There’s no denying that Madison Bumgarner’s recent form has been fantastic. All the more so, in fact, because of the contrast in which it stands to his previous performances as a Diamondback. There had been serious doubts as to the worth of the five-year $85 million deal which Madison signed in December 2019. The first season had been a disaster, with a 6.48 ERA, and this year had started off worse still. After four starts, Bumgarner’s ERA was 11.20, and his overall figures with Arizona were among the worst ever for any pitcher. But then, something changed. What was it? Madison, apparently, knows what it is but won’t tell, saying cryptically after last night’s game:
Madison Bumgarner was asked what has been the key to flipping the switch into ace mode the last five starts: "Yeah, I definitely can. But I'm not going to throw anybody under the bus, so I'm going to keep that to myself."— Zach Buchanan (@ZHBuchanan) May 12, 2021
That’s a fascinating comment, and it would be interesting to compare his first few starts to the last four or five, and see if any differences can be found. He certainly seemed to be throwing harder last night, but I’ll defer to those better experienced at working the Statcast leaderboards, who can dig into whether, say, MadBum’s spin-rate has increased, etc.
Over the last five games, this has been his line:
Bumgarner: 30.0 IP, 12 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 HR, 2 BB, 34 SO, 0.90 ERA, 0.465 WHIP
That’s very good. But the D-backs have had some pretty good starting pitchers over their relatively short history in the National League. Where does Bumgarner’s current run stack up against those - as well as, perhaps, some other surprising names? The answer, as with most things in baseball, is it depends on how you look at it. So let’s examine the streak using several different metrics. [Header links go to the full charts of best five=game streaks by an Arizona starter, according to the appropriate metric]
But first, enjoy this:
Perhaps surprisingly, there have been twenty five-start periods over which an Arizona pitcher has posted a sub-one ERA, though some of those are overlapping. Bumgarner’s streak is not that impressive by pure ERA, coming in equal 15th. You probably know who heads that list, being the sole Diamondbacks with five consecutive outings in which no earned runs were allowed. That would, of course, be Brandon Webb, who put together a remarkable scoreless streak of 42 consecutive innings in 2007. without allowing a run That included five scoreless outings in a row, and combined with the quality starts before and after, that spell is responsible for three of the sub-one ERA streaks.
Second place is rather more recent. In the summer of 2017, Robbie Ray finally appeared to have figured it all out, and put together a streak of five games that were almost as good as Webb’s. Over 37 innings, he gave up just one earned run for a 0.24 ERA, with a K:BB ratio of 48:9. Of course, that proved to be a flash in the pan, and Ray eventually reverted to the frustrating pitcher we knew so well. Discounting Webb’s overlappers, third place goes to... Randy Johnson? Curt Schilling? No. The answer is... Andy Benes. Back in September of the franchise’s inaugural season in 1998, he put together 38.1 innings, giving up two earned runs for a 0.47 ERA.
If you want to find the Big Unit, his best comes in fifth, after Patrick Corbin (0.50, also in 2017). That was September 2002, and included three complete games for a total of 41 innings. Three earned runs gave him a 0.66 ERA. just edging in the third decimal a simiular streak (40.2 IP, 3 ER) he had in April 2000. He did have multiple sub-one spells, in 1999, 2001 and an entirely separate one in 2002. Including overlaps, he is responsible for eight of the nineteen sub-one streaks. Other pitchers to have done it are: Dan Haren (0.75, 2008), and Clay Buchholz, the most recent before Bumgarner to have done it, posting a 0.79 figure in 2018. Schilling just missed out, being at exactly 1.00 for a 2003 spell.
Bumgarner is #1 in terms of Walks + Hits per Innings Pitched. This will be no surprise, if you saw the following Tweet last night:
Madison Bumgarner of the @Dbacks has a 0.47 WHIP over his last 5 starts including tonight.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) May 12, 2021
That's the lowest WHIP by an NL pitcher over a 5-start span in a season since Hall of Famer Pete Alexander had a 0.42 WHIP over 5 starts in 1915.
So the lowest WHIP in the entire National League for more than a century. You have to go back to the dead-ball ERA to find anything better. But I was surprised how close the runner-up in Arizona was to Bumgarner. That does belong to Johnson, less than 0.06 higher at 0.524. That came in 2004, when he allowed 13 hits and 5 walks over 34.1 innings, with an ERA of 1.05. Of course, these being the 2004 Diamondbacks, Johnson got the loss in two of those five starts, as the offense scored one and zero runs in support of the Big Unit. Almost a hundred points further back is Ray’s streak, mentioned above, which is third of the non-overlap ones. He had a WHIP of 0.622, giving up 14 hits and 9 walks in 37 innings.
In all of recorded baseball history, there have been only two five game streaks where the starter has gone 5+ innings, allowing four or fewer hits, one or fewer walks and one or fewer runs in each outing. Bumgarner’s is one, the other belongs to a pitcher we saw over the weekend. Jacob DeGrom did it over the 2019-20 seasons, allowing a total of 13 hits and 3 walks in 33 innings. Even Pete Alexander couldn’t match that, as he had a start where he was tagged for nine hits.
In this area, Bumgarner is not well ranked, due to a combination of the relative shortness of his outings and a lack of strikeouts. His current run comes in only =57th, with an average Game Score of 71. Hmm, what pitcher in team history went deep into games and had a lot of K’s? Of course, Randy Johnson dominates the Game Score chart, with no fewer than 20 of the top 24, including overlaps. The remainder are Ray’s streak (average game score of 80), two overlapping ones from Webb in 2007 (79 and 78) and Benes’s from back in 1998 (77). Meanwhile, at two points in July/August 2002, as well as in April/May 2001, Johnson had a five game streak with an average Game Score of 81 or better.
This was his Arizona peak, reaching an 81.2 Game Score average. The outings included a shutout, another complete game, and 11+ strikeouts each time, totaling 64 K’s over 41 innings. Also of note: Johnson threw at least 115 pitches every one of those outings, 130 or more in two and 145 pitches in the first. And that was a game the Diamondbacks won 6-1, so it’s not as if he really needed to be out there in the top of the ninth inning! Truly, we shall not see his like again.