Madison Bumgarner’s Bum Start

Check out this line from Madison Bumgarner’s start last night: 0.1 IP, 9 hits, 8 earned runs, 1 strikeout.

Holy implosions, Batman! Not only did this start cause countless fantasy owners to collapse in grief, it also solidified Bumgarner a spot in the record book; as multiple people have pointed out, Bumgarner became the first starter in the live-ball era to allow nine hits while only recording one out. And here I was, thinking that Vin Mazzaro had already used up this year’s allotment of “historically bad ineffectiveness.”

So in light of this performance, here’s the question I want to tackle: why was Bumgarner so bad last night? Overall, he’s been a great pitcher so far this year — while his ERA is a tad high now (4.00), his 2.90 FIP and 3.47 xFIP both speak to his excellent peripherals. His strikeout rate is slightly up this season and his K/BB ratio is only slightly lower, and he’s managed to generate more swinging strikes while limiting his homeruns allowed. The biggest reason that his ERA is so inflated this season appears to be his .333 BABIP — hitters are simply getting more hits off him, as we saw in dramatic fashion last night.

As Dave Cameron pointed out in a very timely post on BABIP yesterday, there are three main variables that go into influencing a pitcher’s BABIP: good or bad defense, luck, and pitching. While saberists have historically focused on “luck” as the main reason for variations in BABIP, the truth is that all three of these variables are constantly interacting with one another — and not only that, but bad pitching is to blame more than many of us normally admit.

Want a prime example of these interacting factors? Let’s take a play-by-play look at Bumgarner’s start yesterday.

Batter One: In a 1-1 count, Bumgarner leaves a fastball over the plate and Ben Revere rips a hard groundball to short. Miguel “Lead Glove” Tejada can’t come up with the play, and it scoots off his glove for a single. Chalk this one up to poor pitch location and poor defense.

Batter Two: Bumgarner gets ahead 0-2, but then throws a slider that gets too much of the plate. The pitch is ripped down the third base line, a hard grounder that gets by a diving Sandoval. Poor pitch location again, but more defensively-gifted third basemen might have stopped that.

Batter Three: This is just a nice piece of hitting. Bumgarner throws a tough 1-2 curveball to Joe Mauer, but he turns it into a single up the middle. Chalk that one up as “thems the breaks.”

Batter Four: Stop me if this sounds familiar: Bumgarner is ahead 0-2, but then leaves a fastball over the plate and it’s turned into a hard hit grounder past third. I think I’m spotting a theme here.

Batter Five: The Twins are smelling blood, and Delmon Young just turns on the first pitch he gets — a fastball over the middle — and turns it into a single up the middle. At this point, I’m about ready to yell at my computer, “STOP THROWING SO MANY STRIKES!”

I won’t go on any further, as this is already getting incredibly repetitive and the rest of the inning was more of the same; Bumgarner was pounding the zone hard and getting ahead of hitters, but he was then leaving way too many pitches over the plate. There was some bad defense and a couple tough breaks in that inning too, but almost all of the hits against him could be pinned on him throwing way too many easy-to-hit pitches. Especially when you’re ahead in the count and you know that batters are going to be protecting the zone, you simply can’t throw so many pitches down the middle.

I haven’t watched many of Bumgarner’s starts so I can’t speak on if this has been a recurring problem for him, but it’s at least possible that this “pound-the-zone” approach is what’s causing his BABIP to be so high this season. It was certainly the problem last night, and it’s something I’m sure his pitching coach will point out before his next start and they’ll work to correct.

Regression is normally talked about as though it’s some passive process — BABIP rates return to average because, well, just because! — but in almost all cases, it’s not. Bumgarner will likely be better his next time out and allow fewer hits, but not through some magical, mysterious means: it’ll be because he’s made adjustments and stopped throwing so many pitches over the plate. He’s normally a very good pitcher — and I’m sure he’ll continue to be one in the future — but last night he was simply too hittable.

