Madison Bumgarner is perhaps the most divisive prospect in the prospecting world today. Some see a very good, glossy ERA of 1.93 in Double-A Connecticut at just 20-years-old and think he's a future left-handed ace. Others see a declining strikeout rate, ballooning walk rate, only "pretty good" ground ball rates. Couple that with some first hand accounts by our very own Adam Foster, who noted he was working in the 88-92 MPH range with his fastball back in May, and they think "overrated." Only time will put this discussion to bed for good, but Madison Bumgarner, in a spot-start for perhaps the best pitcher in the game, Tim Lincecum (and his aching back), gave everyone their first look at what he has in his holster.
Before we start, I want to make this big disclaimer: I couldn't see this game live, as I don't have MLB.tv or the Extra Innings package. I did follow along with MLB Gameday and our Madison Bumgarner debut chat. With that aside, let's see how he did by the numbers:
5.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 2 HR allowed, 76 pitches (48 strikes), 10 ground outs, 2 fly outs.
All in all, a very respectable line and you have to love that ground-out-to-fly-out ratio. Now, on to the PITCHf/x goodness.
First up, we have his average release points:
Incredibly consistent. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound lefty comes from about the same spot nearly every single time. By the time he's released the ball, he's down under the 6-foot mark. If you notice, the x-axis on this graph is different from the PITCHf/x scouting articles I wrote previously. I had to extend it because Bumgarner comes from a farther-than-normal arm slot about 4 feet wide to the right of home plate if you're looking from the catchers view. Here's how his release points looked for all of his pitches:
I changed the colors from what I'll be using in the rest of this article so you can see the two change-up's I've got in the middle of the cluster. That's a very, very tight bunch and that's a good sign of repeatable mechanics that provides good deception.
Here's the strikezone plot:
His slider seemed to hang a bit tonight, particularly to right-handed hitters. He also worked up in the zone a fair amount. I've got the pitches hit for home runs by Chase Headley and Kevin Kouzmanoff circled. Headley blasted an 88.1 MPH fastball pretty much right over the heart of the dish, waist high. Kouzmanoff homered on a fastball which was an 86.4 MPH meatball on the outer-half -- Bumgarner allowed one home run about every 17.2 innings in Double-A.
Moving on to the platoon splits, here's how he attacked all hitters and both left and right-handed hitters:
He faced very few left-handers, as the Padres stacked right-handers in the lineup against Bumgarner. As you can see, he went primarily fastball, much like Wade Davis did. League average is about 60% fastball use and Bumgarner went with 68% heaters.
Finally, here are the pitch flight paths:
You can see his extreme release point in relation to the home plate in the bird's eye view. He'll be filthy on left-handers regardless of how good his pitches actually are. His fastball (blue line; 88.1 MPH) was pretty straight with little arm-side run on it. It also didn't look to have much sink from the pitch flight paths. He ranged 86-89 and topped out at 90.4 MPH and only topped 90 twice according to PITCHf/x -- which was differing from the television gun.
His change-up (orange line; 81.5 MPH) is tough to get a read on, as I've got him as only throwing two of them. So I'm not comfortable making hard-and-fast conclusions on this pitch just yet, but in tonight's game it showed decent arm-side run; lacked good sink on the off-speed pitch -- thought it does dive a bit more than his fastball.
The slider (white line; 78.6 MPH) has good diving action on it. There's also a little bit of sweeping action but not much. Looks better than I thought it would, but I still am not a big fan of it.
I will say this: before his start tonight, I was firmly in the camp that Madison Bumgarner is wildly overrated by the entire prospecting community. Tonight's start didn't do anything to sway my opinion. Overall, Bumgarner can be deceptive and will probably be very tough on left-handed batters. But his fastball looks average at best -- and I'm being generous -- in both movement and velocity, his secondary offerings are nearly non-existent at this point. If you strip away the name, the draft signing bonus, and the hype, I'm having a hard time seeing a top 25 prospect at this point. There are a lot of soft-tossing left-handers out there with minimal strikeout pitches and high-80's velocity.
What I will give him credit for is that he is just 20-years-old. There is time for him to hone his skills in terms of commanding his secondary offerings. That said, I'm not entirely sure how much a young pitcher drastically improves a breaking ball or change-up to being an above-average pitch to supplement his fastball. Also, this is the end of the year and he's at about the same amount of innings as he pitched last year so there's some possible fatigue at this point in the season. I don't believe that the one inning he pitched a couple of days ago had a drastic effect on him tonight as it was a clean, 1-2-3 inning.
All of the usual caveats apply here:
1. I'm not a PITCHf/x guru, I just play one on the internet.
2. This data is from one start.
3. The PITCHf/x system isn't infallible.
4. Pitch classifications are at my discretion, and may be wrong.
5. This data should always be accompanied with multiple first-hand scouting reports when looking at someone so young in their major league career.
Mike Rogers runs his own blog, Fire Jim Leyland (no, he doesn't want him fired anymore). He also contributes to a San Diego Padres blog, Friar Forecast, and at the great sabermetric blog Beyond the Boxscore. He can be reached at email@example.com