There was never a moment in today’s game when Madison Bumgarner did not look like the Madison Bumgarner of our collective memory. You never saw the flustered, walk-prone, homer-prone version we’ve seen of late. We saw the legend.
Nine strikeouts in seven innings of work is not impressive in terms of baseball’s history books, but it’s the line we’ve come to expect as typical.
Madison Bumgarner's line is final: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 9 Ks.— Kerry Crowley (@KO_Crowley) June 30, 2019
It's his 76th career start with at least 7 IP and no more than 1 ER and his 40th at Oracle Park.
Today marked his 131st home start of the regular season. That means in 30.5% of those starts at home, it’s been one earned in seven innings... right around his 28% mark for his overall career starts. Three times out of ten starts, he’ll be this guy, but it’s already his second time since the start of June (in six starts) that he’s done this.
So, yeah, Madison Bumgarner is back... and perhaps all the way back at this point. The drag coefficient on not only his trade value but also the industry view of his dominance had been that hard hit rate — balls hit with an exit velocity of 95+. The league average is right around 38%. For most of the year, Bumgarner’s has been around 43%. Heading into today’s start, he’d gotten it down to 42.0% and today, just five of the 17 balls put in play (29.4%) were “hard hit”.
If you’re skeptical about a trend of about a month signalling anything of significance, consider that Robbie Ray, today’s starter for the D-backs, has a below league average hard hit rate this season after two seasons of being in the bottom 5% of the league in the category. It’s possible to turn that around with sequencing and location. It’s not always about stuff; and, in Bumgarner’s case, his stuff has returned to form already.
He didn’t miss with location very much today and he looks to have changed up his pitch sequencing and attack patterns over the month. He kept the ball low and away from Diamondbacks hitters for most of the afternoon, teasing with down and in just to keep them honest, and then he’d attack the outside part of the zone with two-strikes but up above the letters. He got a lot more chases than we were used to seeing and because he wasn’t settling on throwing cutters in on the hands, his pitch mix kept hitters off balance enough to make a low-then-high strategy highly effective.
His last two starts: 13 IP, 7 H, 3 BB, 3 ER, 20 K.
This one felt good. This one felt worthy of song. The Giants had a great day because their best pitcher did his best impression of his old self, an impression that seems to have adjusted to its new era.
His nine strikeouts tied him with Tim Lincecum for second on the list of strikeouts pitched in San Francisco history (1,704). Where Lincecum’s career was almost effortless, Bumgarner’s has always seemed more workmanlike. His stuff was never as good as The Freak’s, but his stubbornness has meant that he’s never stopped fighting to get his desired results.
I don’t want to think about the trade value at the moment. All that happened today was that Madison Bumgarner entertained the absolute hell out of us on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
Of course, maybe the level of control he had today wouldn’t have been possible without an early 2-run home run off the bat of Kevin Pillar. Don’t believe me? Look at this image:
That’s gratitude. It gave Bumgarner a lead. It meant he didn’t have to alter his game plan. As weird as Pillar’s season has been, he, too, had sort of a platonic ideal of a Kevin Pillar game.
The first pitch he ever saw from Robbie Ray was a cut fastball that cut right into the middle of the plate at the knees. Pillar attacked the first pitch:
To infinity... and beyond!— San Francisco Giants (@SFGiants) June 30, 2019
Without getting into a swing analysis, the way he attacks the strike zone stands outs when compared to the rest of the lineup. It’s possible he has the best bat speed in the Giants’ lineup, too. Let’s ignore the implications of that and instead focus on the results here. He’s going to “ambush” a lot of pitchers and he’s going to do it with a swing capable of and geared towards getting the ball in the air.
There’s nothing else in his approach you or I would define as “refined” or “good”, but there’s talent in that barrelhead to get these kinds of results. Today was his fourth 4-RBI game with the Giants. He had three combined for his career heading into this season. This was also the first 5-RBI game by a Giants centerfielder since Denard Span in 2016 and just the third time this century (Tsuyoshi Shinjo also had a 5-RBI game in July 2002).
He struggled with a hard hit ball by Nick Ahmed and another fly ball at the wall late in the game and overall, we know that his defense has declined significantly, but Pillar has been able to remind us from time to time that he does have value for a second division team.
Also reminding us of his value? Buster Posey. He had his second 3-hit game of this series, including a double in the first inning to the opposite field. He’s never going to his 20 home runs again, or even 10, but his utility as a contact and on base guy with solid defense will go a long way to solidifying the Giants’ offense. Gotta start somewhere in a rebuild.
Most of the time, though, rebuilds begin after the history book has been closed on a team’s accomplishments. Say what you want about Pillar’s feat and even Posey’s return, but Madison Bumgarner’s day proved that Giants history is still being made.