Two Days of Madison Bumgarner

In the most recent edition of One Night Only, I previewed a Fresno/Portland Triple-A game that was due to feature, among others, the two most highly rated prospects in the San Francisco Giants system: 23-year-old catcher Buster Posey and 20-year-old lefty Madison Bumgarner.

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Bumgarner’s start — which originally seemed set to take place on Saturday — was pushed back to Sunday. (The same thing happened to Portland’s Josh Geer, so let’s not call the Conspiracy Police quite yet.) As such, I ended up attending both the Saturday night game (i.e. the one I’d previewed) and the Sunday day game (i.e. the one that Bumgarner started).

Posey caught both games and, in nine plate appearances, went 2-for-8 with a walk. Two of those outs were strikeouts. Of his six balls in play, three of them were line drives. In general, he resembled a very good baseball player.

My observations on Bumgarner require more attention, I think — and, as it turns out, attending both games allowed for an interesting portrait of the young prospect.

Below, I’ve broken my analysis of Bumgarner into the two days I saw him, and the two sides of his story — performance and personality — that seem to demand attention.

Sunday
The main concern about Bumgarner, both during the second half of last season and the beginning of this one, has been his velocity. After throwing in the mid-90s as a prep star and in the low minors, Bumgarner — according to Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook — pitched in the 88-90 mph range at Double-A and, per BIS and Pitchf/x data, averaged about 89 mph on his fastball in his 10 Major League innings (one start, three relief appearances).

Having been armed Sunday with a Jugs-brand radar gun — thanks to Bubblegum Baron/Hefty Lefty Rob Nelson and his “connections” — I’m able to announce with some certainty that Bumgarner was a tick or two higher in terms of fastball velocity, pitching in the 89-92 mph range for most of the game.

That’s not to say, however, that his outing was fantastic. Yes, he only allowed a single run on only four hits, but walked as many as he struck out (three of each) and conceded a couple of fly balls that, were they struck by anyone besides Sean Kazmar, might have been more damaging. Moreover, his fastball showed little in terms of movement, nor did his secondary pitches pose much of a challenge to the Portland batting order.

All of this conspired to net Bumgarner a mere five swing-and-misses on the day out of his 99 total pitches. (By comparison, Major League average for starters is somewhere around 8.0 – 8.5%.).

Physically, Bumgarner looks like a talented pitcher. He’s 6-foot-4 with a fluid motion. Also, there are signs from today’s performance that hint at the sort of general athleticism he possesses: not only did Bumgarner pick off two (two!) runners at first, he also fielded at least one bunt with what can only be described as “aplomb,” and even jacked a donger off Portland starter Josh Geer.

Saturday
No, I didn’t see Bumgarner pitch today, but here’s something I did do: sit mere feet away from the young prospect as he charted pitches for teammate Kevin Pucetas, Fresno’s starting pitcher.

And here’s another person who was there, too, sitting right behind Bumgarner: a young lady whom I’m presuming to be Bumgarner’s wife, Ali. (In fact, even if the young woman wasn’t his wife, the following points remain salient.)

Typically, I’d feel absolutely zero compulsion to discuss a player’s personal life. And the reader can rest assured: I’m not about to TMZ the frig outta this. I have no pictures of the couple going to Make Out City or freaking “all up” on each other, nor any reports to file about a domestic “incident” between the two.

Nor would it be necessary at all to invoke the newly wedded couple if it weren’t for the first three paragraphs of a recent article by Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News — three paragraphs that read exactly like this:

SAN DIEGO — Conspiracy theories abound as to why left-hander Madison Bumgarner suddenly became so hittable at Triple-A Fresno.

According to Brian Sabean, there is nothing physically the matter with the 20-year-old. But the Giants’ general manager provided a frank assessment of where things went off track for the heralded prospect.

“It’s this simple: He was preoccupied this winter and it cost him,” Sabean said. “He had personal stuff to straighten out, getting married, and he was ill-prepared to come into spring training. I don’t know how much he threw to get ready.”

It’s peculiar to me — to any reader, I’d imagine — that getting married would be one of the personal things Madison Bumgarner had to “straighten out” this offseason. In the interest of full disclosure, allow me to say that I, myself, got married just this past August. Though my wife despises me and scowls visibly whenever I enter her line of sight, this is almost exactly the way she behaved before we got married. This is indicative of other married couples I know — i.e., that, for whatever else happens after the wedding ceremony, “straightening out” isn’t so much a part of it.

