Imagine the panic if Madison Bumgarner started the season with results from his last six starts. Bumgarner has twelve games started under his belt and over the last half of them, he has put up a 5.54 ERA, resulting in four losses. But these last six starts are kind of a case study in why people got sick of standard 5×5 leagues, because his results and how well he pitched aren’t really inextricable.
Over those miserable six starts, Bumgarner held opposing batters to a .236/.309/.361 slash line, striking out 39 batters over 37.1 innings pitched, good for a 23.7% K rate. In all of 2012, Bumgarner held opposing batters to a .231/.284/.386 slash line, with a strikeout rate of 22.5%. His pitching performance really hasn’t been all that different. His walk rate is a teensy bit elevated lately, his HR/FB rate has been terrible, and his luck basically ran out. Consider that his first six starts reflected a .220 BABIP and his last six have produced .291. This for a guy with a career .296 BABIP.
If you look objectively at his latest run of starts, he’s had two very good starts, two kind of crummy starts, and one stinker. In that one stinker, there were a whole variety of foibles including four Giant errors. And sometimes you throw a ball down the middle of the plate and induce a little squibber and then sometimes you throw a pitch a foot off the plate and the hitter does this:
Freeze frame for reference:
Yeah, Carlos Gonzalez is a fine hitter, and a particularly fine hitter at Coors field, but for most left handed batters, this is a weak grounder to the second baseman. For Bumgarner this day, it was an RBI single, and then this happened:
It might be more notable that Pablo Sandoval appears to actually have a respectable vertical leap, but up to this point, Bumgarner had been throwing pretty well. After this, the wheels fell off. I’m not saying he pitched well this game, but things could have easily gone much better.
I think if you’re an owner, you pay attention to this:
His 2013 stats line up pretty nicely with his career rates. The only thing that’s a bit of an eyesore right now is that walk rate, and that’s actually kind of a hold over from late 2012 where he posted a 7.3% walk rate over his last ten starts. I’d have to bet that he gets that back under control going forward.
Of possible concern, however — and it’s also a hold over from late 2012 is his fastball velocity:
Not only that, but there appears to be a stamina issue with Bumgarner. In his first start of the season, he was up over 94 mph with his fastball. By about his 70th pitch, he’d lost about two mph off of it (courtesy of Brooks Baseball):
Alright, fine. It’s April. You’re still building up arm strength and all that. And at least you’re up around 94-95 occasionally. Here’s his last start in June:
He averaged just a tick over 91 mph with his fastball, and it steadily declined from the first inning. He had a bit of the same issue last season, but it didn’t seem to be quite as pronounced to me.
Bumgarner still has very good stats on the season – 3.46 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and a 24% strikeout rate. Most of his peripheral stats match up pretty well with his career rates and the predictors are all in agreement that this appears to be the same Madison Bumgarner that we’ve seen over the past several years. But color me just a hair concerned about that velocity issue and in-game velocity as well. It’s not that his fastball is even his best pitch, but it’s obviously an indicator of his overall arm strength — and if he’s going to sit around 90-91 instead of 93-94, it’s a heckuva lot easier to sit slider and react to the fastball than it used to be. Monitor his velocity in the coming weeks and try to eschew the recent ERA doldrums for owners and vultures alike.
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