What's Right With Madison Bumgarner?

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 6: Madison Bumgarner #40 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the San Diego Padres in the third inning during a MLB baseball game at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Over at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron did his annual piece evaluating which players in baseball have the most trade value. It's always worth reading. I'd like to think that after Cameron finishes it, he thinks, "There! Perfect! No one could possibly argue with this list," and that he's totally flabbergasted when people still complain.

Alas, he's probably expecting the dissent. It happens every year. The trade-value list is always going to cause some discussion and debate, and there's always going to be one player who becomes the cause célebre of egregious omissions. This year, that player is San Francisco Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner. Giants fans are the new Red Sox fans. There's a chemical teams use when cleaning World Series trophies, and it messes with brain chemistry -- side effects include increased road attendance, and heightened internet irritability.

The argument for Bumgarner being one of the most valuable commodities in baseball:

  • he's only 21, with two more years of pre-arbitration salaries and five more years of team control;
  • he has plus command and a 92-mph fastball, the 10th-highest average fastball velocity among left-handed starting pitchers;
  • his combination of plus-control and strikeout stuff at such a young age is exceptionally rare. I bumped down the strikeout rate requirements for that Play Index list to adjust for more players striking out in Bumgarner's era, and it's still an exclusive list, even more so when you consider that Ismael Valdez was really 30 as a rookie. He did that report-card trick on his passport where you change a three to a two. So crafty, that one.
  • the advanced stats love Bumgarner this year, as his FIP is third in baseball, his xFIP is 14th, and his SIERA is 17th

But the real surprise isn't that Bumgarner was left off the trade-value list -- it's not like Cameron put Pete Orr ahead of him -- it's that he's having a season good enough to make him a candidate. Before the season, maybe the expectations were so high that he would have stirred a similar debate, but once the season started, he was a bit of a dirigible accident:

 

Date Opp Rslt Dec IP H R BB SO HR ERA Pit
Apr 5 SDP L,1-3 L(0-1) 3.0 5 3 3 2 0 9.00 73
Apr 11 LAD L,1-6 L(0-2) 5.0 8 5 4 3 1 9.00 86
Apr 17 ARI L,5-6 6.2 8 4 1 2 1 7.36 101
Apr 22 ATL L,1-4 L(0-3) 2.2 4 4 2 2 0 7.79 67
110.2 120 51 27 96 4 3.74
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/19/2011.

 

That's how Bumgarner started the season, and it was as bad as it looks. It was bad enough to cause a sincere panic in Bay Area sports-talk radio circles. It let to articles with titles like Madison Bumgarner's Struggles: Should The Giants Be Worried?

After the early struggles, though, Bumgarner has been one of the better starting pitchers on the Giants, which by extension makes him one of the better starting pitchers in baseball. His W/L record is abysmal because he plays for the Giants, who usually score a run every other game just to prove they can, and he had a pretty famous hiccup that inflated his ERA, but all the other metrics suggest he's a pitcher with a great now, not to mention a great future.

Is he one of the 50 most valuable commodities in baseball right now? Heck, I don't know. That's a question that would take hours of research, so I'll defer to FanGraphs. But he's pretty danged good, and when the performance is matched with his age, he's pretty danged rare. Bumgarner starts for the Giants against the Dodgers on Tuesday night -- put a pot of coffee on and stay up for this one, Other Time Zones. Kid's good.

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