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Madison Bumgarner was, indeed, the Giants measuring stick

The former ace wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great in 2019. And that’s the story of the Giants.

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Stat Line

34 G, 207.2 IP, 191 H, 43 BB, 203 K, 30 HR, 3.90 ERA, 3.90 FIP

As a hitter: 76 PA, .127/.236/.222, 2 HR, 4 RBI, .458 OPS

Back in March, I was tasked with writing a season projection for the San Francisco Giants ace. I titled it, “Madison Bumgarner will be the measuring stick for the Giants”.

I doubled down on that, saying things like this:

If the Giants want to have a quality season once again, they’ll need a lot of players to bounce back and live up to their potential - that starts with Bumgarner. If they disappoint their way to a loss total approaching triple digits, it will be because their older, declining and injured players are exactly that: declining and injured. That also starts with Bumgarner.

It created a little bit of a joke, as we here at McCovey Chronicles Dot Com ultimately chose a rather sizable number of players to put the “measuring stick,” or “barometer” label on.

But in Bumgarner’s case, it turned out to be true.

Neither of the extremes I provided came to fruition. The Giants didn’t contend, nor did they flirt with 100 losses. And Bumgarner didn’t bounce back in earnest, nor did he decline or get injured.

He was good, but not spectacular. Fun, but not magnetic. Better than many thought, but worse than what our lasting memories of him will be.

That seems pretty fitting for the Giants. You can say all those things about the 2019 team.

At times, it looked like Bumgarner was his pre-injury/pre-2017 self. The velocity was a tick higher. The pitches had more snap. The durability looked there. If you remove his final five starts from the equation, it was a quite good year.

But in the end, the only thing that really separated Bumgarner’s 2019 from his 2018 and 2017 was the fact that he actually made it to the field for 34 games. Which is obviously important, but if you had rosy expectations, you may have been disappointed.

Check it out:

Hits per 9 innings

2017: 8.2
2018: 8.2
2019: 8.3

Walks per 9 innings

2017: 1.6
2018: 3.0
2019: 1.9

Strikeouts per 9 innings

2017: 8.2
2018: 7.6
2019: 8.8


2017: 3.95
2018: 3.99
2019: 3.90

Make no mistake, even without accounting for finally being healthy, this was the best Bumgarner has pitched since 2016. But, on the whole, his performance was a lot closer to the recent years than the vintage years.

Which makes him the perfect measuring stick for a team that did exactly the same.

Role on the 2019 team

Entering the year, Bumgarner’s role on the team was to be their best player.

He was exactly that. The former World Series MVP may not have been great, but his 3.2 fWAR firmly paints him as the team’s most valuable player (Baseball-Reference paints a more pessimistic picture, but we’ll conveniently ignore that).

Numbers be darned, Bumgarner was the one player on the Giants 64-man roster that made you feel like they could - and even should - win. And at some level they did. The team won at a .559 clip with Bumgarner on the mound, and a .453 clip when he wasn’t. But it was less about what actually happened, and more about the feeling of what could happen.

The Giants felt like favorites with Bumgarner on the mound. That’s a rare feeling for this team. But it’s an important role.

Bumgarner also served a critical role of eating innings, something he did more than all but eight other pitchers in baseball. That, in turn, allowed relievers to fit more cleanly in their roles, which helped make players like Sam Dyson and Mark Melancon the valuable trade assets that they were.

Farhan Zaidi likes to talk about the importance of having a guy in the rotation who you can rely on to not only give you a shot at victory, but pitch six or seven innings. It increases the flexibility for the manager, and for the front office. Bumgarner was that guy.

Role on the 2020 team

Were Bobby Evans still around, Bumgarner would likely already be under contract through 2023.

But Evans is gone, and Zaidi is in, and while that’s very good for those of us who want the Giants to win baseball games, it’s potentially disastrous for the sentimental segments of our brains.

After Zaidi opted not to trade Bumgarner at the deadline, it seemed likely that the impending free agent would return to the only team he’s ever played for.

And then Game 162 came, and I’m not sure how anyone can call that the likely outcome anymore.

For a man known for his stoicism, that sure was a lot of emotion.

He still may return. His market may not be great, and we know that the Giants are in dire need of starting pitchers. If the price is right, Zaidi will be interested.

And if that happens, then his role on the 2020 team will be exactly what it was in 2019: Lead the team, eat the innings, and give them a chance to win every fifth day.

Grade: 3 Farhans

This year we’re changing our grading scale, to the Farhan Scale. Rather than letter grades, each player is ranked on the Farhan Scale, and receives 1, 2, 3, or 4 Farhans, based on . . . well, based on how Farhan they are.

Bumgarner gets a 3. He’s not the most modern player - far from it, in fact. But he’s good, and in 2019, the price was right. Zaidi likes good players. He likes players providing excess value. He likes assets.

And he likes pitchers that can stabilize the top of a rotation, to give him added flexibility with the other players on the roster.