Madison Bumgarner’s Most Impressive At-Bat of the First Half

Madison Kyle Bumgarner plays pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. At 52-43, the Giants have the sixth-best record in baseball. Madison the pitcher has +0.8 WAR as a hitter. That means a pitcher has been the seventh-most valuable hitter on a playoff-caliber team. Most major league pitchers make very poor major league hitters. This hasn’t applied to pretty much any of the San Francisco Giants starters, but especially to Madison Kyle Bumgarner.

Bumgarner’s slash line through the first half of the 2014 season is .275/.302/.550. That gives him matching wRC+ and OPS+ totals of 140. Thanks to the great Dan Szymborski, I can tell you that his ZiPS end-of-season-projection includes a 107 OPS+. That is to say, even if he goes back to hitting like a pitcher in the second half, it is more likely than not that Madison Bumgarner will finish the season with above-league average hitting numbers. There are many actual major league hitters that won’t finish the season with above-league average hitting numbers.

A full season of 30+ starts will generally yield at least 60 plate appearances for a National League pitcher. If Bumgarner does indeed finish the season with an OPS+ north of 100, it will be just the 16th full season from the last 30 years of a pitcher posting an above-league average OPS. One of those seasons was from Micah Owings, who used to be a pitcher and is now a hitter. Another one was from Brooks Kieschnick, who was a pitcher and a hitter and a left fielder all at the same time. Three of them were from Mike Hampton. So, really, Bumgarner would be just the 12th different true pitcher to do it in the last 30 years.

Another thing: Bumgarner has hit two grand slams this year. The only other members of that club are Nelson Cruz, Brandon Moss, Chris Carter, Ike Davis and Devin Mesoraco. The club of pitchers hitting two grand slams in one season is an even smaller club. That club consists of Madison Bumgarner and Tony Cloninger. Clonginger started the club in 1966. He hit them both in the same game.

You could probably argue that either of the grand slams are Bumgarner’s most impressive at-bat of the first half. They did make history, after all. But those grand slams both came on the first pitch. Pitchers, almost universally, get thrown fastballs for strikes on the first pitch. Bumgarner got two fastballs, both right down the middle. There are a lot of guys who can hit fastballs down the middle out of a stadium if they know it’s coming. Bumgarner’s both came in huge spots, yes, but I’d like to see more to be truly impressed by a pitcher at the plate. I want to see him really piece together a quality at-bat. I want to see him make the opposing pitcher work. I want to see him look like a professional hitter. I want to not be able to tell the difference.

Setting: June 10, San Francisco, bottom of the third inning, one out, nobody on, facing Doug Fister:

0-0

bum1

Let’s say somebody dug a big ol’ hole, like, 10 years ago. Once they stopped digging, they hopped inside and were able to make do for a decade, totally losing track of what was happening in the MLB or really anywhere at all outside of the hole. I don’t know why they shunned themselves to holedom. Maybe it was an oddly specific punishment or maybe they’re just a lunatic. But let’s say after 10 years of the hole, this was the first pitch of the first at-bat they saw. If hole-man had to guess what position Madison Bumgarner played, based on this pitch and this pitch alone, I can say with supreme confidence the hole-man would not guess pitcher. Because first, hole-man would likely be disoriented and wouldn’t want to play your stupid game. But also, that just does not look like a pitcher’s swing. He turned on a major league fastball and barreled it. Also also, he swung at the first pitch. On average, pitchers swing at the first pitch just 29% of the time. Bumgarner swings at the first pitch 45% of the time. The only pitchers that swing at the first pitch more often than Madison Bumgarner are Jeff Samardzija and Tyson Ross.

0-1

bum2

Down 0-1 in the count, Bumgarner swings away again, and again he fouls it off. Bumgarner has hit the third-most foul balls of any pitcher in baseball this season. Bumgarner is now down 0-2 in the count. Which isn’t uncommon for a pitcher. But the way he’s gotten there is uncommon. Usually a pitcher that’s down 0-2 just took two fastballs right down the middle or failed at bunting. Bumgarner is up there taking hacks against a good pitcher in Doug Fister.

0-2

bum3

Obviously, this is an easy take, because the ball almost went to the backstop after slipping out of Fister’s hand. But this pitch still says something. Pitchers see more strikes in 0-2 counts than any other batter, because the pitcher on the mound just isn’t that worried about any real damage being done. Fister wasn’t trying to nearly throw a wild pitch, of course, but it sure doesn’t look like he was trying to throw a strike, either. Rather than attack Bumgarner like he probably would to most pitchers, Fister didn’t look like he wanted to give him anything to hit. Three pitches in and still no real way for hole-man to discern that this is a pitcher at the plate.

