Anyone surprised by Madison Bumgarner’s outstanding World Series start, which was the just latest contribution to an already strong postseason, probably wasn’t paying attention to the Giants down the stretch. In his five September starts, the young lefty pitched to a 1.13 ERA in 32 innings, including a sparkling 32:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In other words, despite being only a few months over the age of 21, Bumgarner was far from an unlikely World Series hero.
21 Club: Youngest Starters to Have a Scoreless Outing in the World Series
*World Series debut
Bumgarner was drafted by the Giants out of South Caldwell High School (North Carolina) with the 10th selection in the 2007 amateur draft. By 2009, the talented lefty was widely regarded as a blue chip, ranking sixth and ninth respectively in Keith Law’s and Baseball America’s prospect lists for that year (also in the top-15 on both lists were Neftali Feliz and Buster Posey). However, concerns over his velocity during the 2009 season caused both Law and BA to drop Bumgarner in their rankings to 28 and 14, respectively.
In his preseason report, Law wrote, “Bumgarner took a big tumble this year when his velocity gradually declined the deeper he went into the season. He was 88-93 mph early in the season but just 87-90 by midsummer”. Law also noted that his velocity could return as he gained arm strength and filled out his 6’4” frame, and that’s precisely what happened in 2010. According to fangraphs.com, the average velocity on Bumgarner’s fastball was 91.3mph, a significant improvement over the 89.2mph posting from his brief tenure with the Giants at the end of the 2009 season. In addition, Bumgarner’s slider dramatically increased from an average velocity of 78.1mph to 84.8mph, giving him separation from the curve and making the pitch hard to distinguish from his changeup. Gradually, the Giants’ lefty has been developing and refining a loaded arsenal of pitches that seemed to come together last night in the World Series.
The 2010 Giants have been portrayed as a team of misfits, but there is nothing second rate about their pitching. After all, a talent like Bumgarner is their number four starter (in both name and 2010 WAR), which pretty much explains the Giants’ strengths as a team. Having said that, winning hasn’t come easy. Far from it, in fact. Giants’ announcers Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow have famously described the team’s style of play as “torture” because of the high number of close games in which they usually find themselves. As an illustration, Bumgarner went 2-2 in September, despite posting the sterling numbers mentioned previously. Clearly, scoring is not the Giants’ forte.
The World Series isn’t over, but it is still worth remembering that San Francisco was seven games behind in the loss column as late as August 28. If not for the Padres’ September swoon, the Giants could very well be home watching the postseason, so even if they wind up winning a ring, maintaining the status quo in 2011 should not be a given. With that in mind, the emergence of Bumgarner, and even Sanchez, who had pitched exceedingly well until his meltdown in the NLCS, makes you wonder how much torture the Giants’ organization will be willing to endure next season. With 2009 sixth round selection Zach Wheeler already showing promise (70 strikeouts in his first 58 2/3 professional innings), the Giants seem to have a lock on solid pitching for the foreseeable future, so perhaps the time has come for them to consider trading one of their aces for a much needed bat?
If the Giants were to put either Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum on the market, just about every team in baseball would be frothing at the mouth. The question for San Francisco, however, would be which of the two to trade? It might seem obscene to suggest, but the best candidate would probably be the freak. Not only would his more attractive name likely net a larger package in return, but Lincecum’s midseason struggles led to some whispers throughout the game about a loss of velocity. What’s more, when you consider Lincecum’s across the board decline in key peripherals, it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine Cain, who is actually one year younger, being the better pitcher over the long run. Finally, add in concern about Lincecum’s unorthodox mechanics and slight frame, as opposed to Cain’s text book delivery and solid 6’3”/245lb build, and the case seems very compelling.
One more factor to consider is economics. The Giants have $52 million locked up in Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand over the next two seasons, so salary relief is not an insignificant consideration. In 2011, Lincecum is scheduled to make $13 million, while Cain will pull down $7mn, which isn’t that onerous. In 2012, however, Lincecum enters his last season of arbitration eligibility, while Cain’s salary balloons to $15 million. As a result, it’s very easy to see the Giants saddled with a greater than $30 million price tag for both pitcher’s services. Combined with the amounts owed to Zito and Rowand, one wonders if that would be a tenable situation?
Unless their internal scouts feel strongly about one pitcher’s future over the other’s, the Giants’ best approach might be to see whom they could sign to a favorable long-term deal and then seek to trade the other. They could also wait another season to see how things shake out, but that wouldn’t help alleviate the team’s offensive woes. If the Giants traded from their strength and returned a stud position player, preferably one who plays up the middle, they’d be able to complement Buster Posey and have the beginnings of an all around core. Even though the 2010 postseason has seemed to prove otherwise, teams can not live by pitching alone. Trying to do so can be torture.