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ESPN loves Madison Bumgarner even more than I do

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According to ESPN, Madison Bumgarner is the 10th-best left-handed pitcher in baseball history. Apparently their ranking was written in 2026, when this might actually be true.

And I, uh, would, uh, like to present ... this ranking ... to Madison Bumgarner.
And I, uh, would, uh, like to present ... this ranking ... to Madison Bumgarner.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN is running down the top-10 players in baseball history at each position. Some of the choices are ... curious. Stan Musial is included as a first baseman, despite playing nearly twice as many games in the outfield. David Ortiz was included as a first baseman, despite playing just 100 games more at first than Buster Posey has so far in his career. Sandy Koufax was ranked the #1 left-handed pitcher of all time over Randy Johnson, which would only make sense if this were a "Top Players Over a Five-Season Stretch" ranking, and even then Johnson would have an argument.

However, we are not here to quibble with every detail. We’re here to point out all of the Giants on the list. Willie McCovey was the #7 first baseman, which seems about right. Barry Bonds was the #2 left fielder, behind Ted Williams, which I’m okay with. If you’re not okay with it, take another spin through Williams’ career. Dude was amazing. Willie Mays was the best center fielder of all time, because of course he was.

There were two more Giants to make the list. Both of them were interesting choices because neither one of them is even 30 years old. The criteria took extra pains to remind everyone that the rankings had to do with both peak and career value, but that doesn’t mean the choices weren’t surprising.

Buster Posey was ranked the #8 catcher in baseball history, which seems just a touch premature. It’s not wild if you presume a standard, non-cataclysmic decline. Going by what we know, though, Posey is #28 all-time in WAR, just between Russell Martin and Yadier Molina. Add in some bonus points for pitch-framing, historical importance, and general scent, and I can make an argument that he can creep in the top 10 if you really, really, really, really stretch it. This isn’t anything against Posey — it’s just that he’s played six full seasons, including this one. He’s competing against catchers who were excellent for a dozen.

Fine, then. Three World Series rings, a bunch of awards, and an inspiring musk is enough to get him in the top 10. I can dig that.

That brings us to Madison Bumgarner, though, who is 26 years old and ranked the #10 best left-handed pitcher in baseball history. I suspect this is a plot to make me write something that’s less than slobbering about Bumgarner, and I don’t like it one bit. I have here in my hand a list of 205 ESPN employees that were known to this blog as being members of the Dodgers conspiracy against me.

But let’s pump those brakes just a little bit. Or a lot of bit. Do you want to hazard a guess as to where Bumgarner rates all-time according to Baseball-Reference’s WAR? He’s 109th, below Jarrod Washburn and Ted Lilly. He’s behind six active pitchers (Sabathia, Kershaw, Lester, Hamels, Price, and Sale).

He’s below Barry Zito.

However! WAR isn’t the end of the discussion, it’s the start of it. And you are probably rightfully impressed that Bumgarner has allowed one run in 36 World Series innings, good for a cool 0.25 ERA. That counts. His Game 7 counts for a lot of mythology points. And he’s currently in the middle of his best season, so it’s okay if you want to extrapolate a teensy bit.

But if you’re giving him credit for the World Series, you also have to factor in his lackluster NLDS and NLCS in 2012. He wasn’t exactly instrumental in the Giants reaching the World Series in 2012, and he need help from his teammates in the other two seasons. The team sort of started Zito on purpose in an elimination game in 2012 instead of Bumgarner. Which is fine. He was a tadpole, and he had a dead arm.

If you’re going to call him one of the 10 best left-handed pitchers of all time before his 27th birthday, though, there can’t be a single hiccup. Even if you want to give Bumgarner all the credit in the world for his three World Series, you might want to note that Andy Pettitte was on seven pennant-winning teams, pitching 11 seasons longer than Bumgarner has so far.

If you look at left-handed pitchers just through the age of 26, Bumgarner ranks 15th in WAR, with nearly half as many as Hal Newhouser, who won two MVPs and made the Hall of Fame.

If the argument is that San Francisco should be renamed Madison Francisco, I’m all for it. If you’re suggesting that we use nuclear explosions to carve his face on the moon, I can dig it. If you’re asking me to donate a liver to him, of course I will, that’s why we have two. But he’s just not one of the 10-best left-handers in baseball history. Not yet. He can be. It’s something to root for.

Pretending otherwise makes no sense. Unless they’re well aware of this, and they’re just taking advantage of recency bias to prompt reactions like this one.

Well, if that’s the case, I’m not biting. You can’t fool me. I wasn’t born yesterday. I’ll just ignore it and certainly not write about it, because shame on anyone who would make me write a well-actually post about one of my favorite players. Shame.