Madison Bumgarner Beats His Projections

Going into this season, ZiPS projected Madison Bumgarner to have a 3.93 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP built on the back of a 5.84 K/9 and a 2.78 BB/9. It’s safe to say that he outdid those conservative numbers this year. Was this more about improvement or consolidation of talent? In other words, did Bumgarner say the same in the face of regression, or did he take fundamental steps forward this season?

First, let’s examine the role of luck in his season to date. His BABIP is currently .326, which looks high for a starter with a 8.15 K/9 and 46.1% groundball rate. Indeed, using Matt Swartz’s xBABIP for SIERA calculations, he should have a .293 BABIP. He’s stranding 70.9% of his runners and the league’s been stranding 72.4%. This is not some extended run of luck by the standards set by these two stats.

So we are back to our original question. It’s clear that, in at least one area, Bumgarner has taken a step forward. His swinging strike rate this year is 8.8%. That means he’s above average (8.5%) this year after being below-average (7.6%) last year. This is responsible for his leap in strikeout rate from below-average to above-average (6.97 K/9 to 8.15 K/9).

He’s still throwing the same pitches, but the mix is slightly different. The slider has become a center piece, going from 20.9% to 31.9% usage. The changeup has suffered, dropping from 10.3% to 3.2%. It’s a bit surprising, given the fact that his changeup was a better pitch by linear weights pitch types last year (5.2 runs to 0.2 runs above average). Now he uses the pitch almost exclusively against right-handed batters (he’s thrown four against lefties all year), taking advantage of the fact that it’s a platoon-neutral pitch by most research. Maybe his coaches noticed that he gets more whiffs and ground balls from his slider (true over 1500+ pitches in two seasons), or maybe he just personally decided to use his better pitches more.

Other than a consolidation in his pitching mix, there’s been a slight step forward in velocity. Most Pitch F/x tracking systems have his fastball a half MPH faster this year, and his slider almost three MPH faster. Other than his slider getting a little straighter (one-plus inch of horizontal movement less this year), the pitches are moving the same. Obviously, this amount of velocity is not the explanation for his newfound success, but it works hand in hand with the change in pitching mix to help put his new swinging strikes in context.

With a groundball rate that’s a mere percentage point above last year’s number, and an almost identical walk rate, it’s tempting to say that the swinging strikes explain all of his improvement. But we do have to give Bumgarner some credit for fighting off regression. He’s always had great control in the minor leagues (1.9 MiLB BB/9), so maybe that wasn’t so surprising. But he only had above-average ground-ball rates in the minors (45.2% at Triple-A in 2010), and most pitchers would expect to show a worse ground-ball rate in the major leagues. Avoiding regression in that category was a particularly heartening fact for his future.

Madison Bumgarner is ninth in the league in SIERA among qualified starters (eighth in xFIP and fourth in FIP). That’s an elite place to be, and it’s remarkable that he’s done it without being elite in any of the main three factors. He’s 21st in K%, 19th in BB% and 46th in GB%. Put it all together, though, and he’s a well-rounded, and yes, elite pitcher.

And he got there with a little mix of getting better and staying the same.

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

26 Responses to “Madison Bumgarner Beats His Projections”

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  1. elooie says:

    He is also 22 years old. Stud.

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  2. Matt says:

    Well, he’s no Yovani Gallardo.

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  3. Ace says:

    But he’s not a top 50 trade value guy apparently… ;)

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  4. Andrew says:

    Think his ‘slider’ is more a cutter now?

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Yeah, and he calls it a cutter too, so yeah.

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      • Bob B. says:

        Do we need to be concerned that Bumgarner’s Slider% is >31% since throwing a Slider too often is what apparently blew out Brett Anderson’s elbow? Or is Bumgarner really throwing a Cutter and there’s no need for concern?

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        will update the research you’re quoting shortly. and the cutter/slider thing is interesting too. for now, it’s not a prescriptive thing anyway.

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      • pbjsandwich says:

        He has a legit cutter and a slider.

        He was saying in the post game interview yesterday that last year his slider was more of a slurve and wasn’t a really good pitch until recently.

