The Change: Officially Worried About Madison Bumgarner

Let’s not get worried about Madison Bumgarner because he walked five guys. He’s done that twice before and one of them was his first start of the season in 2013. That, you can pencil into a guy feeling his way back into his mechanics. That’s fine.

Let’s not get worried about Madison Bumgarner because he gave up two homers. He’s done *that* 23 times. Even the fact that it was Scooter Gennett and Jonathan Villar that homered shouldn’t bother us too much. His last official start was one in which he gave up three homers — one each to Enrique Hernandez, A.J. Ellis, and Justin Ruggiano. So sometimes the bottom half of the league can touch one of baseball’s best.

So let’s not really worry about Madison Bumgarner because of his results yesterday. Let’s worry about Madison Bumgarner because of his process yesterday.

Let’s worry about him because he’s hurt, and he’s pitching like it. He’s admitted to having a neuroma in his landing foot. Neuromas are commonly used to refer to swelling in a nerve, and the feeling is described as a shooting one — let’s worry about the lefty because he’s landing on razor blades every time he throws the ball.

You throw the ball with your hands, not your feet, and in particular, the importance of the back leg is overstated. All that leg has to do is basically get your body moving forward enough to go a long step off the mound, that’s it. Driveline Baseball found no correlation between back foot pressure and velocity or outcomes.

So it’s good news that he’s back foot is hurting. Because it’s the front foot that gives you velocity. “The biggest thing that correlates between the two is the force going into the ground on your glove leg — the better you block the force, the more velocity you get,” Kyle Boddy told me in Seattle.

Either foot, this graph is an eye opener:


Yes, it’s early. Yes, pitchers typically get a tick between now and August. Yes, his max wasn’t too far off his max in the past. But! His max and average were both down when compared to even last year’s early starts. Not surprising, his landing foot hurts.

That foot problem may be spreading and causing problems elsewhere. Before he was hired by the Rays, Josh Kalk found that release point inconsistency late in the game, along with zone rates and velocity, were predictors of injury. We’ve seen the velocity is down, and zone rates are down off his career average, and now there’s this, from


That’s just the last year-plus, but if you zoom out on his career, it’s the worst late game consistency score he’s gotten, ever. It’s a full four times worse than his career average.

Since Kalk left the public sphere, Boddy has found that spin rate change is the easiest way to spot injury early. Thanks to Mike Petriello and’s Statcast, we have Bumgarner’s spin rates last season, and this season. There’s no more good news here.

Madison Bumgarner Spin Rates and Velocity
Pitch 2015 Velo 2015 Spin Rate 2016 Velo 2016 Spin Rate
Two-seam 92.6 2,309 91.2 2,351
Four-seam 92.5 2,301 90.4 2,335
Slider 86.7 1,913 86.6 1,985
Curveball 77.0 2,301 74.2 2,391
Spin Rates from Statcast

The spin rate is up on all of his secondary stuff, which is bad for drop in changeups, but should have given him more drop on the breaking balls.. His stuff was all up yesterday. Hence the homers.

The spin rate is up on the four-seamer, and normally that’s good because it means rise, but here it’s weird. Since Trevor Bauer admitted he’d found no way to manipulate the spin rate on a four-seamer, and I found that the best rise, and therefore the highest four-seam spin rates belonged to over the top guys, what this means is that Bumgarner’s release point is drifting… upwards? Or at least, inwards.

chart (59)chart (58)
Bumgarner’s release points late last season on the left, yesterday on the right.

Yeah, something is wrong. Let’s worry about Madison Bumgarner’s health. He’s told us he’s hurting, and it’s translating into reduced stuff and injury markers on the field. His stuff is soft and up, and that’s not good. It would probably be better for him to sit and get right instead of trying to battle through this on the field. There’s one treatment that can take as little as 15 days, for example. The Giants are probably on top of this, but they may want to consider sitting him as it runs its course. It’s better than messing up the rest of his mechanics or creating another health problem.

[Edit: Got the hurting foot wrong, which lesses the impact of the foot and perhaps heightens the impact of the flu. However, Zack Greinke had the flu yesterday, and here’s his release point consistency below. His velocity was consistent with last year’s April, a little up even.]


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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Eno…didnt he have the flu yesterday? That might explain it.