1-2

bum4

This is a really impressive take by Bumgarner. Fister pretty much throws a perfect two-strike fastball, elevated on the outside corner, and Bumgarner is able to lay off. When you dig into some plate discipline numbers for pitchers, you find a lot of wacky things. You find guys that swing way more often than actual hitters. You find guys that barely swing at all. You find guys have a higher O-Swing% than Z-Swing%. You find plate discipline numbers that don’t look anything like normal plate discipline numbers, because most pitchers don’t really have plate discipline.

Look at Madison Bumgarner’s plate discipline numbers and you can’t really tell the difference. Madison Bumgarner swings at pitches outside the strike zone 30% of the time. League average is 30%. Madison Bumgarner swings at pitches inside of the strike zone 67% of the time. League average is 63%. Madison Bumgarner’s approach resembles that of an MLB hitter. Based on that fact, or that 1-2 take, our hole-man is still left in the dark.

2-2

bum5

This is the first of Bumgarner’s three swings that looks a little pitcher-like, but there’s something else to this. Neither of Bumgarner’s first two swings came with two strikes. This one did. Most hitters change their approach with two strikes, going into “protect mode,” where they try to foul off close pitches until they get one they like. Most pitchers have but one swing: the try-to-make-contact-at-all-costs swing. Bumgarner came up to the plate trying to do damage, and now he’s spoiling pitches with two strikes. Bumgarner is adjusting at the plate, mid-at-bat. Pitchers don’t really do that. Hitters do. Hole-man is probably guessing Bumgarner plays third base right now.

2-2

bum6

A breaking ball! The first six pitches Fister threw were fastballs, which might be the only indication to hole-man that Bumgarner could be a pitcher. Bumgarner had made contact on all three fastballs at which he offered, so on a 2-2 count, Fister tries to flip a slider past him. Bumgarner wisely lays off, working the count full after getting down 0-2.

3-2

bum7

Finally, on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Fister has to groove a 3-2 fastball to Bumgarner and he turns on it, roping a single into left field. Professional at-bat concluded. No obvious clues to hole-man that Bumgarner is a pitcher and not an actual hitter.

Fister came back with a fastball after trying to get Bumgarner to chase a slider. Maybe he should have stuck with the breaking stuff. Four of Bumgarner’s five extra base hits, including all three of his home runs, have come against fastballs this season. That makes perfect sense, as pitchers just get pounded with fastballs. But here’s something interesting to consider:

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 3.52.47 AM

By god, pitchers are actually adjusting to Madison Bumgarner at the plate! At the beginning of the season, Bumgarner was seeing fastballs 80% of the time. Not uncommon for a pitcher. Now, Bumgarner sees fastballs just a little more than half the time.

Most of the time, a pitcher at the plate is essentially a free out for the opposing team. The pitcher on the mound can just throw a couple of fastballs, take a little off and get an easy out, not having to worry about much until the next batter. Bumgarner, on the other hand, is working full counts, making guys adjust and hitting grand slams. There’s something to be said about making an opposing pitcher actually work through a spot in the order he usually doesn’t have to worry about. Most pitchers have to worry about eight batters when pitching in a National League park. When Madison Kyle Bumgarner is in the lineup, they’ve had to worry about nine.




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August covers the Cleveland Indians and their Double-A affiliate, the Akron RubberDucks, for the Akron Beacon Journal and ohio.com. He tweets often about the Indians, assorted nerdy baseball things and also other stuff, too. He'd like it if you followed him on Twitter @AugustF_ABJ, but you don't have to.


19 Responses to “Madison Bumgarner’s Most Impressive At-Bat of the First Half”

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  1. Hole-Man says:

    Really dug the article.

    +36 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. LHPSU says:

    “Madison the pitcher has +0.8 WAR as a hitter. That means a pitcher has been the seventh-most valuable hitter on a playoff-caliber team.”

    Isn’t that in comparison to other pitchers only? This statement feels misleading.

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    • MDL says:

      No, it means Bumgarner has been the 7th most valuable hitter on the Giants this year. link

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      • MDL says:

        Actually, I wonder how much of that WAR number is just from fielding the ball as a pitcher.

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        • John Stamos says:

          I would say the majority of the value comes from hitting as a pitcher in the positional adjustment.

