We are 23 days away from the trade deadline and Madison Bumgarner continued to be mentioned as a person of interest for teams that remain in contention. Per a report in The Athletic (subscription required), the Milwaukee Brewers are one of those teams.
What is interesting about the article is the implied negotiating acumen and position of Giants’ President of Baseball Operations, Farhan Zaidi, and Ken Rosenthal suggests that Zaidi will not give up the World Series hero without substantial return.
Rosenthal mentioned four teams interested in Bumgarner: Houston, Atlanta, Minnesota, and Milwaukee. Of the four teams, only Minnesota is not on his no-trade list. Rosenthal goes on to mention that Bumgarner compiled the list strategically, seeking leverage over the teams he figured to be in on him. It looks as if the list might actually give the Twins leverage over everyone else in trade talks with the Giants as the Giants would not have to get Bumgarner’s permission for a trade.
Milwaukee has been mentioned as a potential landing spot in trade for Bumgarner since the beginning of the 2018 season. Unfortunately, there are some problems with the one-time ace. First of all, Bumgarner possess the second-highest hard hit percentage in MLB (45.5%) with only Adrian Sampson being higher. He is rated fifth from the bottom in GB% (35.6%) in MLB. Luckily his HR/FB% is mediocre, but could that be the result of him pitching his home games in San Francisco? Would that hold up at Miller Park? A HR/9 of 1.37 suggests that he might have trouble pitching in a more hitter friendly ballpark.
Bumgarner carries a 4.03 ERA, 3.90 FIP, and DRA of 4.43. From 2013-2016, Bumgarner posted an ERA less than 3.00 for each season. He posted a FIP no higher than 3.20, and his DRA was between 2.57 and 2.72. During that stretch, prior to his shoulder injury, he was a legitimate, bona fide ace. Right now he is an experienced veteran left-handed pitcher that could eat up some innings, keep the Brewers in ball games, and be someone that understands how things work during a playoff race as well as a playoff run.
That would not be a bad thing for Milwaukee to have. The Brewers could have difficulty in making it happen. If Zaidi is stubborn, David Stearns is unlikely to overpay. Zaidi will desire a package that matches more of what Bumgarner was. The market will likely pay something less than that, especially since he is a free agent at the end of 2019. How much less is the question.
Something to think about, could something be worked out similar to what Sonny Gray got from the Reds. The Reds gave up Shed Long and their Competitive Balance Round A pick. Cincinnati also signed Gray to a three-year extension worth $30.5MM. Bumgarner would likely ask for more in years, dollars, or both. Would giving up a prospect and next year’s Competitive Balance pick while signing the 29 year old pitcher to a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract be worth it? Zaidi would request more than that, and he just might get it. With that in mind, does Milwaukee pull the trigger?
There are signs that suggest that he is still a worthwhile investment. So far this season, Bumgarner’s fastball spin rate is in the 86th percentile and his curve spin is in the 71st percentile in all of baseball. This suggests that batters should still have a difficult time putting the ball in play when he pitches.
Bumgarner fills up the strike zone, which is good. Unfortunately he is getting hit hard this season. If you look at the four-seam fastball visual above, you can see that he gets a lot of the middle of the plate. With his fastball spin rate being so good, would it behoove him to pitch higher in the zone? He has given up 17 home runs this season, 10 of which came on the four seam fastball.
Bumgarner also uses his cutter a lot these days. MLB hitters are on that as well. Hitters are slugging .444 with 16 of 39 extra base hits coming off of that pitch. Compare that to his curve ball. His put-away percentage is 25.9% and his whiff percentage is 35.2% when throwing the curve. Batters are slugging just .311 on his curve. Would it not be a valid suggestion, a nudge if you will, to reverse the cutter and curve usage or at least increase curve ball usage while decreasing cutter usage?
One other area of positive note: Bumgarner’s fastball velocity took a dip after his shoulder injury. His average fastball sits at 92.2 mph in 2019, however. That is almost 1 mph more than where he was sitting in 2017 and 2018. In fact, it is slightly better than where the fastball sat in 2016 and is approaching the velocity he had when he was an ace. That is a really good sign.
The variables are the variables. Madison Bumgarner is not the pitcher he once was, but could he have a renaissance (Justin Verlander style)? If he was to be open to a few nudges that his new team were to give him, he just might become a top-flight pitcher again. Plus think about the advantage of having both Brandon Woodruff and Bumgarner hitting would be.
Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball Savant