Why we shouldn't worry about Madison Bumgarner
In addition to having the funniest name of any player this side of Boof Bonser, Madison Bumgarner is widely considered to be the next big thing in the Giants rotation alongside Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Drafted with the 10th overall pick in the 2007 June Draft, he came out of high school with a great fastball and not a lot else. The scouting reports back then noted that his breaking pitches lagged well behind his electric fastball, “clocked anywhere from 89-95 mph.”
That same scouting report predicted that once he fills out his velocity could potentially top out around 97-98 mph. Needless to say, when he toed the rubber in September last season for his first Major League start, expectations were that we’d see some heat. Instead, his fastball stayed around 88-90, leaving many of us scratching our heads. This loss of velocity may seem alarming, especially for a guy who the organization has put so much stock into as an ace of the future. It’s easy to go around screaming “the sky is falling” when something like this occurs.
But then you have to realize that it was September for a 20 year-old who wasn’t accustomed to the grind of a long season. To put it in perspective, even Tim Lincecum lost velocity at the end of the season, going from averaging around 94 mph on his fastball in the first two months, to 91 mph in the final two. When you consider that the human arm evolutionarily isn’t even designed to throw a baseball, it’s an easy connection to make: lots of pitching makes for a tired arm.
Because of this, I’m officially not worried about Madison Bumgarner as our 5th starter this next season. A little concerned about him breaking down from the inevitable innings jump he’ll have to face, but not worried about his performance. Remember his stint back in September that had us all pulling our hair out? He also struck out 10 in 10 innings. What does that tell you about the guy drafted out of high school who had nothing but a fastball and a pocket full of dreams? It shows us that he’s learned how to be more of a pitcher and less of a thrower (albeit in a miniscule sample size of innings).
Bumgarner will of course be closely watched next season to see if he does indeed regain that illusive velocity we heard so much about on Draft Day. Regardless, this team is out of money and better options, so why not let the kid try his hand at Big League hitters? My one caveat is that if the typical signs of fatigue start showing up, shut him down, shut him down, for the love of God shut him down. There’s nothing to be gained from Mark Prior-ing Bumgarner’s arm into oblivion. Let him learn at the Major League level, but keep him healthy enough to stay there for years to come.