I’m trying to think of a happy ending to the Bumgarner-lost-his-velocity story, but I really can’t. Not in the short-term, at least. Maybe Beau Mills is still available.
Sure, that looks absolutely ridiculous in retrospect, but by "short-term," I meant three weeks. Four, tops. Uh, yeah. And, hey, look what happened four weeks later:
Fresno: SP Madison Bumgarner: 3.0 IP, 11 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 2 K--1 HR
You could almost hear the four horsemen riding across his labrum as you read that line. Bumgarner was a young pitcher with diminished velocity and declining results. It was a completely predictable outcome -- predictable like a cable repairman interrupting a pillow fight at a sorority house in the first scene of "How the Chest Was Fun," but far more painful. It wasn’t all that crazy to hope that an injury was responsible for the velocity loss. At least then there would have been an explanation and some closure. Slap a cadaver’s ligament in there, rub some aloe vera on it, and we’ll see you in 2012 with that mid-90s velocity again.
Instead, Bumgarner regained his veocity in the majors, pitched well enough to guarantee a Zito-free postseason, and became a hero in both the NLCS and World Series. Of course he did. Sometimes young pitchers fix themselves, and sometimes cable guys just want to fix the cable.
I can buy that Aubrey Huff rose out of the ashes to become a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter. It’s not that crazy that Cody Ross hit like Frank Robinson throughout the playoffs -- baseball is all about well-timed hot streaks that happen for no discernable reason. Andres Torres turning into one of the most valuable players in baseball is a little harder to explain away, but of all the surprises from the Giants’ championship run, Madison Bumgarner’s renaissance might have been the most surprising.
Alright, it’s Torres in a landslide. But Bumgarner’s in pretty good shape for second place. Think about the things we didn’t worry about at this time last year:
- Pablo Sandoval slumping for a year or two
- Pat Burrell hitting on your sister
- Buster Posey’s aura coming through the slats in the vertical blinds at night, making it really hard to sleep
Not one of those things was a concern last spring like they all are this spring. It was all Bumgarner this and Bumgarner that. That was the concern of the early season. Well, that and the possiblity that the Giants weren’t going to crack 450 runs for the season, but the young lefty was certainly up there on the worry-o-meter.
This year, he’s one of the more interesting players to project on the team. He might have been lucky with runners on base, and his strikeout rate is just a tick above average. He’s almost certain to pitch a career-high in innings if he stays healthy. There are ways to be cynical.
My first reaction to Bumgarner isn’t cynicism, though. It’s unbridled optimism. I was going to chalk it up to some sort of je ne sais pitch, some gut feeling that I couldn’t really explain -- I’d keep it to myself so I wasn’t laughed at by the rationalists around here. There’s just...something about Madison Bumgarner. Couldn’t explain it. I wanted to write that he had "preternatural control," but I thought that was a little too thick.
Then I started futzing with the Baseball Reference Play Index. Here are the starting pitchers under 21 who have had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.00 or better in the past 110 years:
Whoa. There are surprising Play Index searches, and then there’s something like this. Bumgarner’s combination of youth, strikeouts, and control is ridiculously rare -- it’s a club filled with Hall of Famers and Cy Young Award winners. The gut feeling was just replaced by some tangible-if-cherry-picked evidence, and it feels great. We knew it was special to watch Bumgarner, just barely 21, mow down the Texas Rangers in the World Series, thoroughly embarrassing Vladimir Guerrero in every at-bat. But for a pitcher to arrive in the majors this fully formed? More special than we might have thought.
And on a team with thongs, beards, and Wiley Wiggens hair, it’s kind of nice to have a stoic guy who isn’t listening to you because he’s thinking about hay bales. It fulfills some sort of quota. The first prediction of the offseason is a bullish one: