There probably aren’t that many people in the wild who want the San Francisco Giants to bring back the recently designated for assignment Madison Bumgarner, but just in case, let’s go through all the reasons why it’s a dumb idea.
Since leaving the Giants (beginning 2020 season), he has been the worst starting pitcher in Major League Baseball, with a win above replacement of just 1 (using FanGraphs measurement). That’s out of 84 qualified pitchers. If I lower the qualification metric down to 210 IP (which is about 70 IP a year for a decent to good reliever), he becomes 9th-worst and only Josiah Gray (-0.6 fWAR) and Jose Urena (0.4 fWAR) come close to matching him in terms of percentage of appearances that are starts. Remember, Bumgarner is a starter through and through — 100% of his appearances have been starts. Gray’s and Urena’s are 98% and 79%, respectively.
If you’re a traditionalist who abhors any of the fancy new measures, then Bumgarner’s 5.23 ERA over his last 363.1 IP is also 9th-worst. That’s where the Nationals’ truly putrid Patrick Corbin beats him pretty handily (5.84 ERA, but also 2.4 fWAR, 410 IP).
But let’s jump back to the advanced stats. Bumgarner’s xFIP, amongst all qualified and the 210 IP minimum threshold I set, is the worst as well (5.08). FanGraphs’ definitions of xFIP:
It’s calculated in the same way as FIP, except it replaces a pitcher’s home run total with an estimate of how many home runs they should have allowed given the number of fly balls they surrendered while assuming a league average home run to fly ball percentage (between 9 and 10% depending on the year).
Bumgarner’s 13.3% FB/HR ratio is only the 51st-worst since 2020, so you can see that based on the quality of contact he’s allowing, he’s been pretty bad.
Statcast has measured him as a really bad pitcher. Let’s take a look at two measures:
- xwOBAcon measures what the expected weighted value of a hitters offense should be based on the quality of contact.
- Hard Hit rate is simply a ball hit with an exit velocity of 95+ mph.
Stafcast data begins in 2015, Bumgarner’s age-25 season, the season after he cemented himself as a postseason hero, but you’ll be able to see his progression from myth to mortal:
Back in 2018, I looked at why Bumgarner hard started to lean on his curveball more, and I concluded that the dirt bike accident had something to do with it because:
The diminished velocity of the fastball is one thing, but the diminished velocity and spin on every other pitch could be the indication of either physical degradation or looming injury. Bumgarner has leaned on the curveball more than ever before because it has been his best pitch — maybe even his only good pitch. Everything else in the arsenal seems to have been effective-ish because of cunning, guile, and sequencing.
Now, some of my analysis — as pedestrian as it was then — is flummoxed now because of how Statcast measured his pitches. That “slutter” of his really mucks up its ability to determine a sinker from a cutter from a slider. For example, in 2018, Statcast’s scouting report of him indicated:
Bumgarner relies on 5 pitches. Sinker (35%), Cutter (34.5%), Curve (22.3%), Changeup (8.2%), Four Seamer (0.1%)
If you click on his page now, it says this:
Bumgarner relies on 5 pitches. Cutter (34.6%) 4-Seam Fastball (33.1%) Curveball (19.7%) Changeup (12.3%) Slider (0.3%)
Bumgarner’s velocity drop is not clouded by any measurement uncertainty where Statcast is concerned, however. From 2015-2017, he averaged 91.73 mph with it. In six seasons since then, it’s down to 90.28. His cutter has dropped from 87 mph 2015-2017 to 85.97 since. His pitch spin rates have been fairly consistent, but the velocity decline still indicates a drop in stuff and he was already a pitcher who relied on sequencing and guile.
Weeks from now somebody in the Sunset or later this year at Thanksgiving, after the Giants have missed the playoffs, an uncle might say, “They should’ve brought back Madison Bumgarner.” You can use any of the data you want to back up your point, but even on just a pure emotional level, what good would a reunion serve?
- If people perceive that the Giants aren’t going anywhere this season, then what good would it do to bring back a guy who reminds them of better days? And wouldn’t bringing back a sad version of that guy just make it all the more painful?
- If people perceive that the Giants could get him back up and running — after all, Bumgarner doesn’t turn 34 until August and he’s got to be better than Ross Stripling, right??? What’s the harm in trying??! — consider that one of Bumgarner’s main traits, one of the few things the small group of people who love the guy really like about him, is that he’s a stubborn sumabitch! You really think he’s going to listen to any coaches, especially the group of nerds coaching the Giants? He’s a lone wolf — always has been.
- If people perceive that he’d love a reunion to revisit his own glory days and would therefore be receptive of their coaching, have they considered that he doesn’t have what the Giants are good at modifying? They’d need him to be Sean Manaea: sinker, slider, changeup. The only guy who throws a cutter on the Giants right now is Camilo Doval. The only guy who throws a curveball is Sean Hjelle. The only four-seamers come from John Brebbia, Ross Stripling, and Tyler Rogers. He doesn’t fit their optimization mold, and it’s highly unlikely there’s some mechanical tweak they could make / that he’d be receptive to that’d net him a few more mph on his fastball — exactly what he’d need to be effective again, given the rest of his arsenal. Could he be effective with just cunning and guile? The Giants aren’t the team that’s going to gamble on that, especially when they’d have no input into his process.
- If people think the Giants need a fire lit underneath them to play better, consider that Bumgarner’s brand of ornery is incredibly selfish. He’s not a guy who motivates his teammates to play better — they’re constantly having to prepare for fighting the other team in order to defend him. Now, there are those who think that brings the team together, but that’s robbing the rest of us of the proper context: Bumgarner causes fights because he sucks at baseball — he’s really bad at it! — so coming to his defense is an obligation. That’s not team building! That’s team minding! And when the rest of the team is struggling, it’s a liability.
That said, I get it. Baseball is entertainment. If the team can’t be good on the field, then root for chaos. Sure, why not? This thought usually emanates from people who are so miserable that they can only derive pleasure from other people’s suffering. We get enough of that, don’t you think? Why not consider this far less chaotic or nostalgic angle:
I make the case that the Giants should finally let Madison Bumgarner reach his destiny as a slugging DH. After all, the bridge next to Oracle Park is named after a sweet-hitting converted pitcher, Lefty O'Doul. https://t.co/jakNltGQZa— Sean Keane (@seankeane) April 21, 2023
As much as people are dumping on Mitch Haniger and Austin Slater being saviors for the lineup against left-handed pitching, there’s a part of me — particularly if Bumgarner, upon his formal release from the Diamondbacks, remains unsigned for some period of time and the Giants are 10+ games under .500 — that feels they really need all the help they can get because it’ll be better than what they’ve got.
A Sergio Romo retirement situation is all I’d really be thinking in the Bumgarner DH situation, but Bumgarner would really have to commit. He hasn’t hit in a regular season game since 2021!
It’s just really important to remember that this is such a bad idea that even the mere thought exercise component is worthy of shame.