So that’s one thing.

The other thing is this, from another article by Baggarly back on February 20th, discussing the pace at which Bumgarner had moved through the Giants system:

Bumgarner is on the fast track in other areas, too. He and his girlfriend of four years, Ali, got married on Valentine’s Day.

“Oh, yeah, we were ready,” Bumgarner said. “We were very sure.”

Among my peer group — and among my social class, in general — to marry before the age of 25 is akin to personal failure. It’s as if one were admitting, “I have nowhere else to go and realize it. Might as well hand it off to the next generation and hope they do better.” Of course, I say this less to make a blanket statement about marriage and more to suggest that I might not be the person to comment on this. Still, to declare, as a 20-year-old, that one is “very sure” about his marriage — that sounds strange to these ears.

Beyond that, there’s this final consideration: Bumgarner’s half-sister died during spring training. That’s different than getting married, I recognize, but inasmuch as it concerns something called “emotions,” it seems relevant.

This is all sort of speculative, I understand, in terms of guessing what’s “wrong” with Madison Bumgarner. But here’s a larger point that isn’t: no matter how bad Dave Allen wants baseball players to be replaced by human-looking robots, it hasn’t happened yet. The thing we call “make-up” may not matter a ton at the Major League level — if a player has gotten that far, he’s done something right. For prospects, it probably means a bunch more, though. And for 20-year-old prospects, it means more still, I bet.

How does this relate to a site (i.e. FanGraphs) that’s made its reputation on providing white hot statistical analysis? It’s this (I think): the stats are only outputs. They describe what’s happened — sometimes on a more, sometimes on a less, granular level. As for the inputs, those are harder to understand, even with a scouting perspective. Certainly things like arm speed, strength of rotator cuff, and ability to repeat one’s release point — those are all important. But something like choice of mate might be another — not just for Bumgarner, but for any player.

It hurts my brain to think about — that is, the million and one uncontrolled variables that make up a prospect — so I won’t dwell on it. Best, probably, to (a) acknowledge that in these matters, there are both known unknowns and also some unknown unknowns, (b) accept that this is the case, and (c) turn one’s attention to problems of a more solvable nature.




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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.


37 Responses to “Two Days of Madison Bumgarner”

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  1. BobLoblaw says:

    “…a) acknowledge that in these matters, there are both known unknowns and also some unknown unknowns, (b) accept that this is the case, and (c) turn one’s attention to problems of a more solvable nature.”

    Which is exactly why I wonder why I didn’t stop after the Sunday portion of the article, and wish I had.

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    • The Hit Dog says:

      Shh.

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      • BobLoblaw says:

        Looks like my annoyance with the second part of this article pales in comparison to other posters’.

        I normally like Carson’s stuff, and don’t even mind the divergence into his views on marriage. That’s normal for him. But this is more like an RJ article: so self-contradictory that it renders itself pointless.

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  2. maestro876 says:

    Pssh.

    EVERYONE hits homers off Josh Geer.

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  3. DrBGiantsfan says:

    WTF? I read through that whole thing waiting for the bombshell to drop, and…… So he got married in the offseason and and his wife was sitting a row behind him while he charted pitches? I’m still wondering what the POINT was to all this!

    P.S. Do you think attitudes about marriage and when a guy is ready might be different in North Carolina, on average, than say New York or California?

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    • Chaz says:

      I think the editors excised the SKANK paragraph.

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    • Exactly.

      He gave a bull calf to his wife for her birthday, because that is what she wanted. He used his bonus money to buy a 38 acre farm after his wedding. He grew up on a ranch plus co-owns 11 horses with his in-laws. And he has 15 heads of steers as well.

      There are much different standards between rural and urban/suburban cultures, and to make light of that shows a certain lack of sophistication.

      In addition, perhaps you had a much simpler wedding, but some weddings are big affairs that require a lot of time and attention to in order to get through. It is not a matter of “straightening out” but rather of getting through it, is the way I read it. Weddings also typically are pretty stressful for the participants because there typically are issues to take care of, whether it is between themselves or with various family members and friends who have differing ideas on how a wedding should be done. Then there is the honeymoon, where I would hope Madison didn’t spend much time thinking about his conditioning for the upcoming baseball season. Again, not straightening out, but getting through it. Sometimes you need to read between the lines and not take things so literally.

