When I'm missing baseball, I just stare at Madison Bumgarner's page on Baseball Reference for a while. That's the kind of sentence that separates us from the rest of society, and I should work on that, right after I finish removing this poster of Bumgarner's K/BB ratio from this copy of Tiger Beat and taping it to my wall. So beautiful.
And when that's not enough, I cull through Baseball Reference's play index to find tidbits about where Bumgarner ranks all time for his age. I usually share them here, but they're always lists that feature people like Dwight Gooden, Bret Saberhagen, Neil Armstrong, and Thomas Paine. Bumgarner is an amazing, amazing young pitcher when it comes to his ability to throw strikes. Aw, heck, one more time: a list of pitchers who had a K/BB better than 4.00 in their age-21 season. It's a list that fits on a matchbook.
Then I like to see what other control mavens were doing when they were 21. Tom Glavine was walking 33 guys in 50.1 innings for the Braves. Greg Maddux had a 5.61 ERA and a 4.3 BB/9 with the Cubs. Cliff Lee was walking 36 batters in 44.2 innings for the low-A Cape Fear Crocs. Curt Schilling had a 3.7 BB/9 for two different AA t … wait, the Cape Fear Crocs? What the hell …
All of those prospects turned into pitchers who became the personification of super-plus-control. But when they were 21, they were jumbly messes of pitches outside of the strike zone. They still had to climb the snowy peak to get to the wizened control guru meditating at the top. They still needed to hone their mechanics. They were raw lumps of pitcher ore.
Madison Bumgarner is not raw. He still has things to learn, of course. But even if he doesn't learn anything over the next five years -- even if he completely plateaus --he'll still be an awesome pitcher. If you're a fan of FanGraphs' fielding-independent stats, he's already the Giants' best pitcher.
Deep breaths. Deeeeeep breaths. Don't start stomping around the room, twirling an invisible baton, and making marching-band noises with your mouth because you're so gol-durned excited about Bumgarner. Not yet. Easy there.
ZiPS and PECOTA are forecasting a little regression for his control -- if something seems too good when it comes to the performance of a baseball player, it probably is. And there's a very real chance that Bumgarner might be too consistent with his command. He has games from heck that probably wouldn't be so bad if he'd mix in a few balls. But that's quibbling. And there's no need to quibble with Bumgarner.
But he's still a young pitcher. Maybe it's not fair to compare him to Lincecum and Cain just yet, even if he's an as-important part of the big three. There's always that mysterious velocity and effectiveness drop that's rattling around in the back of our subconscious. I've done my best to suppress it -- like the time I wet my pants during an elementary-school assembly, or when Orel Hershiser was on the Giants -- but it's still lurking. He snapped in and out of the funk so quickly that it's reasonable to fear he could snap back into it.
To ward against such things, invocations must be made and videos must be watched.
Yeah. I'm bullish on Bumgarner. And the bull is wearing rocket skates. And it's being towed by a rocket car. Madison Bumgarner.