Monday, January 24, 2011

Your 2011 Giants: Madison Bumgarner

Because of all the talk about the Giants having a fluke season, I thought I would tackle some of the key figures in that talk.  One of them is Madison Bumgarner.  Now one might think that he would not be someone that would be considered a fluke, but it is not every prospect who can deliver a 3.00 ERA in his first season and not be considered a fluke to some extent, even one as highly touted as Bumgarner.

One key thing that some people are overlooking, in that regard, is that Bumgarner does not need to duplicate his ERA of 2010 for there to be an improvement of the 2011 Giants over the 2010 Giants.  In 2010, he pitched the majority of the starts in the #5 slot, but Todd Wellemeyer and Joe Martinez did too.  Together, the three of them combined had a collective 4.01 ERA with a 1.38 WHIP and 2.07 K/BB.  And, FYI, that was a huge improvement over the collective 4.61 ERA with 1.36 WHIP and 2.03 K/BB in 2009 with Randy Johnson, Brad Penny, Joe Martinez, and Ryan "The Big" Sadowski in that #5 slot, which helped the team greatly in adding wins.

So the key to 2011, in terms of the #5 slot is for Bumgarner to be better than the 4.01 ERA delivered in 2010.  Based on the major projections I have found, it looks very probable, and perhaps a great improvement:

Projection - ERA - WHIP - K/BB
Forecaster - 3.47 - 1.25 - 2.82
Bill James - 3.54 - 1.29 - 2.69
Dan's ZiPS - 3.93 - 1.32 - 2.10

Personally, I have liked Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster's projections, as they take age and only AA/AAA stats into consideration for projections.  They noted in their comments:  there is "4 things they like in young SP:  Elite CTL & Command; still emerging DOM; GB bias; and no signs of 2nd half fade:  sign them up."  That means elite walk rate (or CTL), elite K/BB (or Command), emerging strikeout rate (or DOM), and groundball bias.

And their MLE's for Bumgarner shows his AA stats in 2009 resulting in a 2.32 ERA and his AAA stats in 2010 resulting in a 3.09 ERA, both right in line with his 3.00 ERA in 2010 in the majors.  That would suggest that his skill level is in the 3.00 ERA and below range, based on two years of performances so far, numbers which are skewed to be worse because his mechanics were out of whack so long that his fastball velocity was much reduced and he wasn't able to strike out as many as he normally would, in late 2009 and early 2010.

Baseball Forecaster also has a table showing what the average ERA is for pitchers in a certain Command range (i.e. K/BB).  At 3.31 last season, Bumgarner is in the best segment, 3.1 and over, and the average ERA for this group has consistently been good.  From 2005-2009, average ERA range was 3.35 to 3.49.  In 2010, it was 3.25.  Even given the projections above, with average 2.54, that puts him roughly in the high 3 ERA range, which will be at minimum a slight improvement over 2010's collective.

And this is especially so for those pitchers with K-rate of over 5.5 K/9, which Bumgarner should easily do.  In another table, it shows that for pitchers with 3.1 and over, 53% of them had an ERA below 3.50, while only 5% had above 4.50 ERA.  Even at the K/BB projected, they collectively have an ERA below 4 half the time.

So yes, while it might be folly to expect 3.00 ERA from Bumgarner, at least until he proves he can do it again, that is not the point:  the point is whether he's an improvement over the 2010 #5 starter.  And as noted above for the composite #5 starter for 2010, he looks probable for beating 4.01 ERA, and perhaps easily.  Quoting Baseball Forecaster:  "Pitchers who maintain a command of more than 2.5 have a high probability of long-term success."  And if he can maintain a K/BB of over 3 plus get a lot of groundballs, he will be up there with Lincecum and other greats in terms of success as a starting pitcher.  Expecting something in the mid-3 ERA looks very doable and would be great to get, and given his MLE performances in 2009-10, it is not outrageous to hope that he will be able to duplicate his 3.00 ERA:  just don't count on it and all will be fine.

Now, another concern is regarding the number of innings he pitched in 2010.  He threw roughly 73 more IP in 2010 than he did in 2008 and 2009, and the current theory about making leaps like that with young (under 25 YO) pitchers is that you don't jump more than 25-30 IP per season.  (Krukow often mentions this in broadcasts and some SI writer - still mad at them for Bonds vendetta - made his name with his theory, writing about this every year).  Doing that risks injuring the pitcher, particularly young pitchers, and particularly one as young as Bumgarner.

