Going Mad Over Bumgarner

iWith yet another brilliant start in a 4-1 win in Tampa Bay on Friday night, Giants’ starter Madison Bumgarner made a little bit of franchise history. The lanky lefty is currently on a nine-start streak of pitching at least seven innings while allowing two earned runs or less. That stands as the second-longest in franchise history, behind Ferdie Schupp of the then New York Giants, who had 12 such starts between the 1916 and 1917 seasons. This impressive streak has not only produced the lowest ERA of Bumgarner’s young careeer (2.69), but it’s also planted the 24-year-old firmly in the middle of the Cy Young race.

The Giants’ de facto ace is showing no signs of slowing down either, especially after tying his season-high in strikeouts with 11 against a baffled Rays lineup. He was clinical with slider, throwing the pitch a season-high 53 times with an impressive 35 of those tosses going for strikes. That’s been par for the course for Bumgarner this season because no pitcher in baseball favors his slider as much as the Giants’ lefty.

According to the pitch data over at Fangraphs, Bumgarner has thrown his slider a whopping 38.8% of the time and with good reason, because it’s also the 3rd fastest pitch of it’s time in all of baseball. Only Homer Bailey and NL All-Star starter Matt Harvey spin their sliders faster than the 87.4 mph averaged by Bumgarner. The pitch has left hitters absolutely dumbfounded as well. Opponent’s are hitting just .198 against Bumgarner’s frisbee-like slider in 217 plate appearances and they’ve managed a measly 12 extra-base hits.

That slider isn’t Bumgarner’s only weapon either. His fastball has actually been better than his slider this year, with opponents managing to hit just .180 against the pitch. In fact, Bumgarner turned to his fastball more often than his slider with 2 strikes against the Rays and the results were excellent, as he struck out 5 Tampa hitters on the pitch. He’s also been able to improve his change-up and curveball to the point that they are now solid secondary offerings to compliment his 2 plus pitches, the fastball and curveball, which only serves to further confuse hitters.

But maybe the biggest reason for Bumgarner’s success is that his approach to hitters works equally well no matter which side of the plate they hit from. Now, since he’s left-handed, it’s fairly understandable why left-handed hitters struggle against Bumgarner. Every single one of his pitches breaks away from a lefty hitter and because of a rather deceptive delivery and an odd arm angle it must be hell to hit against him. What’s rather surprising is Bumgarner’s success against righties. Check out his splits:

Against righties: .200/.271/.299, 7 homers, 91 K, 34 BB

Against lefties: .158/.198/.317, 5 homers, 44 K, 5 BB

The slider is a big key here as well. Bumgarner is content to frisbee the pitch on the inside corner where it can creep in under the hands of right-handed hitters, burying them in the process. Just take a look at his pitch breakdown against the righties from his start against the Rays:

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All of those little red dots you see are sliders and, for the most part, Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey stick to their plan with the pitch. They make a conscious effort to stay away from the outer corner and the lower middle of the plate where hitters can do the most damage. Instead, Posey sets up on the inside corner where the natural movement of Bumgarner’s pitches can force hitters into feeble swings.

As long as he continues to pitch off of his slider, Madison Bumgarner should continue to dominate hitters and his impressive streak should continue.

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