      There is maybe four months of the off-season. I would think that he would have been pre-occupied with the wedding for at least for half that time. Then put on top of that his sister’s death. He would be pretty cold-hearted if he were out preparing for spring training while grieving for his sister, whom he was close to.

      And I don’t understand why 2 flyballs by a weak hitting SS were a big deal. Maybe he felt that he could pitch to this guy like this BECAUSE he was sure the guy couldn’t hit it out. I thought it was pretty common knowledge that pitchers change their strategy based on each batters’ strength and weaknesses.

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  4. t ball says:

    My wife doesn’t sit next to me while I’m working, and if she did it would almost certainly make me less productive, so I can understand why the Giants might feel he’s distracted. OTOH, he hasn’t lost velocity because his wife sits behind him.

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  5. Dave Allen says:

    It doesn’t particularly matter to me whether the robots are human looking or not, as long as they are robots.

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  6. god shammgod says:

    Too long, not funny. Another par.

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  7. 3rd Period Points says:

    The lost velocity could also be caused by unknown gnomes.

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  8. hairball says:

    Pretty asenine thoughts on marriage there, buddy. Stick to baseball.

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    • Ken says:

      First of all, it’s “asinine”. If you’re going to denigrate someone else’s work, at least have the courtesy to make sure the insult is spelled correctly. Secondly, Carson and I probably have similar upbringings because his thoughts on marriage are absolutely correct. My parents would be appalled and my friends would all laugh if I got married without or before graduating college. I go to Harvard Medical School (and no, this isn’t an “I’m from an Ivy League School and therefore better than you” rant) and my friends attend some of the premier schools in the country, and interrupting your path to your future career is just something that’s simply not done.

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  9. buck turgidson says:

    Utter fail for quoting Donald Rumsfeld.

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  10. A non-miss says:

    yea, the marriage talk in this article really led to nothing productive…a possible negative: it wasn’t his wife sitting behind him and now you’ve unnecessarily strained M.B.’s marriage (although, the chance that an article like this would reach his wife’s ears is low). Without any real, valuable insight your comments are just gossip. If only TMZ had space for baseball prospect gossip.

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  11. BN says:

    Can’t believe there wasn’t a shout out to the K leader in the AL … Colby Lewis.

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  12. dustin says:

    I was at the Saturday game, celebrating my 30th birthday. I even caught a foul ball. I gave it to the kid behind me who kept shouting that he should get it because it was his birthday, which was pretty amusing to me.

    What did you think of Posey’s arm? I wasn’t terribly impressed, especially considering he used to pitch.

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  13. Jake Squid says:

    Were you the guy with the radar gun sitting 2 rows in front of me? I thought that was a Giants scout based on the colors he was wearing.

    I came away with a different impression of Bumgarner. For one thing, Bumgarner was consistently 90 – 92 most of the day (as reported by both the stadium sign & the radar gun 2 rows in front of me). After the first 3 innings I turned to my friend and said, “This is too easy. Do you think he’ll ease up on them now that he’s shown what he can do?” And he did. The second time through the lineup he periodically lost the strike zone and, therefore, didn’t look as good.

    Posey made solid contact when he actually took a swing.

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  14. balfourvanvleck says:

    Thanks Carson. I’m a Giants fan so I’m probably going to appreciate this a little more than other readers, but especially liked the bit about his swing-and-miss rate. I say “liked” – more like “found especially dismaying.” But seems like a pretty telling bit of info. On another note, can you comment on how Rohlinger looked at SS? If he looked like anything at all, that is.

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  15. BagOfHammers says:

    I don’t usually post here…but just had to pipe in what a terrible piece of writing this was. Like the previous commenter said, what was the point of letting us know his young wife was sitting near him? I was waiting for the part where she started berating him from the stands, or got herself tossed for public drunkeness. Just because you witnessed this during your time at the game doesn’t mean you should share, being that it adds no value to your article

    I also find it hilarious you share with us a long-winded personal view of marriage (which I’m sure many members of you “peer group” don’t share) that is not only irrelevant, but also completely overshadowed by the off-handed “oh by the way, his sister died during Spring Training” part that *might* qualify to some as a distraction.

