Here’s a sad statement, or perhaps a beautiful statement. It depends on your point of view, I suppose.
Anyway, here it is:
Madison Bumgarner’s 2014 is probably the best Giants season you’ll ever witness.
You will (hopefully) watch a lot of Giants baseball between now and when you die. And, in all likelihood, nothing will top what Bumgarner did in 2014.
Sure, there have been more statistically memorable moments, like when Barry Bonds set the single-season home run record in 2001, or the all-time home run record in 2007. And there were more statistically impressive seasons, such as Buster Posey’s 2012, which was worth more than 2.8 times as many Wins Above Replacement as Bumgarner’s 2014, per Fangraphs.
And yet. Do I really need to explain why Bumgarner’s 2014 is the defining individual season in modern San Francisco Giants history? In perhaps all San Francisco Giants history?
If I do, then perhaps that means you all need to dust off your commemorative 2014 World Series DVD. Come on, people.
For all the merit of modern analytics, sports remain defined by what is descriptive, not predictive. What happens is what matters, whether you chalk it up to luck, skill, cheating, variance, or, as Grant Brisbee once wrote, a “confluence of nonsense.”
Bumgarner was good in 2014, with a 2.98 ERA and 3.05 FIP, and with 219 strikeouts to 43 walks in 217.1 innings. But good became great in the postseason, when his ERA dipped to 1.03, when he had 45 strikeouts to 6 walks in 52.2 innings, and when he allowed a WHIP of a mere 0.65.
And great turned into greatest in the World Series, when Bumgarner appeared a stunning three times - twice as a starter, and once in relief - and allowed just 9 hits and 1 walk in 21 innings, while striking out 17 and giving up only 1 run. While seemingly carrying a tired Giants team to the championship that cemented their five-year run as one of the greatest in baseball history, against all odds.
In case the Giants actions of late have you hiding under a rock, Bumgarner signed a five-year deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks over the weekend. His time with the Giants is over.
Perhaps Arizona pushed for Bumgarner because of his playoff performance. Alas, while descriptive is ultimately what matters, predictive makes a habit of morphing into descriptive eventually. It’s entirely possible that the Diamondbacks will get to the postseason numerous times during Bumgarner’s tenure, only to realize that Bumgarner is merely a good pitcher, not a borderline flawless one. They may quickly become disillusioned with the legend of Madison Bumgarner. The Giants, for better and for heartachingly worse, won’t ever have that chance.
What they - and what we who care about the team - have, is 2014, because 2014 happened, no matter how unlikely, no matter how unrepeatable, no matter how many variables had to align perfectly.
And really, that’s all that ever matters.