by Eno Sarris //
Back in July, we took a look at Madison Bumgarner and found some reasons to be suspicious of his early success. As a short recap, here are those reasons in helpful bullet form.
- His velocity was down from the mid-nineties to barely cracking 90 MPH.
- His strikeout rate was below-average (6.75 K/9, average was 7.13 K/9 this year).
- He was getting lucky, with a .266 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and an 82.7% strand rate (numbers that trend to .300 and 70% across baseball).
All of these shortcomings were notable at the time, given his history and velocity. But now we are looking at Madison Bumgarner, World Series Beast. Perhaps it’s time to revisit our initial findings on Bumgarner and see if he should get a revised rating.
First, his velocity. Bumgarner throws across his body, and he’s not a very thick guy, so there were reasons to be worried about a drop in velocity. Sometimes it’s a harbinger of injury. But then Bumgarner went out and improved that velocity all year – it’s now steady at 91 MPH, touching the mid-90s some games. If you look at his fastball velocity chart below, you see there might still be some issues (the bars represent full velocity range for each game), but it also shows that he found some oomph.
Bumgarner rode that improved velocity to an improved strikeout rate, ending the year at 6.97 K/9. Perhaps we focused too heavily on his strikeout rate, however. His walk rate is so low (2.11 BB/9 in 2010, 2.16 career) that his K/BB is well above average. Had he qualified for the ERA title, his 3.31 K/BB would have ranked 15th in baseball – tied with a pretty decent pitcher named Felix Hernandez.
Largely because of this ability to limit walks, Bumgarner’s work stood up even when his luck regressed to the mean. He ended the year with a .322 BABIP, so many more hits fell, and yet he finished the year with an even 3.00 ERA. His strand rate remained high (81.7%), but his FIP (a number on the ERA scale that strips out batted-ball luck and other factors largely beyond a pitcher’s control) was still strong at 3.66.
Upside remains. Bumgarner once struck out double-digit batters per nine innings in the minor leagues, and obviously his postseason performance has shown that he has the ability to punch batters out. Because he can limit walks, it looks like the worst-case scenario has shifted in his favor. Without reaching his upside fully and pushing the strikeout rate further, he may not be the ace that was hoped for him, but we can now be more positive about his future.
For more on Madison Bumgarner and other young pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.