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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

29 Responses to “Madison Bumgarner’s Bum Start”

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  1. hairball says:

    Grant posted a very similar post looking at each hitter over at mccovey chronicles, with the addition of pitch f/x graphics. Looking at locations, it actually looks like Mad Bum was pitching better than people realized, at least for several of the at-bats. Also, according to Grant’s post, the Delmon Young hit was off a slider.

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    • Hm, yeah, looks like it was a slider to Young — it looked like a FB to me, so whoops. Not a whole heck of a lot of movement to it, but I can see it now.

      And I definitely agree that he was pitching a lot better than his final line looks. He got ahead in almost every count and had really nice velocity; it wasn’t until the end of the inning when he seemed to get flustered and pitch kinda “meh”.

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    • It was a 2 seam fastball. His slider is 84-86 MPH. His two seam behaved just like a hanging slider, unfortunately. The 4 seam is 94 MPH, 2 seam 90-91 MPH.

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  2. quincy0191 says:

    Stop throwing strikes?

    Pounding the zone is generally considered a good thing, especially when you have a 94 MPH fastball with a deceptive delivery and decent offspeed stuff. The Twins were lucky as hell last night, and that’s pretty much all that needs to be said. I was at the game, and while there were a few hard-hit liners, most of that inning was groundballs that found holes and a couple fly balls that just eluded outfielders. Nothing was going at a fielder, though the defense certainly wasn’t helping in that regard. Looking at the play log, there were two liners, two flies, and the rest were grounders. That does not scream eight hits. Perhaps the most obvious BABIP lesson was when Mota ended the first one a lineout to 2B that allowed Hall to double up the runner at first. That was hit just as hard as anything else, but right at someone.

    Bumgarner was fine. He had pretty good location, great stuff, he just got really unlucky. I’m more afraid that he’s going to draw the same conclusion you did, and stop throwing so many pitches in the zone because of this, which would hurt his walk and strikeout rates and perhaps do some real, permanent damage.

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    • It’s not so much about throwing too many strikes — it was more about getting too much of the plate with too many pitches (especially once he got ahead in the count). He wasn’t working the corners very well, and left lots of pitches over the middle.

      That was the point I was trying to make, but exaggerated for a tad of humor there.

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    • If by stuff, you mean his curve ball curved and his fastball was fast, then yes. But his two seam just didn’t ‘jump’ and there was zero tilt on his naturally flat curve.

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  3. geo says:

    Bumgarner was actually worse than Mazzaro if you go by ERA. Mazzaro’s ERA for his game was 60.00. Bumgarner’s was 218.18. Wow.

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  4. Jeremiah says:

    It seems to me that the factors controlling BABIP should be amended to add hitting. As you mentioned, Mauer did a good job of hitting a good pitch. Also, regression of the luck portion of BABIP is indeed passive.

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  5. Matt says:

    I’ve watched several of Bumgarner’s starts this year, and he’s been squeezed by the ump more than once. I don’t know anything about the ump in last night’s game, but Kruk and Kuip mentioned he’s one of the best hitters umps in the league.

    My point is, first pitch of the game was a perfectly thrown ball – right on the outside corner at the knees, and it was called a ball. I think that got into his head early and made him think he needed to get more of the plate to get any strikes called and ended up getting TOO much of the plate.

    That’s my theory about this epically bad start.

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  6. Mike Green says:

    If you look at it from a macro level, there does not appear to be anything to see. Bumgarner’s career ERA is 3.38. His career FIP is 3.39. He has given up many more line drives this year than previously, and his BABIP is up.

    It is interesting that Bumgarner’s LOB rate is way off this year. He has been horrid with runners on in 2011, after being very good in this department in 2010 and 2009. Is there anything mechanical going on when he pitches out of the stretch?

