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2021 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews, #11: Madison Bumgarner

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2021, the year in which Mason Saunders was more of a mad bum than a MadBum.

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
  • Rating: 5.14
  • Age: 32
  • 2021 Stats: 26 G, 26 GS, 7-10, 4.67 ERA (91 ERA+), 146.1 IP, 124 K, 39 BB, 1.5 bWAR/1.5 fWAR
  • 2021 Earnings: $19,000,000
  • 2022 Status: 3 years/$60,000,000 remaining on contract

Introduction

At this point in his career, Madison Bumgarner needs little introduction. As a member of the San Francisco Giants from 2009-2019, Bumgarner finished in the top-10 of Cy Young voting four times, twice in the top-5. He earned two Silver Slugger Awards. He earned three World Series rings. One of the rings was earned largely because of a ridiculously dominant set of performances he posted in the 2014 World series, which included his famous and historic appearance from the bullpen in the deciding game, which led to him winning the World Series MVP honour. After his contract expired in 2019, the Giants chose not to retain his services. Mike Hazen and his pitching gurus felt that they saw something left in Madison Bumgarner’s tank, something that could be tapped into with a few tweaks courtesy of some advanced coaching. That resulted in the Diamondbacks handing Bumgarner a 5-yr/$85 million contract. Then COVID hit right before his first season in an Arizona uniform and well - yeah...

2021

If Madison Bumgarner were acquired for 3-years/$30 million to be an innings-eater for the Snakes, then most people would probably be content with his production thus far. Alas, such is not the case for Bumgarner. He was handed an ace’s contract and expected to headline the rotation. In that regard, Bumgarner fell well-short of the mark.

Like pretty much every other pitcher whom the Diamondbacks relied on in 2021, Bumgarner had his issues with injury, missing a significant portion of time in June and July. A generous review would allow that Bumgarner’s final two appearances before heading to the IL were due in part to injury. Certainly, the final one does appear to be. But the reality is, Bumgarner’s 2021 struggles went far beyond just those outings, and in both directions from the injury. One of Bumgarner’s primary issues in 2021 was simply that he firmly established that he is in the declining phase of the aging curve. His fastball velocity dropped to an average of 91 for the season. There were instances where he was rushing the ball to the plate at 88-89(ish). He began to develop a cutter and to rely more on his change-up, but being effective with the pitches in-game was always a work in progress.

In addition to merely jousting with Father Time and dealing with injury, Bumgarner also encountered issues with the coaching he was receiving. While Bumgarner did not go so far as to openly and specifically throw any particular coach under the bus, he still didn’t pull many punches, making it quite clear that he was not buying what Arizona’s coaches were selling. To his credit, when he began doing “his own thing” again, he did see a slight, temporary increase in performance. Still, the open displeasure Bumgarner had with coaching in a season going as wrong as the 2021 season was, was not the best look for the team or for Bumgarner.

Bumgarner’s 2021 was not all bad. In fact, it had some very good moments as well - moments which were glimpses into the sort of pitcher he used to be. These glimpses often provided hope that he could still be that pitcher, just in a new way going forward. Alas, these were more flashes of fading glory than of future potential. The most notable of these once again put Bumgarner into the baseball history books, this time in a somewhat back-handed way. It came on April 25th in Atlanta, when the team was still treading water and being semi-competitive. Bumgarner pitched the first half of a double-header that day and tossed a no-no. However, this was 2021 and Rob Manfred hates baseball. The result was, the outing was only a seven inning game. Because the games of a double-header were shortened by the league, Bumgarner’s no-no was converted into a faux-no, and he was not credited as having achieved a no-hitter for baseball history/stats purposes. Nonetheless, it was an impressive performance and deserves great recognition.

While that was the highlight of his season, Bumgarner had a few other notable outings. On his return from the IL, Bumgarner threw six inning of two-run ball and recorded a game score of 67. He looked fresh and was commanding the zone, once again leading many to dream on what might still be. Then again, on August 19, he went eight innings allowing only one run on three hits. Later still, near the end of the season, Bumgarner went seven innings and allowed only one hit, but two runs. In all of these outings, the world was privy to the pitcher the Diamondbacks believed they were getting when they handed him his big contract before the 2020 season.

2022 and Beyond

I’m going to let fellow Pit writer Jack Sommers do some of the heavy lifting here.

The Diamondbacks are on the hook for Bumgarner. There is no way around it. With his contract, he isn’t being traded. As a veteran with something left in the tank, he is going to be part of the starting rotation. All the Diamondbacks front office and fans can do at this point, is hope that he has more flashes of dominance like he did in the games mentioned above and fewer games like the sub-five inning outings that peppered his 2021 season. For better or worse, Bumgarner is here to stay. Let’s all hope it is for better.