Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Bumgarner Being Bad: So Bad That He's Good

Given the sad state of the series with SD, I thought I would write on Madison Bumgarner. What a great start! Too bad the bullpen could not hold the lead for him, that would have been a great story, top prospect comes up, replaces Lincecum and the Giants don't skip a step.

Still, he had a nice line, not sure why they took him out but it appeared to be pitch count because he was taken out in the middle of an inning with 76 pitches thrown (48 for strikes): 5.1 IP, 5 hits, 2 ER/R, 1 BB, 4 K, 2 HR. One less HR or 2 more outs, and he would have had a nice DOM start to start out his career. And the HR were aberations because he didn't give up that many in the minors.

Worrisome K-rate

Now, one of the worries of this season is that his K/9 went down greatly in AA - 5.8 K/9 - when he was much higher previously. There was also a noticeable drop in velocity, as he was easily in the mid-90's last season and early this season but in the last month or two, it was more in the high 80's. Could it be arm problems? Something else physical? Or is it just a dead arm?

Nothing to Worry

Baseball America's John Manuel wrote about Bumgarner at their website. First he covered how good Bumgarner has been as a pro:

...Bumgarner has been the best pitcher in the minor leagues the last two seasons—and it’s really not close. The lefthander is 27-5, 1.65 over 273 innings in 2008-2009, with 107 innings coming this year at Double-A Connecticut. Bumgarner has a sterling 256-to-55 strikeout-to-walk ratio overall and gave up just nine home runs in the minors, though he allowed a pair in his debut last night.

He also quoted one scout extensively, and I highlighted a lot of good information:

One scout, who also saw Bumgarner as an amateur at South Caldwell High in Hudson, N.C., said Bumgarner didn’t quite have the arm and hand speed now that he saw back in 2007, when the Giants took the lefthander the 10th overall selection. He also didn’t think the decrease in velocity was anything to worry about, not yet anyway.

"He threw a lot of 87s and 88s when I saw him and touched some 90s, but he still really pitched off the fastball," the scout said. "It was almost more encouraging to see him pitch that well using pitchability rather than just getting by on pure, raw stuff.

"I wouldn’t say he’s got a dead arm period, but I think it’s just the natural period that all young pitchers go through in their first or second year, when they lose a little arm speed (and) have to pitch through some fatigue."

This scout attributed Bumgarner’s success to his ability to create difficult angles for the hitter, command the fastball and maintain the pitch’s excellent late life. He said he’d still grade out Bumgarner’s fastball as above-average, even with velocity that was just average.

"He uses the fastball so well, and he’s got some deception," the scout said. "He throws a little across his body but not terribly, and he’s got that life and command. The thing is, so many young pitchers get exposed at upper levels because they don’t know how to pitch off the fastball. And when hitters don’t chase their secondary stuff when it’s out of the zone, they often don’t know how to pitch off the fastball. Or you’ll see that their fastball is really true and doesn’t have good enough life, or they don’t command it.

"He does those things already. He knows how to pitch off the fastball. We’ve seen him pitch at 93-94 miles per hour when he’s at his best, and I’ve seen him have a plus breaking ball when he stays on top of it, though it was inconsistent when he was an amateur. I didn’t see a great breaking ball when I saw him this year. But he still pitched very well because of the quality of that fastball, and I think we’ll see that electricity come back."

However, Manuel ends on a down note:

Bumgarner may turn out to be a major test of just how successful a starting pitcher can be working off one plus pitch, provided that pitch is the fastball. He’ll have to maintain the premium life and command the pitch exhibits while getting back to his old velocity to be a front-line starter. No matter how he develops, he’s unlikely to match the dominant numbers he posted as a minor leaguer.
Giants Thoughts

A good start shadowed by lowered velocity that tempers expectations. I think the Giants did the right thing to bring him up. We had to see how he would do with his lower velocity, in order to gauge what we got should his arm not return. Had the Giants not been in contention, I think he could have been brought up already, though not necessarily to start the whole month, because at some point you have to wonder why his arm is like this.

Given the stunning speed with which he was brought up, I think the Giants already had this in mind. They were probably prepared to bring him up should we fall out of contention, so when Lincecum had this little emergency, they were able to turn it around on a dime. However, they could not publicly acknowledge that possibility previously because then it would put doubt in the minds of the major league players that we might not stay in contention, as if management were not confident in our team.