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  7. It isn’t a task requiring major insight or statistical interpretation to explain that a ‘strike zone’ pitcher whose curveball is flat with no tilt and fastball movement is gone will get shelled. The degree to which he was is a testimony to his accuracy, in my opinion. If you want another example drawn from performances earlier this season, just look at Baumgarner’s first and second start this year.

    Add that to atrocious defense and a catcher who failed to see the bus looming down on him, and there you go.

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  8. DrBGiantsfan says:

    On the postgame show on CSN Bay Area, Reis and Bip Roberts mentioned that the Twins had watched a whole bunch of videotape on Bumgarner. I tend to believe they either picked up on some very strong trends or else picked up something that tips his pitches. The Twins looked like they knew exactly what was coming and were teeing off with no hesitation that they might be wrong about it.

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  9. AJS says:

    Here’s what I don’t understand from this post, and from Dave’s yesterday: If a fair portion of BABIP can just be chalked up to good or bad pitching, why do we even then believe in the DIPS concept at all? By that logic, a bad pitcher should have a higher BABIP, not just be at the league average of .300.

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    • Bip says:

      DIPS theory relies on looking at stats like BABIP over a longer period of time, like a full season. The post above is talking about factors that affect BABIP in a particular game. I’ll try to explain why I think the effect of those factors on BABIP in one game cannot be extrapolated to have the same effect over the long term.

      The type of bad pitching that leads to inflated BABIP in a game usually isn’t sustainable. If a pitcher consistently leaves pitches over the plate and gets shelled, he’s not going to last. So any pitcher who will see significant time in the bigs will be able to make good pitches enough to avoid getting shelled all the time. This puts an upper bound on the variation in long term BABIP that can be due to bad pitching. At the same time, It’s simply not possible to pitch so well that hitters put the ball in play a lot, but all of those balls are just hit so weakly that they’re all easy outs. Some pitchers can pitch to contact and generate weak contact well, but if you throw strikes, major league players will get hits, and this reality can be seen over the long term. That puts a lower bound on the long term variation of BABIP that is due to pitching.

      So, as you can see, a pitcher’s ability can’t have a very strong effect on BABIP over the long term. Factoring that out, that leaves the effect of defense and luck on BABIP, and both of those things are not within a pitcher’s control, so factoring out BABIP means removing strong factors that aren’t within a pitcher’s control and possibly removing some weak factors that are. For the most part, it works.

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  10. Max says:

    What happened to the rest of the batters?

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  11. TheGrandSlamwich says:

    As a proud owner of Bumgarner in both of my fantasy leagues, please kill me.

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    • Baumgarner will go back to his previous performance, but in case he doesn’t you could shoot yourself next week when he’s pitching the Giants game on the ESPN TV game.

      Meanwhile, buy Greinke, he’s going to scare some folks the last half.

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  12. Ice says:

    Not to be too pedantic, but wasn’t Mazzano’s game ERA only 54.00 ?

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  13. Joe says:

    Honestly, sometimes the result of all this talk results in this community out-smarting itself. If you actually take the time to read through all of the comments as well as Steve’s article, you get THIS theme: BABIP = Luck, Pitch Effectiveness/Location, Defense and Hitting. effin’ stat freaks have their head so far up their behind that they don’t realize their “BABIP Formula” is actually the ENTIRE GAME OF BASEBALL. great job guys! real winners here!

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  14. NEPP says:

    Bumgarner killed my team this week…freaking brutal.

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  15. gdc says:

    If he didn’t get the pitcher out…Lucky this didn’t happen in the AL park with the DH or there might have been no worry about calculating the infinite ERA.

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  16. Tyler says:

    Hope you started Bumgarner tonight.

    “Bumgarner will likely be better his next time out and allow fewer hits, but not through some magical, mysterious means: it’ll be because he’s made adjustments and stopped throwing so many pitches over the plate. He’s normally a very good pitcher — and I’m sure he’ll continue to be one in the future — but last night he was simply too hittable.”

    Nice work Steve. Looks like he made those adjustments! (I didn’t watch the game, though)

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