Now that finals are gone and I'm sitting around with a whole lot of nothing to do, there is no better way to spend time than to continue the "Breakout, Bust, or Rebound?" series. Now, in the past we've looked at a member of the Giants' staff: Ryan Vogelsong. I don't want to push any one team on anyone, but there is another interesting candidate on the staff, and that individual is Madison Bumgarner.
Now, to understand Bumgarner, it's important to consider where he's come from. Firstly, he'll be 22 years old at the beginning of next year, so he's really young and is still developing physically. He was drafted 10th overall in 2007 straight out of high school (he passed up a scholarship to UNC to play professionally). He's a big, tall left-hander with great stuff and better control. His tall frame gives him better leverage on the ball and has likely helped with his velocity, the break on his pitches, and the control that he is able to feature. The main reason I'm giving you all of this background? Well, you'll probably be getting asked what a guy's history is when you tell people that he's an official Breakout Candidate.
But why? Why is Bumgarner a breakout candidate, Wooly? Well, I will certainly not point to the praise he has been given as a prospect. In relative terms, that doesn't mean much of anything. To gain understanding of why Bumgarner will break out, we need to look at a few things: his physical attributes, his pitch arsenal, his strikeout ability, his control, and his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark and avoid hard hit balls. Let's look at each of them individually:
1) Physical attributes
Bumgarner is a big (225 pounds), tall (6'5) lefty. As mentioned before, this frame aids him in several ways. He's able to get more leverage on the ball, he's able to get more force behind it due to his muscle, and the longer arms allow him to release the ball closer to home plate, which gives it more "pop" and makes it appear to go even faster than it already is. His big frame and muscle mass also helps give him more endurance, which allows him to avoid a decrease in the quality of his pitches as time goes on.
2) Pitch Arsenal
Bumgarner is a four pitch pitcher who relies on control and the aforementioned "pop" to record outs. He features a fastball in the low 90's, a slider in the high 80's, a curve in the high 70's, and a change-up in the low-mid 80's. Having four pitches that he can control gives him the ability to keep hitters off-balance, which helps him record strikeouts that he would otherwise not get. The two most important things to remember about Bumgarner are this: 1) He can control his fastball extremely well. 2) His slider is devastating and is a high quality out pitch. Now, for long-term success, he might want to throw fewer sliders so that his arm doesn't blow up, but fastball control speaks to a lengthy and successful career, especially with an out pitch as good as his slider.
Madison Bumgarner definitely has the ability to strike guys out. In 2010, he had some struggles with his slider and didn't get as many punchouts, but that changed in 2011 as his slider came in at 17 win shares, which helped his strikeout rate jump to 8.40 K/9. That's a really good rate to hold in the majors, as it's nearly two strikeouts more than the average starter. Striking batters out saves the defense and reduces the possibility of damage occurring.
4) Limiting Walks
This is something that Bumgarner does extremely well. In the last two years, his average BB/9 is 2.06, which is very, very good for a starting pitcher (as it's about a walk less than the average starter. The ability to avoid walks keeps down the number of baserunners, which makes it harder for teams to do more damage when they hit home runs or other types of extra base hits.
5) Limiting Power and Contact
Since Bumgarner plays in AT&T park, I'm ignoring his HR/9 and ISO numbers. This is where WH% and the metrics from my study come in handy. Bumgarner does a great job of limiting well hit balls, which makes it even harder for batters to do damage against him. This analysis avoids reliance on the park the player is playing in, so it translates into future success in other parks.
Real Life Value to the Giants
It is really hard to be more valuable to a team than Madison Bumgarner is right now to the Giants. He's coming off of a 5.5 fWAR season (probably around 4.2 when accounting for his ballpark), and he's not even arbitration eligible until 2014 (and he's under team control through 2017). He made 450,000 dollars with the Giants last year, so he really is one of (if not THE) most valuable asset the Giants have from a cost efficiency standpoint.
As stated above, Bumgarner really has the five key things I look for when projecting future success. I really don't see much of a flaw in his game, and he looked very good in his first full season. In fact, he made pitching 200 innings look relatively easy, when it really isn't. In 2011, this is what Bumgarner's splits look like:
204.2 IP/ 8.40 K/9/ 2.02 BB/9/ 3.10 xFIP/ 46.0 GB%/ 33.4 FB%/ 5.5 fWAR
Now, given that Bumgarner is going to turn 22 next year, it's safe to assuming that he's going to keep developing physically. This should allow him to keep up his strength and stamina, and more experience throwing his four pitches may give him more balance in his approach. This will likely help his strikeout rate and allow him to improve his strikeout rate even more. Given that, I think it's reasonable to assume that his overall stats will be even better. I would feel comfortable predicting this from Bumgarner next year:
220 IP/ 8.65 K/9/ 1.91 BB/9/ 2.95 xFIP/ 47.0% GB/ 35.0% FB/ 6.4 fWAR
This improvement would make him one of the best pitchers in all of MLB, which is exactly what I expect from a pitcher of his caliber.
Bumgarner is a very attractive asset to have, but he also has a couple of major flaws that are outside of his control. To start, here's what Bumgarner did in 2011 based on a traditional 5x5 system:
13 Wins/ 3.21 ERA/ 191 K/ 1.212 WHIP/ 0 SV
Those are really good numbers (204 IP for those of us with IP limits) from a starting pitcher. He made 33 starts and provided a great overall body of work. Now, given what I have said earlier, I expect the middle three numbers to get better, and the outside numbers are really out of Bumgarner's control. To this point in the off season, the Giants haven't done anything to make their offense better, and it's still unknown if they will give Brandon Belt consistent playing time at first to bolster the offense. With that being said, here's what I expect from Bumgarner in 2012:
15 Wins/ 2.75 ERA/ 211 K/ 1.15 WHIP/ 0 SV
Those are the numbers of a guy that you can comfortably slide into the top of a rotation. However, Bumgarner's a guy that I think will get overlooked by most projection systems. While Bumgarner got a lot of strikeouts and has great peripherals, his WHIP, ERA, and Wins weren't super sexy in 2011. Now, I think common sense would dictate within the average fan that going from 21 to 22 increases the likelihood of improvement, but I think people may underestimate the potential improvement that Bumgarner can have. In a 12 team format, guys like Lincecum, Sabathia, Verlander, and Halladay will go in the first couple rounds. However, I don't think Bumgarner is going to be that much less valuable than those individuals. He'll be less valuable because of the wins and WHIP, but his ERA and strikeouts will be right up there with the elite pitchers in the league. Just remember one thing: I projected Bumgarner based on what I think is most realistic. However, that does not eliminate the strong possibility that Bumgarner out-performs the projections I have given. His strikeout ability and control will help all of his numbers next year, and he plays in the type of park that can really help inflate pitching numbers.
Yeah, Madison Bumgarner is a major Breakout Candidate for 2012.