After surrendering five runs in five innings of work in his most recent outing, Madison Bumgarner now owns a losing record through his first six starts of the 2014 MLB season for the San Francisco Giants. The 235-pound southpaw had previously emerged as one of the best left-handed hurlers on baseball, compiling a 29-20 record over the past two seasons. He earned his first All-Star appearance in 2013, posting a career-best 2.77 ERA in 31 starts.
The Giants are presumably not concerned about Bumgarner. At least, not this early in the season. At a glance, his numbers aren’t atrocious in terms of run allowed. He owns a manageable 3.74 ERA, but also has a concerning 1.723 WHIP in 33.2 innings pitched this season. He’s allowing 12 H/9 and has already given up four home runs, nearly one-third of the total amount of four-baggers he dished out in 2013.
Until his most recent outing, control hadn’t been a clear-cut problem for Bumgarner. He had been erratic at times, forcing his pitch count to rise quickly in early innings, but seldom gave hitters free passes. He walked four in defeat against the San Diego Padres earlier this week. On the season, Bumgarner owns a shiny K:BB ratio (37:13), although that stat is somewhat deceiving considering Bumgarner’s tendency to work deep into the count.
Perhaps league-wide scouting reports are calling for patience against Bumgarner, because sabermetrics do not indicate the Giants ace is doing much of anything differently on the mound. He’s utilizing all five pitches in his repertoire at rates consistent with how often he threw those pitches in 2013. His velocity hasn’t diminished and he’s also pounded the strike zone at a near-identical rate (51.0 percent in 2014; 51.4 percent in 2013).
Batters are swinging at roughly the same amount of pitches in the strike zone against Bumgarner (47.8 percent) as they have in seasons past (47.4 percent in 2013). The biggest reason Bumgarner appears to be struggling to some extent is that hitters are making more contact on balls both thrown inside and outside the strike zone, a result of the Giants’ ace pitching deep into the count.
Opposing hitters have made contact with 3.8 percent more pitches outside the zone in 2014 against Bumgarner as compared to last season. They’re also making contact at a slightly higher rate (0.6 percent) on pitches inside the zone.
Bumgarner doesn’t have a significant flaw despite struggling through six starts this season. Hitters have seemingly made adjustments at the plate against the Giants’ ace, forcing added pressure on Bumgarner to throw strikes. He needs to do a better job of getting ahead in the count in order to mitigate hitters’ patience. If he’s able to force opposing hitters into more 0-2 and 1-2 counts, he’ll be on his way to reclaiming his dominance.