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        • asdf says:

          4.9 runs comes from defense… which is usually like .5 wins

          The last fraction of a win comes from the fact that he’s hitting 40% above league average (ALLL hitters.. not just pitchers).

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    • BenRevereDoesSteroids says:

      I was going to post something about that. The dude has generated 7 wRC on the season. It is a pretty huge freaking stretch to say that a guy how has 7 wRC and 47 PA is a team’s most valuable batter.

      As MDL and John Stamos have said, I’m pretty sure that most of that is from defense and positional adjustment. Considering that 1 WAR is suppose to be about 9.5 runs, I am almost positve that it is the ONLY way. So its more like “That means a pitcher has been the seventh-most valuable player by the measures that we typically measure position players on a playoff-caliber team.”

      But then again, I have to wonder whether or not positional adjustments for pitchers are a case of things ceasing to make sense at extremes.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      4.9 of Bumgarner’s 7.7 runs-above-replacement are solely due to positional adjustment.

      But if you want to look at things without giving him credit for being a pitcher, his +2.1 batting-runs-above-average still ranks 8th on the Giants.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=0&type=6&season=2014&month=0&season1=2014&ind=0&team=30&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=2,d

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      • Andy says:

        Much of his WAR has to be defense or positional, because his total WAR/PA is higher than any positional player’s, including Trout, and by a fairly substantial margin. His slash line is very good, but it’s certainly not better than Trout’s or some other players.

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  3. Awesome that Bumgarner is getting recognition for his hitting. He’s known for blasting homers in BP and some in the local media half-jokingly suggested that he would be good for the home run derby. He’s been bragging about his hitting for a while now, but this is the first season he’s actually hit well, though he did hit 2 homers two seasons ago.

    Looking at his numbers, it looks a little like 2014 is the regression to the mean to the good side while 2013 was regressive to the bad side, evening out to his 2012 batting line, which is still not that good, lower than replacement level, but still pretty good for a pitcher. In the last three seasons, he has 5 homers in 164 AB, 33 AB/HR, which would be a 20 homer season for a full-time starting position player.

    Though I wonder if the Giants might be emphasizing hitting this season. For one, Hudson is well known for being a hitting pitcher, and he and Bumgarner has been good buddies (both being Southerners from the same region helped the bonding probably), so maybe his competitive streak is coming out For another, Lincecum has been exactly that horrible hitting pitcher that you wrote about all his career, but this season, he has actually seemed like he knows what he’s doing up at the plate, and like the AB you described above for Bumgarner, Lincecum recently had one that was 10-11 pitches long, he worked that pitcher hard, and he had two hits in his no-hitter, something he was rightfully proud of.

    I studied the Pythagorean consequences of a pitcher hitting more like the worse starting position player, in the mid-600 OPS range, and found that for an average pitcher on an average team, a .500 15-15 season would change to a 16-14 season, switching one loss to a win for the team (roughly, since many get 33 starts; I used the lineup calculator to calc the improvement in runs scored due to this increase). For a 81-81 team, getting all their hitters to hit mid-600 would change them to a 86-76 team, not that far from playoff contention.

    Why more teams don’t work with their pitchers’ hitting, given this, is a mystery to me, particularly since many pitchers were often their team’s beat hitters while growing up. It’s a free win or two or three and probably with very little change to what they are doing with their pitchers anyway. I know hitting in the majors is hard, but the pitcher, again, is often the best hitter on amateur teams, the potential should be there given enough practice and coaching.

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    • Phantom Stranger says:

      For all of Hudson’s success hitting in college, he has been a terrible pro hitter. He did play in the AL in his early pro years so he has an excuse but his pro swing doesn’t look much different than the guys that had never hit above high school.

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    • Andy says:

      “For a 81-81 team, getting all their hitters to hit mid-600 would change them to a 86-76 team, not that far from playoff contention.”

      I think you mean :getting all their pitchers to…”

      Five wins is a lot, it’s the difference between replacement and all-star, or average and MVP candidate for one player.
      :

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  4. MrKnowNothing says:

    Love the article.

    Buuuut: your parents hate you, don’t they? Only explanation for that name.

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  5. Tony says:

    Great article. I had a question if it is it common for a left handed thrower to bat right, but looking online, that’s pretty rare indeed!

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  6. atoms says:

    Zack Greinke had a 132 wRC+ over the entire season last year. His triple slash wad .328/.409/.379.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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