% 21% 1.06 0.275 3.39 3.41
Jun 44.2 0.217 0.259 0.323 5% 26% 0.60 0.280 2.56 2.93
Jul 32 0.217 0.279 0.429 5% 29% 1.69 0.263 4.09 2.80
Aug 39.1 0.208 0.261 0.338 6% 25% 0.92 0.255 3.25 3.42
Sep 26.1 0.299 0.370 0.509 9% 19% 1.03 0.358 4.20 4.16
Oct 8 0.385 0.415 0.667 5% 15% 3.38 0.400 4.06 4.36

For the first four months of the year, Bumgarner mostly posted K/BB ratios of nearly 5/1 and kept his BABIP well below average, which is a pretty lethal combination. In September, though, the strikeout rate went down, the walk rate went up, and his BABIP went over .300, leading to a month of pretty poor results. And, unfortunately for the Giants, October has brought more of the same, only to an even more extreme degree.

By itself, the swing in performance isn’t enough to raise any red flags. We’re dealing with 34 innings and 160 batters faced, so random variation could easily be the cause of the slump. After all, no one’s really concerned about Robinson Cano, and he’s having an even worse October than Bumgarner.

But, in this case, Bumgarner’s results aren’t the only thing that changed since September. Here is Bumgarner’s four-seam fastball velocity by month.

Split FBv
Mar/Apr 90.3
May 90.7
Jun 90.7
Jul 91.1
Aug 91.5
Sep 89.8
Oct 89.6

During the first four months of the season, Bumgarner had two starts — April 17th and June 23rd — where PITCHF/x recorded his average four-seam below 90 mph. Since September 17th, he’s made five starts, and he’s sat below 90 in every single one. Yesterday, the fastest pitch he threw all day was clocked at 91.3 mph – slower than the average fastball he threw in August. This isn’t just a case where he’s varying his speed more, dragging the average down by taking something off on the low-end. He’s simply shifted his velocity range downward, and the top end has gone from 93-94 to 91-92.

Bumgarner’s never been a flame-thrower, and he doesn’t need to throw 94 in order to get people out, but he does need his slider to have some bite to it. Bumgarner’s slider is thrown more often than just about any secondary pitch from any starting pitcher in baseball, and he relies heavily on his slider against hitters from both sides of the plate. In fact, against right-handers, Brooks Baseball suggests he threw his slider just as often as he threw his fastball. That’s extremely unusual for a left-handed pitcher, as the slider has the largest platoon split of any pitch in baseball.

Bumgarner’s slider actually has some cut-fastball tendencies, as it moves horizontally more than it moves vertically, and it’s only four or five ticks slower than his average fastball. Against right-handers, he has learned how to start it over the plate so it looks like a strike, but it ends up on the inside corner or just off the plate, making it a brutal location for opposing batters to make contact with. To illustrate, here’s a heat map of Bumgarner’s slider versus right-handers this year.

And here’s a GIF of what a good Bumgarner slider against a right-handed batter looks like.

That was taken from a start on August 21st where Bumgarner racked up 10 strikeouts in eight shutout innings. When that pitch is well located, Bumgarner is really tough to hit. That month, Brooks’ data says that he threw 197 sliders to right-handed batters and got 37 swinging strikes. In September and October, he’s thrown 196 sliders to right-handed batters and only racked up 19 swinging strikes. Because now he’s throwing sliders like this.

That was the last pitch Bumgarner threw yesterday. It was a flat 87 MPH slider that hung over the middle of the plate, and Carlos Beltran didn’t miss it. That’s not the pitch that Bumgarner wanted to throw, but it’s the kind of slider he’s been throwing too often over the last six weeks. While no one should think that he’s now a true talent .400 BABIP or 3.38 HR/9 guy, he’s also pitching worse than he has all season, and his velocity decline and ineffectiveness of his slider against right-handers are more worrisome than the results.

Of course, Bumgarner has done this before. He famously struggled with diminished velocity at the start of the 2010 season, only to find his stuff against mid-summer before coming up and dominating as a rookie. His April performance this year wasn’t anything to write home about, especially in terms of strikeout rate, and his fastball sat just over 90 then too. In each case, Bumgarner’s stuff has returned, and he’s gone right back to blowing hitters away.