I'm not worried about his health as it sounds like his arm is not in pain, and thus his arm should recover as it appears to be just how a young body reacts to the stress of his first two professional seasons. But you never really know until his arm recovers and we see him in spring training. So he probably would have gotten 1 or 2 starts before being sat down, just to see how he would do against major league hitters with his lesser velocity, should this be a permanent condition.

The scout provided a lot of great information and perspective. He noted how young pitchers naturally hit a spot in their first or second year where they lose arm speed. Even better, he would still grade Bumgarner's fastball as above-average, even with just average velocity. That's because he has a fastball that got life and his command is so good. (FYI: a fastball that has "life" - which is also called "stuff" - has movement to it as it comes in to the hitter, making it that much harder for the hitter to hit it.)

More importantly, despite his youth, he knows how to pitch off the fastball, which most pitchers don't learn until much later (or never learn). What we saw in this game is how he is when he is not at his best, when his velocity is down significantly. What is missing is a consistently good breaking ball (or two) that would give him the whole package.

The more I think about, the more I'm sure that Bumgarner will end up in AAA for 2010 and will probably stay there until he is able to consistently throw a breaking pitch well. He would be as good as Lincecum (or better) if he is able to do that. In addition, we don't really need him in the rotation for 2010. If Penny is willing to come back for a one year contract, I think that would be a great alternative. Even a two year contract is fine, as he could then be traded (or Sanchez) to get another hitter (or even Cain, as our contract with him ends in 2011, though I expect the Giants to sign him to an extension within the next year).

That would give us more years of Bumgarner after our control of Lincecum currrently ends, which is 2013 at the moment. Hopefully we can sign Lincecum into his free agent years, and right now, I think both sides will want that, but if for whatever reason we can't, then at least we try to develop Bumgarner so that he can reach his top potential, given his poise, expertise, and lively fastball.

Looking over Manuel's comments again, it isn't as negative as I originally read it as. Of course he's unlikely to match the dominant numbers he posted as a minor leaguer. Even Lincecum has not matched the dominant numbers he posted as a minor leaguer, and Lincecum has been heads and shoulders beyond what one could have expected. And of course he needs his old velocity to be a front-line starter. What's good is that we know that he's probably still good even if his velocity doesn't return.

Final note: to clear a spot for Bumgarner, the Giants DFAed Osiris Matos. RHP Matos, 25, has been very good all through the minors but has disappointed in the majors. He was considered future closer material by some analysts, so this was very surprising to me, though I wondered if his poorer results this year would put him on the edge.

Is Bocock that valuable that another team would pick him up? I'm sure some team is going to pick up Matos. I can only end by noting that the Giants must see a serious flaw in him that would prevent him from succeeding in the majors, else, I don't see why they released him over Bocock. Very perplexing, for even if Waldis Joaquin has risen above Matos on the organization's depth chart, a closer-like reliever is still valuable.

The long and winding road....
Let it be...


  1. I also read somewhere that Bumgarner may have lost some velocity because the organization wanted him to concentrate on his secondary stuff so much. I don't know. Either way you could tell he knew what he was doing. He had 10 groundballs. It's nice to know he can still be effective even if he's not blowing people away.o potentially let Matos get away. Bocock will never be a decent major leaguer. Why continue to hold on to him?
    I think it was a mistake t

  2. Wow. It was supposed to say that I think it was a mistake to DFA Matos. Oh well.

  3. I think Bumgarner did alright - your first major league start has to be a trippy thing. He didn't get bombed, so I count that as a success.

    I'm all for Penny next year - only because I'm not 100% confident in Zito or Sanchez. And a fifth starter has to come from somewhere. He'll come cheap, what could it hurt?

    So, any wild speculation of what high-priced outfielder is going to get signed this winter? Seems inevitable (and true to form)to me.

  4. He did alright, but the loss in velocity has to be worrisome.

    But I do consider the start a huge success, sorry if I didn't make that clear.

    I don't know that Penny will come cheap, but cheaper certainly.

    OF available include Jason Bay, Matt Holliday, Wily Mo Pena, Rick Ankiel, Rocco Baldelli, Xavier Nady. Holliday will be too expensive; Boras will make sure of that. Bay or Ankiel perhaps, though Nady might be a cheaper pickup.



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