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Did Madison Bumgarner just have the best August of his career?

All signs point to him having turned into the skid of a physical decline. Did last month prove he’s reinvented himself?

MLB: Oakland Athletics at San Francisco Giants Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight will be the first of probably the last six starts of Madison Bumgarner’s Giants career. At least, it’s theoretically possible that will be the case. If Bumgarner leaves or even if he returns, his next contract figures to be substantially greater than the last one he signed, and not simply because of his World Series heroics from five years ago.

After what looked like an unavoidable physical decline that would lead to nothing but pain and sadness for him and everyone who watched, Bumgarner’s 2019 season has been a fantastic pre-free agency campaign. He’s set up to make at least as many starts as he did in 2016, his last All-Star campaign. His strikeouts, walks, and hits per nine have all returned to pre-dirt bike accident levels, along with his four-seam fastball velocity. His 3.73 FIP and 3.1 fWAR are all within the top 30 of MLB starting pitchers, too. And last month, he had maybe his best month of the year.

His August line of 37 IP in six starts, with 37 K/7 BB, 25 hits, and 6 home runs allowed gave him a 3.16 ERA and 0.865 WHIP. The Giants were 5-1 in those starts. He lowered his season ERA from 3.92 to 3.62.

Now, maybe you want to look at his July and say that was the better month (1-0, 2.70 ERA in 5 starts and 30 IP), but one of those starts was shortened by a line drive. The Cardinals have had Bumgarner’s number a little bit (4.59 ERA in 11 regular season meetings), so maybe that abbreviated start (which came against St. Louis) might not have been so clean. Maybe it would’ve been great. We’ll never know. What we do know is that August has always been Bumgarner’s time to shine.

He has a 27-16 record in 58 August starts over his career. He’s struck out 381 in 380.2 IP, walked just 93, and has a WHIP of 1.085. He’s made the most starts and pitched the most innings in August, and it’s obvious why. The dirt bike accident and broken pinkie in back to back seasons hurt his first half numbers, but August is the time of year in both cases when he started to regain his strength.

Has Bumgarner managed to make the adjustment he needs to extend his stellar career deep into his thirties? How he finishes this year will be the first sign of that. Here’s how August 2019 compares to the other Augusts of Bumgarner’s record:

The Augusts of Madison Bumgarner

2019 6 37 3.16 37 7 25 6
2018 6 39 2.08 35 14 36 4
2017 5 33 2.73 32 6 28 5
2016 6 37 4.14 37 13 35 6
2015 5 37.2 1.43 53 4 23 0
2014 6 46 1.57 56 3 26 4
2013 6 36.1 3.47 33 16 34 2
2012 6 39.1 2.97 38 9 30 4
2011 6 43 2.30 42 11 36 5
2010 6 32.1 5.29 18 10 47 5

Bumgarner’s 1.22 HR/9 is above his career average of 0.92, but that’s lower than the 1.38 he had in post-dirt bike 2017 and still 38th-best in baseball, tied with Dakota Hudson and better than Gerrit Cole (1.33). It also explains the elevated ERA and the higher than (career) average FIP. Still good, but not quite elite. But where he comes up short, he still shows considerable improvement over the last two seasons. Fringelite?

No, Madison Bumgarner did not have the best August of his career this past month, but he had an August on par with the best Augusts of his career.

Now, September... that’s an interesting month. Not the best month for him, but not the worst (that’s April). In 48 career September games, he has a 23.7% strikeout rate, 4.9% walk rate, and 3.26 ERA. I’m pointing this out at the end here because his 2019 season line of a 3.62 ERA, 24.9% strikeout rate, and 5.1% walk rate seem to be right in line with that. If he does what he’s always done and what he has continued to do, then it will be undeniable: he’s back.