    Good to know his velocity is improving though. Thanks for the one parcel of information in an otherwise elaborately wasteful effort.

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  16. 3rd Period Points says:

    I’m pretty sure Carson was utilizing the ole Henny Youngman, “I take my wife everywhere, but she keeps finding her way back” motif.

    Carson, maybe you should include a, “*tap* *tap* Is this thing on?” every so often. Just a thought.

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  17. DRS says:

    I found the article interesting on a level that regardless of how you feel about marriage, there are many areas of life that people outside of Madison’s circle don’t have access too. Who knows mentally what he is going through but it certainly can have an impact on someone that young. That goes for any player on any level.

    Lets cut Carson a break here – he is allowed to comment on his feelings of marriage if he wants too just choose not to read the article if you have a problem with it.

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  18. Stan S. says:

    Stick to baseball. If you’re 25 and you marry your girlfriend of 4 years, it means you matured early and you’re ready to act like an adult, not that you’re admitting failure of some sort. That’s true of baseball stars and regular people as well.

    On the other hand, if you wait until you’re 32 or so, it means that you never did REALLY grow up and you’ve just decided to make babies with whoever will have you.

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    • Summer Anne says:

      I hate to be on the other side of this debate — cause I’m not, really — but, just to be clear, Madison Bumgarner isn’t 25, he’s 20. He married his girlfriend of four years at age 20, meaning they got together when he was 16. That’s somewhat notable in 2010, even in North Carolina, although not as crazy as Carson makes it out to be.

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  19. Bhaakon says:

    Social expectation of married couples aside, I have to wonder why Sabean thought offseason distractions had anything to do with problems that first cropped up n the middle of last summer.

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  20. B says:

    Well, I enjoyed this article at least. I thought it was pretty relevant and funny, and poked fun at what a dickhead Sabean is in subtle ways.

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  21. Jason F says:

    One of the tidbits offered that I liked was the fact that Bumgarner hit one out. When he was in the bigs last season, he looked like he could possibly be a legitimate option off the bench as a pinch hitter. The kid can rake.

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  22. Paul B. says:

    Does anyone with even a vague appreciation for journalistic ethics edit this Web site?

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  23. bradley emden says:

    PABLO is married too. Does not seem to be a negative on his performance.
    It is interesting to see one’s point of view on marriage. In today’s world for most people in the U.S. marriage before age thirty, unless there is some confounding circumstance, should be rare. Rural, Urban, Suburban or otherwise. I have confidence that Bumgarner, will not be another Jerome Williams, Jesse Foppert, K. Ainsworth, Jason Grilli, or Fontenot, Soloman Torres, or Ozzie Fernandez. But will be more in line with, Cain, Lincecum, Sanchez, etc.

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  24. It’s good to hear Madbum hit another one out. In his first MLB at bat he smoked a ball to LF that would have left the yard with a little bit of elevation. He also hit a grand slam at double A last year. Yea I’d like to see that bat on the Giants bench.

    Getting married and having you sister die would qualify as distractions. From the interviews I’ve seen and read he seems like a great guy. He’ll get that second pitch and become an excellent pitcher in the Majors.

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  25. dan says:

    I have to say I LIKED the marriage tangent. For those of you who don’t “get it,” there’s no accounting for taste among baseball geeks.

    The insight on Bumgarner himself was a little unenlightening (I still want to know WHY a 20 year old kid suddenly can’t throw in the mid 90s anymore) and I can tell you it’s NOT because he married his girlfriend. That’s just typical clueless excuse making by Sabean. Either Bumgarner was completely oversold as a propect, or something has gone terribly wrong physically with him.

    It’ll be funny to find out the big names the Giants could have had last season in a Madison trade, but refused, only to find out he can’t pitch in the big leagues. So Sabean era.

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  26. Ronnie Evans says:

    Give the man a break he is an outstanding person who CAN throw a baseball Everytime i have talked with him he talked with me like i was somebody he is a good person and so is his wife THEIR 20 years old just sit back and watch he will show you all what he is made of and if you give a chance he will show you just talk to him and you will see

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