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Madison Bumgarner skipped in Diamondbacks rotation

What’s behind this latest downturn in fortunes for the veteran left hander ?

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Just prior to the Diamondbacks game against the Royals last night manager Torey Lovullo announced that Madison Bumgarner would be skipped in the rotation and not take his turn in the upcoming series against the White Sox. Lovullo said it was a “performance based” decision and that they wanted to give Bumgarner time to put in some extra work with pitching coach Brent Strom. In his previous start on August 20th he allowed two solo home runs to Albert Pujols accounting for two of the five runs he’d allow to St. Louis while giving up 7 hits and 2 walks in 5.1 IP.

This is not the first time Bumgarner has had a start pushed back. Earlier this month he was scheduled to pitch on August 3rd, but had his start pushed back two days to August 5th. At the time it didn’t seem like much. Tommy Henry slotted into the August 3rd game to make his MLB debut at Cleveland and Thursday was an off day. A couple of extra days off for a veteran starter who struggled in his previous start against the Braves on July 29th seemed reasonable.

On August 5th Bumgarner started against the Colorado Rockies and had another rough outing, giving up 10 hits and 5 runs in 5.2 IP. The team eventually came back and won that game 6-5. But a clearly frustrated pitcher addressed the media in the locker room post game. He began by saying he felt all right physically, and said he expected to get better results from the way he threw the ball. But then after a slight pause, he shifted his tone entirely and said the following:

“I would like to feel better than that, normally, but sometimes there’s times of the year you don’t feel as good as you do when you’re at your best”

I followed up by asking if it was weird not to feel your best with extra time off? He responded by saying, “Well that’s why we had the extra time off”.

Here is the short interview, and the quotes above start 50 seconds in.

This sounds like a pitcher describing a dead arm phase. If that were indeed the case, the two extra days clearly didn’t help, and the subsequent starts this month were very rough. It’s been the worst month of an ever worsening season. He’s posted a 7.94 ERA in August and his OPS against is .969.

Early in the year, for his first 30+ IP through May 10th he did a great job of limiting line drives and inducing soft contact, leading to a .207 BABIP and a 1.78 ERA despite a 4.71 FIP. Since then however over his next 103 IP his line drive rate has almost doubled, and his BABIP has risen to .334. His soft contact rate has evaporated, nearly cut in half (and under 4% in August !)

So is this due to diminished stuff ? Not really. Bumgarner’s 4-Seam velocity was down very slightly in August compared to July, but in line with his season average. The Velocity on the cutter however was at a season low, about 1 MPH slower. (All chart images below courtesy of Baseball Savant)

His spin rates in August are actually higher than his season average, and significantly higher than they were in April and early May when he was having the most success. And the spin rate changes don’t seem to correlate very strongly with his horizontal and vertical movement anyway. This is actually a continued oddity with Bumgarner, as I’ve noticed in the past that when he saw big spin rate jumps in 2019-20 it didn’t actually result in a lot of extra movement.

Opinion and Analysis:

The above is all pretty much playing record statements of fact. If you play with the drop downs at the linked player page above you can see that from 2015 to 2022 his velocity and movement have not really changed tremendously. He’s slightly slower by about 1 MPH on average, but has recovered most of the big drops from the 2020-21 seasons where he did indeed have to work with a lot less velocity.

My theory is as follows: This is primarily about location. If he’s not throwing that much slower and not getting that much less movement, then why is he getting hit so hard and giving up so many more hits and homers ? For me, it has to be the location. Unfortunately I’m not that great in using heat and location maps to prove the point. The above statement is simply based on my observations having watched every inning of every start he’s thrown since he got here and listening to him and his manager discuss those starts afterwards. It always seems to boil down to not putting the ball where he wants to.

So why would he have such difficulty locating now when he didn’t earlier in his career ?

I’m not a pitching coach and can’t address mechanics. But he has one of the best pitching coaches in the business working with him and even Brent Strom has not been able to “fix” him as yet. One belief I happen to have is that as pitchers age they exert a little more energy to maintain or at least minimize losses in velocity and movement. Perhaps that little bit of extra exertion causes a slight lack of command over the ball. Of course an underlying injury can also cause command issues.

Early on in his D-backs phase of his career I read many comments about Bumgarner supposedly re-inventing himself or making adjusts as he aged. But in fact he’s still the same guy throwing the same three pitches, 4-Seam, Cutter, & Curve. The changeup has just never been there for him and never will be. He’s not Zack Greinke, who can throw every pitch in his arsenal at 4 different speeds with three different types of break. This is who Madbum is, and unfortunately I don’t think that’s going to change much.

As long as he’s not injured and can keep going out there and throwing what he’s throwing, I think he can still have good games and even stretches of effectiveness covering multiple starts, like he did earlier in the year. But I don’t believe he can sustain it for even two-three months at a time, let alone a full season.

So where does the team go from here ? Bumgarner is still owed a total of $40M through the end of 2024. His contract is unmovable unless they eat the vast majority of it or include a highly ranked prospect to make up value. They could consider moving him to the bullpen next year, perhaps even try him out as closer. But for this particular pitcher that could be a very tough sell. And his first and early innings numbers are actually the worst out of his pitching line anyway. So that’s not an option they’ve likely considered yet.

This season is nearly in the books. But what do they do for 2023 ?


What should the team do with Madison Bumgarner

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    Keep sending out every 5th day
    (41 votes)
  • 7%
    Trade at all costs, even if it requires sending a prospect
    (7 votes)
  • 25%
    Convert to reliever for 2023
    (25 votes)
  • 26%
    DFA, eat all the money
    (26 votes)
99 votes total Vote Now