Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Giants Pitching Preview 2011: The Road Warrior
|Madison Bumgarner in 2010...er, possibly minus the foul-tempered mutt.|
What was more impressive last postseason? Madison Bumgarner's utter dominance of the Rangers in Game Four of the World Series, or his two-inning relief appearance in front of 46,000 obscenity-spewing Philadelphians in the gut-wrenching Game Six of the NLCS? I think it ends in a bloody draw.
Both performances came in hostile territory in series-turning games and would have made men thirty years his senior wilt with helplessness. His performance against Texas was the height of mastery, but his ability to hold the Phils at bay in the most insanely stressful of circumstances might have saved the Giants' season. The fact that he shrugged off all of that pressure and mowed through two good lineups in baseball's biggest stage, at the age of 20, is unbelievable to me. Those two performances, coupled with his overall dominance in opposing ballparks throughout the season, should earn him the name Road Warrior. Spread it like a chain letter, people!
A year after a mysterious decrease in velocity led to a widespread panic amongst Giants fans, Bumgarner is in the majors for keeps. He's hitting 90 again, he's back throwing darts, and expectations are sky high. After taking over the fifth starter spot for awful Todd Wellemeyer in June, MadBum quickly proved to be a formidable addition to the staff, posting a solid strikeout rate with a surprising ability to limit walks (especially impressive for a player his age; maybe he should give Jonathan Sanchez lessons). The only blemish was a relative hittability; he allowed more than a hit an inning. This could be simple bad luck, though, as his line drive rates don't look particularly abnormal.
The most notable and freakish fact about Bumgarner's 2010 was, of course, his complete dominance on the road...and his bizarre ineffectiveness at home. This trend carried right on into the postseason, as Bumgarner was knocked out of the fifth inning in his lone Mays Field start in the playoffs, but was pretty awesome in his two road starts, plus the relief outing in Philly. Unfortunately, as much as we would love our own mythic loner scouring the apocalyptic landscape to deliver wins, this whole thing screams fluke.
Small sample sizes are just screaming bloody murder here, and pitchers, especially young ones, typically pitch better at home than on the road as a rule. Plus, there's no logical reason for Bum to be so bad at home. The park is relatively pitcher-friendly, especially on fly balls. Maybe he has an aversion to a sea of orange in the stands, I don't know. Fluke, I tell you! Single season fooferah! Expect this bizarre split to normalize this year.
Young pitchers usually have their own adjustment period after finding initial success in the majors. It wasn't as if Bumgarner came up blowing hitters away or anything, so expect some ups and downs in his sophomore season. That said, he's a big guy with a traditional pitcher's build and an easy, sound pitching motion. He's a 21-year-old who just came off a successful rookie season and who chewed through a very good lineup in a series-turning World Series game. There's plenty of reason to be excited here, folks.
Predicted Bumgarner Line: 9-7, 3.88 ERA, 145 K's I expect some bumps in the road, much like Matt Cain saw in his first full major league season. I also think he'll be handled with relative kid gloves. I can't see him being allowed to go more than 170 innings this year, but I've been wrong before. Go, MadBum!