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    • Andrew says:

      The pitch itself definitely looks like a cutter. 87mph (and not like he’s easy 94 on his 4-seamer), limited downward movement but late lateral break. Righties get tied up all the time on inside, belt-high pitches; they’re not going fishing down and in like a Liriano slider.

      I think the question’s more on arm action, and it looks very similar to his 4-seamer, to me, but I’m no professional scout.

      Too bad the Giants are on the road, I’m sure he would’ve come to Gordon Biersch today and we could’ve asked him!

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  5. AK707 says:

    You know you are having a good year when your team won the world series, and you still manage to beat FAN projections from your own team.

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  6. C.J. says:

    Well his projections shouldn’t have mouthed off

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  7. WiersNRAF says:

    I asked about him in the chat today. I was going to pen my own thoughts, but you’ve bested me yet again Mr. Sarris!

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  8. KKC says:

    “The changeup has suffered, dropping from 10.3% to 3.2%. It’s a bit surprising, given the fact that his changeup was a better pitch by linear weights pitch types last year (5.2 runs to 0.2 runs above average).”

    It’s almost as if you believe he’s going to look at linear weights and decide using that how he’s going to pitch..

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Judging from my limited interactions with pitching and hitting coaches, there might not be much results-based analysis going on, so you’re right to point that out. On the other hand, they might take a look at it in a slightly different way (changeups led to HRs or outs or Ks this many times, sliders this many times). If the do anything like that, the numbers would probably look better for the changeup last year.

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  9. tynandaly says:

    And this article doesn’t even take into account his dominant start last night:

    8.1 IP
    7 H
    2 ER

    This brings his K/9 up to 8.42, his K/BB to 4.05, and his FIP all the way down to 2.70… wow.

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  10. Gabriel says:

    He has dominated some very good offensive teams (Reds, Tigers, Phillies, Brewers), and I don’t mean to slight him in any way, because he is a great pitcher and ridiculously young, but he has faced a lot of weak-hitting teams.

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    • teenarcher says:

      so he’s faced some good teams and some bad teams? I’m not sure what you’re getting at here.

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      • Gabriel says:

        Many more bad teams than good teams. Point: I think he is a very good pitcher who looks even better thanks to his matchups. Nothing groundbreaking, or even unique to Bumgarner.

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      • Peter says:

        Apparently, he doesn’t meet Gabrial’s transcendent talent criteria. He just wanted to let everyone know that, I guess.

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      • Bhaakon says:

        Bumgarner’s quality of batters faced AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS:


        NL average:


        Raw numbers can be deceptive, obviously, but they’d have to be extra super deceptive to make Bumgarner’s quality of opponents a black mark against him.

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  11. SF 55 for life says:

    22 year old pitcher putting up these numbers, just incredible. How the hell was he not in the top 50 trade value series?

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  12. Jay says:

    If his one horrible start where he gave up nine hits and eight runs in 0.1 innings in Minnesota is removed, he’d have an ERA of 2.98 and a WHIP of around 1.19. When Giants fans complain, it’s not because we’re not grateful for the championship, but rather because we see firsthand just how badly this phenomenal pitching staff is going to waste. We’re currently dead last in all of MLB in runs scored and second only to the Phillies in runs allowed…

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    • dupontd says:

      I’m happy for the kid, but I’m skeptical. How many awful starts are aberrations, and how many constitute a real worry?

      What about this awful start against Houston:
      6.2IP 11H 6ER 1BB 5K

      And this one against Cincy:
      4.0IP 7H 5ER 3B 4K

      And here’s a fun fact about that Minn start – it was at home. Including that start, his home/road splits are nearly identical, in almost identical IP.

      I do not trust his stuff, I think he’s a major regression candidate simply because if he’s this good, he’s better than Lincecum and Cain, which I find very difficult to believe.

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  13. Reza says:

    He doesn’t have the chance to face the worst lineup in baseball, Gabriel. So there’s that.

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  14. moe fox says:

    21 years old with a world series ring.won last 4 games going to get the big bucks,not bad for a small town country boy

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