Madison Bumgarner’s Slider is Awfully Impressive

Through just two and half seasons, Madison Bumgarner has already accumulated 11.0 WAR, which is an even more impressive number when you consider that this is just his age-22 season. Bumgarner has followed a breakout 2011 campaign with a season of similar quality, with an increased strikeout rate and decreased walk rate despite a rather large uptick in home runs allowed. Even with the increased home run total – 20 allowed this season compared to 25 in his previous 325.2 innings pitched – he has gotten away from the “hittable” label and has seen his BABIP drop to .265, putting his career mark at a standard .299 mark compared to the rather high .317 prior to this season.

One of Bumgarner’s biggest assets, much like Chris Sale who I covered last week, is an incredibly deceptive delivery. This shouldn’t be news to anyone who has seen him pitch, and if you are reading this post than I imagine there’s a rather high chance you have. But even so, the low arm slot and off-center delivery makes Bumgarner hell on left-handers, as just nine of the 166 lefties he has faced have recorded an extra base hit, putting his wOBA against at a miniscule .249. Teams are rather aware of his dominance against lefties, which is why he has been allowed to face just 166 of them compared to the 593 righties that have stepped up to the plate against the tough lefty. What makes Bumgarner even more impressive is that his delivery has not significantly diminished his value against right-handers either. While he has the delivery similar to Sean Burnett – a dominant reliever with a .326 wOBA against righties – he has still performed quite well against righties this season, and has continually improved against them throughout his career. His wOBA against righties each of the past three seasons is .327, .296, .284.

The main difference between Bugmarner against righties this year and in the past is an increased reliance on his slider – 37% frequency usage against 25% for his career before this year . Last year he threw the pitch roughly 30% of the time, so the increased usage of his slider has correlated with better overall performances against righties throughout his career. There is likely a limit that he is not too far away from that could eventually cause him to receive worse results against hitters of opposite handedness, but he has not tested that level quite yet.

Conventionally the slider would be a pitch that righties should handle decently considering his arm slot and delivery, but what Madison has done a very nice job of is working the back door slider. While he most frequently throws the pitch down and in to righties, he receives a majority of his called strikes against righties on the outer half. His incredible ability to locate the pitch, which is evident by his 72.9% strike right with sliders to right-handed hitters, is one of the main reasons for his success with the pitch. In addition to incredible command of the pitch, he has the sixth highest slider velocity according to PITCHf/x and only David Price has a higher slider velocity of any other left-handed pitcher.

If there is one pitch that is most responsible for Bumgarner developing so rapidly into a top tier starting pitcher, it’s the slider. It will certainly be interesting to see how the Giants continue to push the envelope with the pitch in terms of overall usage. As Eno Sarris wrote last year, pitchers who throw the pitch more than 40% of the time more often succumb to major surgery or injury to their arm than others, so the Giants may opt to keep him at a level close to where he currently sits. A player with such a low walk rate and such a high rate of breaking balls is certainly rare, so it becomes easy to appreciate what Bumgarner has been able to do in his first few years in the majors. He was my pre-season pick for Cy Young and while he fell short of that distinction, he certainly has not disappointed and if he commands his slider as he has this season I see no reason why he will any time soon.

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Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.

14 Responses to “Madison Bumgarner’s Slider is Awfully Impressive”

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  1. Dale says:

    Not sure why it’s mislabeled as a slider.

    It’s a cutter.

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    • Interesting. If I heard correctly, on the Fox Saturday game against the Braves a few weeks ago, Righetti told Tim McCarver that Bumgarner doesn’t throw a 2-seam fastball because he can’t turn his arm over due to the low arm slot he pitches with.

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      • downbythebay says:

        That, and Righetti mentions he doesn’t like SPs to throw 2-seam fastballs – which reverse the the direction of where the pitcher is throwing.

        Basically doesn’t like pitchers having to make balls go the opposite way they deliver they pitch. Concerns about mechanics getting off?

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  2. Kevin says:

    For a guy with such an impressive slider he’s looked pretty unimpressive recently.

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  3. pbjsandwich says:

    Yeah pretty sure a majority of the time it’s a cutter

    that’s why the velocity is so high and why he can place it so well

    He does throw a slider too. But that cutter is ridiculous

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  4. Grammar Police says:

    “Bumgarner has followed a breakout 2011 campaign with a season of similar quality, with an increased strikeout rate and decreased walk rate despite a rather large uptick in home runs allowed.”

    His K% and K/9 have gone this year from last. Check your facts!

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    • Ben Duronio says:

      The post was written over the past three nights, and did not include his start from last night. At that point, his K% was higher than last year’s. I will make note at the bottom of the post that it did not include his latest start against the Rockies.

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    • If it was that close in the first place, you should have said similar strikeout rate and not increased. I find that to be a better practice, plus dating when using stats that might not be valid any longer when posted.

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  5. Jason says:

    I like it when Bumgarner is mentioned among the top pitchers in the league because the dbacks have owned him this year. Nothing better than beating an Ace…they’ve beaten Kershaw twice in a row now too.

    Now if they could just beat the padres…

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  6. Nice article. Madison has been great since becoming a pro.

    Yeah, I would worry about the slider too, look at Sergio Romo, his arm is seemingly always tender and ready to go at any moment, but with a weapon that great, it is hard not to go to it.

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  7. seth says:

    Very nice article. That slider has become just a devastating pitch. He can bounce it and throw it to both corners. I would like to see him throw more fastballs though also just so he keeps his fastball sharp. No matter how good the slider is if you dont have a good fastball its not going to matter. And he has a good one on most nights and i think the velocity of his fastball is usually the difference between a terrific outing and maybe a normal (still strong) outing. I really believe he will be in the running for a CY young in the years ahead. He was on schedule this year but had a couple bumps in the road. But watching him he has just soaked up whatever Matt Cain has been saying and every year he gets better and better.

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  8. channelclemente says:

    Bumgarner’s ups and down seem to relate to whether he gets his cutter down, and can control the inside of the plate to RHB. When he’s up, his cutter don’t cut, when he is knee high, he’s a bat breaking, meat grinder. That would all seem to be release point, IMO. PitchFx does give a little support for the release point issue.

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  9. Paul says:

    Great article but wheres the GIF of this slider?

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