It has been an absolute pleasure to watch Madison Bumgarner pitch this year.
I'm not sure what we'll think about this season in a decade. It's been a crushing disappointment, sure. The 2013 Giants have one of the worst performance/expectations ratios in San Francisco Giants history, and it's neck and neck with 2011. But when I think of 2011, it's not just Buster Posey's injury that pops in my head. It's not necessarily Carlos Beltran, and it's not that the Giants scored three runs in August (one of them on a balk.)
It was also the Year of Ryan Vogelsong. There was no rhyme, no reason to that part of the year, and it was a delight to watch Vogelsong pitch. The 2011 season had a lot of disappointment, sure, but I can think of a lot of seasons that didn't have anything as compelling or fun as Vogelsong's story.
Bumgarner's success this season isn't perfectly analogous, of course, because we're used to him being good. Vogelsong emerged from the mists wearing a loincloth made from a saber-tooth tiger, clutching a weathered map, and muttering something about a treasure. Bumgarner is one of those outstanding young Giants pitchers that's easy to take for granted. He's nine months older than Zack Wheeler, yet he's already burdened with the expectations of a staff ace.
It's a good thing he's something of a badass, then.
I mention Al Leiter's slider/cutter as a comparison for Bumgarner's slutter once a year. The last time I mentioned it, I pointed out that I mention it once a year. This was less than a year ago. So, yes, I'm obsessed. It's all I can think about when I see the pitch because I remembering being so frustrated watching the Giants hit against Leiter. How were the Giants supposed to hit that stupid pitch? Swing and it's in on the thumbs. Take it and it's a called strike.
Duane Kuiper mentioned Leiter's slutter and compared Bumgarner's pitch to it in the second inning. SO I'M NOT CRAZY. I'm not the only one who sees and remembers that pitch, though I might be the only one who brings it up so often.
Oh, man, this is going to be awesome in 30 years, when I'm yelling about a Huston Street two-seamer to people who weren't even born when Street retired.
But if I had to rank my favorite Giants' pitches, it would go something like this:
1. Romo slider
2. Bumgarner slutter
3. Lincecum change (when working)
4. Cain fastball
5. The Lopez Embarrasser
Not sure if there's a specific pitch for #5. It's just the name for when Javier Lopez makes a left-handed hitter look like a tennis pro swinging a baseball bat for the first time.
When Bumgarner was a prospect, the rap on him was that he was all fastball and no secondary pitches. He racked up the strikeouts in the Sally because his fastball was good enough to fool teenagers, but he was going to need something else if he wanted long-term success as a starter. Then his velocity disappeared. So long, Madison. It was nice knowing you as a prospect, but let's focus on Erick Threets now.
Instead, the velocity came back, and he developed the slutter. Sweet, sweet slutter. It's deceptive. It's subtle. It's impossible. And one of the best things about the 2013 Giants season has been Madison Bumgarner. There's still room for him to grow, too. He's had a pattern over the last few starts of cruising early, then running the pitch count up enough in the sixth and seventh to knock him out of the game before he can think about a complete game.
One of these days, he'll figure it out. Until then, he's merely great. A list of the pitchers with three 200-inning seasons before turning 24:
There are some cautionary tales on that list. There are some Hall of Famers. There's also a dude who hit 714 home runs. But the important part is that Bumgarner is a rare creature. We already knew it, but here's an update. You'll probably get another one in five days.
If Juan Perez could hit -- like, a little bit -- he would be the crown prince of WAR. That is, the kind of player who would rank consistently among the game's most valuable players because he does everything else well. He's been worth a half-win this season, for example, despite a .265 OBP in 69 plate appearances coming into Wednesday's game. That's hard to do.
After three hits and a walk on Wednesday, the OBP is up to .306. FanGraphs has him close to a full win now. And we haven't even seen his power yet. He's not exactly Giancarlo Stanton, but he's been good for 40 extra-base hits at every stop in the minors.
He's not going to be a starter. At least, it's exceptionally unlikely. You root for a team that started Andres Torres in center during a championship season, so there's no point in ruling anything out, but the odds are against him holding down a job as a starter.
But as a complementary, useful player? The odds of him becoming a solid fifth outfielder are in his favor. He's impressive in every baseball-related part of his his chosen profession ... except the pesky hitting part. So when he has a game like this one, it's almost imperative to draw attention to him. Look at Juan Perez, everyone!
If he can do something similar to his current production -- say, .250/.300/.340 -- for a few years, he'd go down as one of the better fifth outfielders in ... well, over the last few years, at least.
Okay, that's not that exciting.
Madison Bumgarner, though. Bow, howdy, is that guy something? Don't forget: His middle name is "K." It's not short for anything. It's literally just "K."
We should probably all get matching Bumgarner tattoos at this point.