He may very well do that again in his next start. None of this should cause the Giants to give up hope in their young lefty. The greater body of work suggests that he’s a good pitcher who is just going through a slump. That happens.

But, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the slump has come when his fastball velocity decreased and his slider stopped biting. It’s certainly easier to get hitters out when you’re throwing 92 with movement than when you’re sitting at 90 and hanging pitches over the heart of the plate. Whether this will be a continuing issue for the Giants remains to be seen, but they’re going to need the good Madison Bumgarner back in order to win the World Series. Unfortunately, they haven’t seen the good Madison Bumgarner much in the last month.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Mike
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Mike
3 years 11 months ago

You brought up that 10-K game vs. the Dodgers, the game where he pitched his season high 123 pitches. This is the exact same time Bumgarner started to slide. I hope this is just a weird coincidence, but you never know.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest
3 years 11 months ago

Yup, his problems can be traced back to that game and the pitch count is probably significant. Cain has gone into slumps this year after high pitch count games too.

Mike
Guest
Mike
3 years 11 months ago

Is there a way to look at how many sliders he threw in that 123 pitch game? He had 3 119+ pitch games in 2011 (including 2 back-to-back) and seemed to do fine after.

obsessivegiantscompulsive
Guest
3 years 11 months ago

For Cain, in particular, after his perfect game when he went up to so many pitches.

channelclemente
Guest
channelclemente
3 years 11 months ago

I’d agree with you on that Aug 20 game, but the most diagnostic change in his outings have been the change in arm angle. I’d speculate he’s tired or it hurts at the steeper arm angle.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 11 months ago

I didn’t watch the Giants late in the year, but my first reaction to Dave’s post was, “Maybe he’s just tired.”
The comments above from some of the most knowledgeable Giants fans appear to confirm that.
The Giants probably should not cease starting him for the rest of the playoffs though they could replace him with Lincecum. However, they should look at MadBum’s offseason and in-season conditioning and perhaps limit the number of pitches in his starts.
He is, after all, still a very young pitcher–an asset worth protecting.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest
3 years 11 months ago

I think Bummy is done for this year. He started out at 91 MPH in the first inning last night but was sitting at 89 by the 4’th inning and pretty much hanging all his breaking balls. That tells me he is fatigued with no stamina. He might be good for 1 or 2 innings out of the bullpen but that’s it.

Also, it’s probably not a good idea to start a LHP in Game 1 against the Cards who lean heavily RH and kill LH pitching.

MadBum
Guest
MadBum
3 years 11 months ago

“Bumgarner’s never been a flame-thrower, and he doesn’t need to throw 94 in order to get people out, ”

What are you talking about? He came up as a flamethrower. The reason he was drafted was because he was a lefty that threw in the mid-90’s. His velocity was fine back in the day.

GG
Guest
GG
3 years 11 months ago

He has had plenty of success in the major leagues w/o his best velocity. He only had his mid 90’s fastball for his first minor league season.

channelclemente
Guest
channelclemente
3 years 11 months ago

As a starting pitcher with the Giants, his average velocity has been consistently in the 90-92 MPH range. You can count the number of 94+ MPH FB he’s thrown on one hand.

Peter
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Peter
3 years 11 months ago

He came up as a flamethrower? No.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 11 months ago

As other commenters pointed out, he didn’t “come up” as a flamethrower, but he started his career in the minors as a flamethrower.

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
3 years 11 months ago

It’s arm slot and follow through, Krukow has pointed this out in his analysis of Bum’s problems. When you get tired you drop your arm more, less follow through.

Slartibartfast
Guest
Slartibartfast
3 years 11 months ago

You are describing the result, not the cause. It’s likely simple fatigue or soreness, therefore his mechanics and velocity suffer. If it were as simple as “fix two simple mechanical things that you learned when you were 11 years old” then he obviously would not be having these issues.

soladoras
Member
soladoras
3 years 11 months ago

It’s very possible that he’s hurt (or pre-hurt?) and we just don’t know it yet (neither do the Giants) and his mechanical problems are the result of his body trying to compensate for this. I wouldn’t mind shutting him down, to be honest.

