Friday, March 12, 2010

On Madison Being a Bum: Not Yet

Many fans, rightfully so, are worried about Madison Bumgarner this spring. He suffered a sharp drop in velocity at the end of last season, and after his second start the other day, he did nothing to dispel the notion that he has lost it for good, throwing in the high 80's again, and not even touching 90 (read Baggarly's account).

Bumgarner happened to be interviewed this morning on the Giants flagship station, KNBR, and Murph asked him about that. Madison is not worried because it is still early spring, but was not happy about his outing, as he felt off. So he and Righetti, who he thinks is a great pitching coach because he knows so much and has given him a lot of good advice so far, watched some film of him throwing and he thinks that there is a slight flaw with his mechanics that is throwing off his results so far and that he'll be better with his next outing. However, I must note that he did not sound absolutely sure that this is the answer to his velocity problem, but was very sure that he can fix this flaw with his mechanics in his next outing.

As I have been noting, I don't think that there is anything to worry about. While he was not worried about his loss of velocity, he did notice when he came up to the majors that major league pitchers don't throw so much in between starts, and he surmised that this probably caused his arm to fatigue, resulting in his slower velocity, although his arm felt like normal to him.

My guess would be that in past off-seasons, he would throw during that time, but since he thought that his arm might be fatigued due to the extra throwing, he might not have thrown as much during this past off-season as he might have in years' past, and thus his throwing motion might be off kilter right now. Remember, he's relatively tall - 6' 4" - and taller guys have a tougher time keeping their mechanics consistent.

We are running out of games, though, to not worry more about it. But for now, I'm willing to drink the kool-aid, the explanations thus far seem logical enough to me, but his next start will be the big test because he will be starting the next game, as he has actually been relieving the past two "starts", paired up with Lincecum because none of the starting pitchers are ready to throw that many innings yet. That could also account for some of his unsteadiness, as he is used to being a starter, and maybe his adrenaline builds up waiting for his time to come into the game.


  1. Martin, I'd like to know what precedents you can think of for pitching prospects who undergo periods of velocity drop. Which got it back? Which lost it forever? Is is sometimes a function of the radar guns at lower levels, and do you think this overvalued MadBum's velocity in his amazing 2008 campaign?

  2. I agree that it's still too early to panic, but the history of Giants pitching prospects with disappointng velocity, Hennessey, Foppert and Williams just to name a few have not turned out well. The difference between a high 80's pitcher and a low 90's pitcher in terms of effectiveness his huge. I use 90 MPH as a benchmark minimum velocity for projecting pithcing success. Not that there aren't pitchers who have success at lower velocity levels, but the liklihood of sustained success goes way down with FB velocities <90 MPH. Bumgarner doesn't exactly fit the profile of a pitcher who is going to beat you with finesse either.

  3. dregarx, that sounds like a great study, but unfortunately, I'm not aware of any database that would have such information.

    From my memory, I would say that typically velocity drop usually portends future physical problems, hence why I have been emphasizing that he has been saying that he has felt no pain and that vets like Krukow says that it is normal for a pitcher to go through a period of dead arm after turning professional. Else I would be scared spitless right now.

    I don't see how, with all the scouts, each with a gun, sitting behind the stands and getting a reading off each pitch, any one gun can get a pitcher's velocity wrong. Plus BA talks to a lot of scouts, and they particularly need to regarding Giants prospects because the Giants are typically tight-lipped about their prospects with BA (which BA have noted and complained about previously). So if they report it, I think that there has been a substantial loss in velocity.

    Plus, I recall reading somewhere recently about someone who took Bumgarner's PITCHf/x data and found that it was plus previously but below average at the end of last season. Those machine sensors have to be pretty good and pretty reliable as there is now a huge database of information.

    DrB, yes, the history of those pitchers have not been good, but I think each for different reasons. Hennessey just wasn't that good. Foppert was good but blew out his arm instead of taking care of it when it was hurting. Sometimes when you keep going until something breaks, it breaks for good. Williams, he just ate his way out of the majors.

    I agree that the effectiveness between a high 80's and low 90's pitcher is huge and I agree with 90 as the tipping point.

    Bumgarner does not profile like a finesse pitcher, but he clearly has some type of movement with his fastball and/or deception with his pitching motion that helps get batters out. Despite his lowered velocity, he was getting major league hitters out relatively easily in September for us.

    I know, small sample plus he didn't do that well in AA. And I'm not saying that he's still an elite prospect if his velocity is down. He definitely is not if he has lost his plus velocity.

    Still, I think that he appears capable of at least being a nice pitcher in the rotation even if his velocity does not return. He appears smart enough with just enough skills to do OK in the majors, which has some value, just not that value we were hoping for giving his #1/2 status over the past two seasons.

    But yes, the likelihood of sustained success goes way down when the fastball velocity goes below 90 MPH, so Bumgarner would not normally be a good bet to do something if he can't improve on his high 80's velocity this spring.

