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The name of a girl or capital city, but the fastball of a legend...

Baseball America recently gave their Minor League Player of the Year award to Matt Wieters, which wasn’t exactly a surprise. Catchers who hit .355/.454/.600 in their first full professional season are pretty unique. That’s why it’s weird that another minor league catcher should do even better next season. What are the odds?

Wieters definitely deserved the award this season, but it made me think, hey, it’s been at least two days since we’ve had a Madison Bumgarner discussion. Bumgarner surely made the final cut for the award, as he’s one of the selections in this poll, which you should certainly not try to flood with pro-Bumgarner votes. On prospect-centric sites such as Minor League Ball, there’s a civil war between the Bumgarner fanatics and the folks who merely acknowledge that Bumgarner is a very good prospect. A sample:

Fanatic: Look at them stats!

Mere appreciator: But he only has a fastball! He’ll be exposed at the higher levels!

Fanatic: But those stats!! Look!! I’m now using two exclamation points!!

Mere appreciator: I can do that too!!! Now I’m using three!!! His breaking ball is coming along, but he needs to have two more plus pitches if he wants to dominate at the major league level. MAN CAN NOT PITCH ON FASTBALL ALONE. NOW I AM USING ALL CAPS IN ADDITION TO EXTRA EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!

Fanatic: !!!!!!LOOK AT THE STATS AGAIN, AS I'VE WRITTEN THEM ON MY FIST FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE!!!!!!!

Like most internet debates, it usually ends with one person changing the other person’s mind. The main point in the debate, though, is that a pitcher needs at least two great pitches to be at the top of a major league staff, or a combination of one great pitch and a couple of above-average pitches. Though the reports on Bumgarner’s secondary pitches have been encouraging, Bumgarner is still using his fastball over 75% of the time. That will work for now, but it has to change as he advances.

That doesn’t make me think less about Bumgarner’s prospect status, though. It makes me rank him higher. I understand that a pitcher needs secondary pitches at the higher levels, but doesn’t this mean that Bumgarner’s fastball is already a plus-plus-plus-fastball from the nth dimension? Consider:

  • He allowed only three homers all year
  • He walked 1.33 batters for every nine innings he pitched
  • He struck out 10.42 batters for every nine innings he pitched, which, for perspective, is roughly what Tim Lincecum has done in the majors this season.

Sure, he did all of that against a mixture of teenagers and hitters in their early 20s, but every hitter that faced Bumgarner this season had to figure they were going to get a fastball at some point in the at-bat, and that fastball was likely to be somewhere in the strike zone. No one could touch it. The fastball had such a perfect combination of location, velocity, deception, and movement that it baffled everyone.

Here’s something you’ll never hear about a prospect: "Good bat, but he can’t catch up to fastballs." Those two things are mutually exclusive. If a prospect has a "slider-speed" bat, he isn’t a prospect. There are a ton of guys in the SAL who can hit a fastball, especially when they have an idea that’s what they should expect. So if Bumgarner racked up his silly, silly totals using mostly a fastball, how freaking good is that fastball?

I’ll go out on a limb: It’s a good one. If you took the top 20 pitchers in baseball right now, put them in the SAL, and forced them to throw fastballs 75% of the time, it would be hard to improve on Bumgarner’s numbers. So here’s my Grand Theory of Bumgarner Unification:

If given a choice between a teenage pitching prospect with two or three great pitches, and a teenage pitching prospect with one absolutely transcendent pitch and developing secondary pitches, always choose the latter.

Agree or disagree?

edit: Well, I managed to jinx Bumgarner. Because I wrote a fawning post about him, he gave up two walks in six innings in the SAL playoffs. That's right: two. He didn't give up an earned run, and he struck out six, but now I'm worried about the sudden drop in Bumgarner's peformance.