129 2/3 IP, 3.26 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 109 SO, 43 BB, 14 HR
Imagine that line came from any other Giants pitcher. Imagine Chris Stratton having that kind of season. Or Andrew Suárez. Or even Jeff Samardzija. Heck, that’d even be acceptable for Johnny Cueto. But since it’s coming from Madison Bumgarner, it feels a bit disappointing. The FIP is the highest it’s ever been. For the second straight year, his ERA was over 3.00, and he threw fewer than 150 innings. This came after four-year stretch 200+ innings with a sub-3.00 ERA.
Unless he goes through a second-half Renaissance, Madison Bumgarner’s best years are probably behind him. That’s hard to reckon with. Bumgarner is one of the last remaining players to be part of every championship, and he’s the only remaining starter from the Cain, Lincecum, and Bumgarner trifecta.
We want Bumgarner to remain good not just because it’s conducive to the Giants winning baseball games, but if he’s exploding hitters’ thumbs and swatting dingers, the Golden Age of Giants baseball lives on a little longer.
Before Matt Cain, the Giants were seemingly incapable of drafting and developing starting pitchers. Before him, there was just Russ Ortiz and before him, there was… John Burkett? There are other names like Ryan Vogelsong and Francisco Liriano, but Vogelsong spent a decade in exile before returning to San Francisco on the wings of a dragon. Liriano never even pitched in a San Francisco Giants uniform. Instead, the Giants got a season of AJ Pierzynski for him.
After Matt Cain, though, the Giants could do no wrong. Cain begat Tim Lincecum. Lincecum begat Madison Bumgarner begat, uh, Zack Wheeler? No, he’s been hurt most of his career and he was traded to the Mets. Mike Kickham? Chris Heston? Albert Suarez? Ty Blach? Tyler Beede? Andrew Suárez?
For the Giants to draft and develop another Top-10 pitcher to succeed Bumgarner is as unlikely as their getting three in such a short time to begin with. In 20 years, Bumgarner might be the new Chili Davis.
“Blessed be the fruit. Did you know the Giants haven’t drafted and developed an All-Star starting pitcher since Madison Bumgarner?”
This, and what happened to Cain and Lincecum, are why Bumgarner’s performance since crashing his dirt bike has been concerning. He’s shown a dip in velocity, and a career low in K/BB. Never before had he been below the MLB average in this category.
Again, the results haven’t been bad. A 3.29 ERA over the last two seasons is totally fine even if it’s not up to Bumgarner’s standards. Paul Sporer at RotoGraphs still ranked him the 23rd best starting pitcher in the majors. Bumgarner’s velocity was down in 2016, too, and he had the best year of his career by ERA (2.74) and ERA+ (146).
We’ve already seen Cain and Lincecum bloom and wilt in time lapse, we don’t need to see it happen with Madison Bumgarner, too. We won’t, dang it.
Role on the 2018 Team
Bumgarner is still the ace of the Giants, peripherals and all. Also, he’s one of their best hitters by default. He’s the closest thing the Giants have to Shohei Ohtani, as he demonstrated by notching his first walk-off hit in the final week of the season.
(Shoutout to Wil Myers for totally missing it.)
(Also shoutout to Alen Hanson for dumping the sports drink on himself when Bumgarner pushed it away.)
Role on the 2019 Team
2019 may be Bumgarner’s final season in a Giants uniform unless 2018 was. As Bryan wrote, the Giants won’t get an enormous return for Bumgarner, so letting him play out the year and extending him a qualifying offer seems likely. I’ll be okay watching him in another uniform, if that means that he has another ten good-to-great years in him. I’d just really prefer if he didn’t sign with the Cardinals.
Final Grade: B+
Bumgarner may have had his worst year by some metrics, but his worst is still better than a lot of pitchers’ best. If he had hit a few dingers, he might have earned an A-.