San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner has had a somewhat difficult beginning to his 2014 season. The Giants’ No. 1 starter has not pitched like one through his first six starts of the year, but despite his troubles Bumgarner is still striking out batters at an impressive clip.
After a sensational 2013 season, Bumgarner entered a Sunday afternoon start against the Atlanta Braves sporting an ugly 1.72 WHIP. This disturbing statistic is the by-product of allowing 45 hits in 33.2 innings of work. His ERA entering the Braves start was a more reasonable 3.74, but the alarming number of hits allowed has become something of a concern. After six starts, Bumgarner was also carrying a BAA of .310, which is shockingly high considering last season’s .203.
However, while these numbers suggest a potential issue, Bumgarner had struck out 37 batters in his 33.2 innings. In his Sunday start in Atlanta, Bumgarner continued to put away hitters via the strikeout, fanning nine Braves in only six innings on the hill. This was arguably the lefty’s best start of the season, as Bumgarner allowed three hits and one unearned run while walking only one batter. This performance lowered his WHIP to a slightly more attractive 1.56 and improved his ERA to 3.18 while earning his third win of the season.
Bumgarner threw 95 pitches in the 4-1 Giants win, but probably could have gone at least one more inning before departing. One unfortunate side effect of a high strikeout rate is an elevated pitch count, and Bumgarner has not been pitching deep into games this season. Besides an eight-inning complete game loss against the Colorado Rockies, Bumgarner has not gone beyond 6.1 innings in any of his other starts in 2014. While this certainly needs to improve, his start in Atlanta was still good to see.
Based on his continued ability to strikeout hitters on a regular basis, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with Bumgarner’s stuff. His strikeout rate has been consistently high throughout his career, including 2013, when Bumgarner struck out 199 batters in 201.1 innings.
His impressive start in Atlanta is very likely a precursor of better things to come, with an eventual return to the mean in regard to his WHIP and BAA. By the end of 2014, Bumgarner’s overall line may not approach 2013, but it will be well within range of 2011 and 2012, which were very good indeed.