One factor mitigating that is that Bumgarner changed his between starts habit in 2010 vs. 2008-9.  When he was brought up to the majors in late 2009, he was asked about his reduced velocity and he blamed it on the number of pitches he was throwing in-between starts compared with what the MLB pitchers were throwing.  He "marvelled" at how little pitchers threw in between starts in the majors.

I queried Eric Surkamp, one of the Giants top pitching prospects, on how many pitches he thew in-between, and he tweeted that he threw 40 pitches in the bullpen session in-between starts, which I would gauge as what most pitchers do.

To marvel, I would guess that Bumgarner might have been throwing up to 80-100 pitches in the bullpen - basically as much as he would during the game.  Given that he had 25 starts in 2009, he threw anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 extra pitches in 2009 that he would not have done in 2010 because he threw less in between starts.  At roughly 100 pitches per game, that is roughly 10-15 games, and at 6.2 IP/game, that is roughly an extra 60-90 IP that was not accounted for in 2009 in terms of his workload, the underbelly of the iceberg.

So that 73 extra IP in 2010 now looks like roughly the same workload as he did in 2010.  Of course, the Giants probably did not push him out to 100 pitches in every start in 2009, so that reduces the 60-90 IP estimate down a bit, but even at 90 pitches, that's 250 pitches, 2.5 games,  or roughly 15 IP.  That still looks well within range (25-30 IP) for Bumgarner between 2009 and 2010.  I would also note that the Giants navigated Cain, Lincecum, and Sanchez through big jumps in IP and so far they have been healthy and productive, without any signs of warning that perhaps they were rushed too fast.  Perhaps the Giants know something the SI writer doesn't (which I find to be most likely).

Lastly, I would add, from a historical perspective, that I have noticed that prospects who grew up on farms appeared to be what I've heard called "country strong" and were horses as starters.  Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Gaylord Perry, among others, had long productive careers and struck out a lot of batters.  Bumgarner comes from a farming background and loves farming so much that he bought a farm near his family.  I believe players like this are a different breed apart, that they have a greater strength, built naturally from working on the farm, doing their regular chores.  As a sign of that, Bumgarner during his World Series victory, had his pitches in the 91-93 MPH range, and he humped it up to 94 MPH against Josh Hamilton for four pitches.  If he was having problems with the extra innings, his arm and results were not showing it.

Overall, yeah, it might be a fluke that Bumgarner had a 3.00 ERA, but he is a very good pitcher and very good pitchers will have years where they put it all together and get their ERA that low.  He also might be a great pitcher, but we won't figure that out for sure until he pitches a few more seasons.  Meanwhile, the projections and other measures say that Bumgarner should be expected somewhere in the mid-3 ERA range, which is still very good for a starting pitcher.  And as a Giants fan, you can't ask for more than that from Bumgarner.

Whether there are physical problems, only time will tell, even guys with "perfect" mechanics (like Cub's Mark Prior) end up with problems while fat guys like David Wells pitches well into his 40's.  But while it is a warning sign that he pitched so many more innings than he ever did before as a professional, 1) the Giants have navigated these rocks OK with Cain, Lincecum, and Sanchez so far, 2) he comes from a farming background where chores build up their physique to handle a lot of work, and 3) his work routine in 2008 and 2009 probably prepared him to pitch that many extra innings in 2010.

If his body was having any problems with that extra work, one would think it would have already manifested itself during his World Series start.  Look at Sanchez, it was his third year as a starter and he petered out in the playoffs.  Bumgarner, however, effortlessly threw in the low 90's and was able to hump it up to 94 MPH for at least one batter.  Still, it is something to look out for, but I'm not too worried about it, I'm more concerned about other things, such as Kung Fu Panda returning (though he didn't have that physique in that photo he has on his new website, though not up right now) and Posey not tiring late in the 2011 season after full season of catching (he played a lot of 1B in 2010).

3 comments:

  1. Hopefully MadBum takes his conditioning more seriously this winter and doesn't have to spend the season getting back into shape. If he's throwing at 92-94 MPH with his command and rapidly emerging secondary stuff, the sky's the limit.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Your "historical" leap re players who grew up on farms needs a little work.
    Are you comparing them to guys who worked in factory or mining towns? Because prior to 1970 or so most players came from farming, factory or mining backgrounds, for obvious reasons.

    ReplyDelete
  3. One key thing that some people are overlooking, in that regard, is that Bum garner does not need to duplicate his ERA of 2010 for there to be an improvement of the 2011 Giants over the 2010 Giants.

    ReplyDelete

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