Today we kick off our annual series of player reviews, which will run on a daily basis, beginning today, and taking us into almost the middle of January. Every man who appeared for the D-backs will be covered, though for obvious reasons, some will be in more detail than others. We’ll also be reviewing the performance of manager Torey Lovullo and General Manager Mike Hazen, giving us 56 in total. If anyone is interested in doing a player, drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll send you the list of openings. I’ve loved seeing all the Fanposts discussing off-season moves, and would welcome more input for this large feature.
There were initially 64 forms submitted, but three were more or less blatant efforts at trolling, and were easily filtered out, giving us 61 acceptably credible submissions. There were still a couple of eyebrow-raising marks for individual players to be found, but everyone deserves a certain amount of leeway and personal bias! And with that, we will get to it, and I drew the short straw to write about one of the worst contracts in the history of the Diamondbacks...
- Rating: 1.26
- 2023 stats: 4 GS, 16.2 IP, 0-3 record, 10.26 ERA, 2.400 WHIP, -0.7 bWAR
- Date of birth: August 1st, 1989
- 2023 salary: $23,000,000
- 2024 status: Still under contract for the year, $14 million owed
2023 in review
It’s salutary to realize that, in last year’s rankings, there were actually nine players who came in owning a lower score than Madison Bumgarner. Of course, that was a considerably worse Diamondbacks’ team, with Dallas Keuchel occupying the bottom position in the rankings. But somehow, Bumgarner managed to go downhill this year, and that resulted in what was easily the worst average vote, more than a point below anyone else. To give you some idea, the #55 player’s score is actually closer to that of the #39 ranked man, than he is to Madison Bumgarner. But what do you expect, given this was the year where we discovered that the $85 million paid, would not even reach replacement level over the life of the contract?
Spring training actually went well enough for Bumgarner, making three starts in the Cactus League in addition to some back-field appearances and posting a 3.18 ERA over 11.1 innings. Lovullo provided the contractually obligatory “best shape” quote: “Bum is doing a really nice job in terms of pitch shaping and just working real hard. He looks good, he looks good.” Reports had him “sporting a biting cutter and a sharp curveball.” But after posting a 7.12 ERA in his final ten starts of 2022, Arizona fans were understandably aware that the proof of the pudding would not be found, facing minor-leagues in scrimmages at Salt River Fields.
Those concerns proved well-justified. Just 21 pitches into his season, Bumgarner allowed a grand-slam to the Dodgers’ Trayce Thompson, part of a five-run first inning in Los Angeles. Bumgarner seemed to be in a “What, me worry?” state following the 10-1 loss, telling reporters, “My mechanics were fine. It was just one of those days you have during the year, and mine just happened to be the first one... I was just one pitch away in the first of it being a completely different game. After that, it wasn’t bad.” But he was sent back to Arizona for evaluation, after “arm fatigue,” though this did not stop Bumgarner from making his next start, six days later, also against Los Angeles, this time at Chase Field.
I guess it went “better” in that he didn’t take the loss - albeit because the D-backs scored four runs to get him off the hook after he left. He did only allow three runs over 4.2 innings. However, Bumgarner needed 103 pitches to get that far, walking six batters in addition to five hits. It would still end up being his best start of the year for Arizona, a Game Score of 43 being the highest by eleven points. Not that we knew it at the time, but it would also be his final appearance as a Diamondback in Phoenix. A week later, he was on the road in Miami and after three scoreless inning, the wheels fell off in a five-run fourth, all of the runs scoring with two outs, though the six hits in the frame were all at 96 mph plus.
We wondered how long the team would tolerate this degree of performance. The day after, I started our Madison Bumgarner DFA Watch and concluded, “If the team is genuinely trying to win every day - rather than only four out of five - then Madison Bumgarner is now part of the problem rather than the solution. The team has, so far, been given an unexpected change to contend for a play-off spot, probably a season earlier than many people expected. It’s up to them whether or not they want to take it.” Even calmer heads like Nick Piecoro wrote, “How much longer will the Diamondbacks continue to give him the ball?... it is hard to believe the organization is not at least considering the possibility.”
It did seem there was something else at play, perhaps health related. After the Miami outing, Bumgarner was kinda cryptic: “There was a lot going on in between the last start and this one. It wasn’t quite as smooth as it may have looked just getting a couple of extra days. There was a lot of stuff going on. I’m not going to tell you all the stuff going on, but it wasn’t just an ordinary, ‘Here’s a couple of extra days.’” Madison was still looking into the future: “It’s a long season and I’ve started off worse than this more than one other time. We’ve got a long ways to go.” Well, Madison, I’m afraid I have some bad news about that. The season might have a long ways to go, but...
His final start came on April 19th in St. Louis. He faced 20 batters, recording only nine outs, and being tagged with seven runs on seven hits and four walks. The next day, the team had seen enough, and Bumgarner was designated for assignment. Arizona still owed him $34 million, blowing away the previous team worst hangover from a DFA, the $22 million when they cut Russ Ortiz loose in June 2006. Said Mike Hazen, “I ask our players and staff to have urgency around how we’re going to play and attack. And so I have to do the same thing. I can’t be a hypocrite and ask for that and not do it in my job. So that was part of the reason we made a decision... I was told to do what needs to be done to win baseball games.”
Bumgarner’s time in Arizona ended with a 5.23 ERA and 15-32 record across his 69 starts. Only one of the four seasons he pitched here was he above replacement level, and the total value was -0.5 bWAR. Earlier in the year, we looked at the D-backs worst contracts, and MadBum then ranked fifth. However, the strongly sub-replacement showing this season, posting -0.7 bWAR, allowed him to overtake Russ Ortiz for fourth spot with a final negative value in current dollars of $89.6 million. Over Arizona history, that amount sits behind only Todd Stottlemyre, Yasmany Tomas and Matt Williams, and is far and away the worst move of the Hazen era.
Bumgarner went unclaimed on waivers, nobody being interested in taking him on, even for the pro-rated portion of league minimum, and on April 26, he was released by the D-backs. But he will continue to have an impact on the team, with Madison being owed $14 million for the 2024 season. Depending on what happens in arbitration to Christian Walker and Zac Gallen, that could still leave him the most expensive player on the team next year, with the current high being Ketel Marte’s $13.6 million. With the team looking to upgrade, both starting pitching and areas like third-base, there’s no doubt the money could be better spent than funding Mason Saunders’s rodeo career.
It’s easy to hate on Bumgarner for being such an anchor, dragging the team down, failing to reach the lowest bar of major-league pitching, and making a lot of money. However, by all accounts, it wasn’t through a lack of effort on his part. There were reports of a clash with pitching coach Brent Strom, but even he later said, “I have a great deal of respect for this guy and what he did. A lot of times I think highly successful people are resistant to change.” Certainly, a triple World Series winner with SF, it is possible to see how Madison may have been reluctant to change what had been so successful in San Francisco. But sometimes, players just fall off a cliff, and there’s no climbing back. We’ll leave the final word to Hazen.
I don’t regret signing the human being, from trying to get a starting pitcher where we did to help our rotation, when and where we needed it. It hasn’t worked out for him and it hasn’t worked out for us. I think we need to have a better process around our evaluations, we need to have a better process of where things stand when we’re adding guys to our team. But it’s not gonna stop us... Nobody would’ve foreseen this outcome, I don’t think. But obviously it happened and we’re responsible for it happening... and I’m just responsible for the decision as to why it happened.