Slartibartfast
Guest
Slartibartfast
3 years 11 months ago

This is exactly the type of data that GMs and managers should be monitoring for young (or any) pitchers likes MadBum. It would be mind bottling if they didn’t have this in front of them. Personally, I’d consider putting him in the pen.

Kumar
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Kumar
3 years 11 months ago

Mind. Bottled.

MrKnowNothing
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MrKnowNothing
3 years 11 months ago

Pretty sure when you’re in the NLCS is the last time anyone is ever gonna shut down a pitcher.

Bruce Bochy
Guest
Bruce Bochy
3 years 11 months ago

I think you mean boggled. Don’t worry, he’s shut down for the year because we won’t make it to his next start.

Bhaakon
Guest
Bhaakon
3 years 11 months ago

“Mind bottled” is film reference.

And the NLCS seems like precisely the right time to shut own a pitcher who is ineffective, particularly when he’s left-handed and your opponent crushes south paws. The last thing you want to do is expose the weak underbelly of the rotation to a dangerous opponent at the most critical part of the season. Using Bumgarner in game 1 strikes me as a textbook example of putting a player in a position to fail.

obsessivegiantscompulsive
Guest
3 years 11 months ago

Clearly something is wrong with Bumgarner. It does appear to be related to tiredness, he’s able to pitch well for an inning or two and then all hell breaks loose. As long as he is being judged to be healthy by the training staff, I would just shift him to the bullpen, particularly against the Cards who kills LHP generally, and use him like the Giants had been using Lincecum.

Meanwhile, bring back Lincecum to start game 5, instead. And have a very short leash on Zito in game 4, be ready to bring in middle relief anytime. Or they could even go to a “bullpen” type game, bring in Bumgarner for 2-3, then Lincecum and so on.

rusty
Guest
rusty
3 years 11 months ago

Or as the Rockies call it, an “everyday” type game.

Chicago Mark
Guest
Chicago Mark
3 years 11 months ago

I wouldn’t say he’s injured. Tired…..Yes! What data is there that shows how most pitchers react going beyond their limits? The Verducci effect? How far past his highest innings is he? How many pitchers are at that point? It’s all rhetoric for me cause I don’t know. Anyway, good luck to MadBum. I hope they beat the Cards.
From,
Chicago Mark….A Cub fan

Slartibartfast
Guest
Slartibartfast
3 years 11 months ago

God. The Verducci effect is such fucking garbage. It makes me want to slap Verducci in the face with The Book.

What GMs should do is monitor THE ACTUAL PITCHER’S PERFORMANCE. Is his velocity dropping? In September does his early game pitch velocity have wider gap than late game pitch velocity compared to earlier in the season? (Basically – is he running out of gas more quickly?) Try to assess how he is actually handling the innings workload, instead of slapping retarded blanket, arbitrary rules on all pitchers.

If you couldn’t guess, I am somewhat bitter about the Strasburg shutdown.

But Boras still gets paid!

evil kevin towers
Guest
evil kevin towers
3 years 11 months ago

#freetimmy

TX Ball Scout
Guest
TX Ball Scout
3 years 11 months ago

Train-wreck mechanics.

Taking the ball all the way back to third base… truly a nightmare.

Orange&Black
Guest
Orange&Black
3 years 11 months ago

That means nothing. I can point out countless number of pitchers with “train-wreck” mechanics. They mean little to success. He’s fatigued.

McDreamyMatheny
Guest
McDreamyMatheny
3 years 11 months ago

What are the odds MadBum will be able to avoid T-John in the next few years throwing that many sliders? Loved the kid this year, but scared to own him on any fantasy teams in the near future.

tycobblive
Guest
3 years 11 months ago

There’s plenty tougher pitchers who throw with less velocity. Location, Location, Location. And toughness!! Get him outta there before he costs the midgets there chance at a world series. You could see in his last start he was throwing lolipops. Give me a coke and some goobers and a file for my spikes!!!!

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