A lengthy 6-foot-5 southpaw is hard to miss, but Madison Bumgarner has been largely overlooked in the San Francisco Giants’ strong starting rotation. Having pitched behind two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and three-time All-Star Matt Cain, Bumgarner hasn’t been given his just due.
The 2013 season was a different story, however. With Lincecum a shell of his former self and Cain struggling to get to a 4.00 ERA, Bumgarner turned into the de facto ace of the staff. In 201.1 innings, the 24-year-old lefty finished with a 2.77 ERA, 1.033 WHIP and his first All-Star selection. Bumgarner also struck out 8.9 batters per nine innings (K/9), the best of his four full seasons.
Bumgarner features a decent fastball at 91-92, but it’s his deceptive delivery that gives hitters trouble. With his arm slot coming through below a three-quarter angle, coupled with his slightly off-kilter path to the plate, his pitches get in on the batter quickly without giving them a clear look.
Utilizing his slider, curve and changeup a bit more often has allowed Bumgarner to miss more bats and keep hitters off-balance, leading to a a BAA of only .203 last season. That number has dropped in each season he’s pitched, a great sign of a pitcher coming into his own. Left-handed sticks have had no chance against him in recent years, putting up a measly .161 average, .201 OBP and a .286 SLG. That adds up to a microscopic .487 OPS, in part thanks to Bumgarner’s 10.33 K/9 against lefties in 2013.
Overall, Bumgarner has proven the ability to handle every aspect of being a successful pitcher, including the skill to miss bats without walking the world. His slider plays a big role in accomplishing this, giving opponents a great fastball arm action and causing them to commit early before the ball darts down and in on righties.
Even when hitters put the ball in play, they’re typically not doing much with it. Last year, Bumgarner ranked fourth in the league, allowing 6.527 H/9. In his career, he’s giving up just 0.8 home runs per nine innings (HR/9), another solid mark that aids in his consistent success.
In fact, Bumgarner gave up only 43 extra-base hits all season. As a reference, last seasons’ Cy Young award-winner, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, gave up 44 doubles, triples and home runs combined. That’s not a bad guy to be lumped in with.
Depending on how he looks in the spring and how well the Giants play this season, Bumgarner should be considered a strong Cy Young candidate in 2014. He may never get out of the shadow of Kershaw pitching in the same division, but Bumgarner is emerging quickly as one of the best arms in MLB.