    I would also note that this is still early spring, time for players to work off their rust and bad habits, so I view his velocity now more as a floor that he should be able to rise above sooner or later.

  4. I'm hanging my hopes on it being early spring and the Giants have told him not to overthrow to try to impress us velocity watchers. I'm hoping to see higher velocities later in the spring and early season. If not, then it's panic time.

  5. That sounds like a good plan, DrB, I will follow your advice/plan/hope.

    That reminds me of what Bumgarner said, he mentioned advice Righetti gave him, which was (foggy memory here) something basically like you can't make a team with one pitch, one game, take your time as you have all spring to make the team.

    FWIW, he just had another start and he "sees improvement" and "feeling better each time" but most of the fastballs he threw were in the 88-89 MPH range, according to readings at the stadium's scoreboard.

  6. I have a hard time agreeeing with this statement: "Despite his lowered velocity, he was getting major league hitters out relatively easily in September for us."

    I actually attended his start in September against the Padres, who put up a lineup of hitters that challenged the ineptitude of the Giants hitters. I sat behind home plate and saw hitter after hitter make loud and forceful contact. Many of those balls were hit at defenders, but it would be a huge stretch to say that these outs were easy.

    His fastball was very hittable when he got it up in the zone. He had some success with his slider and fastball when he kept it low, but the lack of a quality third pitch was very evident. Over time, the lack of that quality third pitch would catch up with him in the majors.

    Bottom line is that he is not ready yet. More importantly, if he does not regain his velocity, his status as a plus prospect comes into question. He definitely needs to go back to the minors and work on his craft.

  7. Boof, I appreciate your first hand account of what happened on the field.

    What I was referring to was his 10 strikeouts in 10.0 IP or 9.0 K/9, low BB/9 of 2.7, and high K/BB of 3.33, all very good, albeit in small sampling.

    His BABIP was low, at .250, suggesting some bounce up over time, but over the small AB, that would have amounted to roughly one hit that should have bounced in rather than been an out.

    So from a sabermetric viewpoint, even if it was extremely small samples, he pitched very well, with a lot of margin to get worse on and still be a good pitcher in the majors.

    Now to your point about the Padres lineup, maybe you don't know these guys but these were good prospects. Everth Cabrera had a breakout season, with an OK OBP of .342 and 25 SB out of 33 attempts in 103 games, 377 AB. He was 8th in ROY voting. A-Gon don't need much explanation for. Kouzmanoff is a slugging 3B who hits a heck of a lot better on the road than at home (this game was in SF), acceptably so for 3B. Headley was one of their top prospects, has a career OBP of .340. Oscar Salazar is like one of the typical Beane pickup where Beane takes a journeyman and with his big chance, does well. In any case, his career batting line of .286/.356/.490/.845 belie his journeyman status. Will Venable, son of former Giant Max Venable, had a .763 OPS in 2009 and over a full season, he look like he can hit 20 HR and steal in the teens.

    So you don't think much of their lineup, but they had a number of hitters who can get on base (better than the Giants at least) and hit for power too.

    What you say in your third paragraph is very true of any pitcher. The question is whether Bumgarner can figure out that third quality pitch.

    Ultimately, we stand on the same side of the fence and I agree totally with your last paragraph. I just believe that he has enough that with development, he can be a successful pitcher in the majors.

    The way you described him, he sounds like a terrible prospect. But you don't strike out 10 batters in 10 IP without having something that helps you get batters to swing and mostly miss.

    Any pitcher who gets up in the zone is hittable, whether Bumgarner or whoever. Clearly, he didn't do that very often, his BABIP was low and he struck out a lot of batters, and hence why I wrote that he got them out relatively easily. You don't strike out 10 in 10 IP by accident, you must have something with your pitches that cause hitters to get so many strikeouts.

    But he's not going to learn that third quality pitch here in the majors, so that is why I agree with you that he belongs in the minors and work on that pitch, whichever it happens to be. Lincecum hopefully is giving him some tips on his experiences with the changeup, that seems to be the pitch today that pitchers can pick up and do well with.

    That is why I was for Pucetas and Martinez being considered for the 5th starter spot (and now Wellemeyer). It looks like Pucetas wants it bad, and that the advice that Affeldt gave him helped greatly. Which is fine with me, because he's the one I was rooting for, he's been good up the minor league ladder until last season, but he's still relatively young, and if he can be an acceptable enough 5th starter: 1) Bumgarner can stay in the minors all season and work on improving himself with another pitch plus see if he can get his velocity back; 2) Pucetas would then get to pitch a full season this year and become either another option in the rotation, allowing us to trade another starter, or he could be trade bait himself; 3) Bumgarner could then be a deadly option in the bullpen during the pennant run in September plus the playoffs.

    Pucetas has the chance to be a real nice starter in the majors, but we don't have a lot of opportunity to give him to show that. If he can show it as the 5th starter this year, he becomes a very valuable option for us, from any angle. The more talent we have, the better the team, the better the players we can get back in trade.



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