This is the first of a series of posts in which I’ll examine potential trade targets for the Yankees as we approach the trade deadline, providing an overview of their profile and their background. If you have suggestions for pitchers you’d like to see profiled or any questions, please reach out to us on Twitter or Gmail, both of which are available on our sidebar.
In case you hadn’t heard, the Yankees need a pitcher. Brian Cashman himself said so after trading for Edwin Encarnación the other day, telling reporters that he’s “got more work to do.” That invariably means another starting pitcher, and there should be a few available on the market in the next few weeks.
One of those that will almost certainly be made available is Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants. MadBum, who was recently involved in a spat with the Dodgers’ Max Muncy, has one of baseball’s most recognizable names due to his heroic postseason performances. He was most recently in the World Series five years ago, though. A lot has changed since then.
Let’s take a deep dive into the big-name starter’s background, performance, stuff, and injury history to determine if he’s a suitable trade candidate for the Yankees.
Bumgarner is a 6-foot-4, 29-year-old left-handed pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. He was drafted 10th overall by the Giants in the 2007 Amateur Draft. He made his debut at age 20, which made him the second-youngest pitcher in Giants history, all the way back in 2009. If it feels like Bumgarner has been around forever and should be older than 29, that’s why. The dude has been around in very visible situations for a long time.
He owns a 3.08 ERA (3.29 FIP) in 1731.1 career innings pitched. He’s a 4-time All-Star and a 3-time World Series winner with an earned reputation for delivering in October. He finished in the top-10 of the NL Cy Young voting in each year from 2013-2016, though he’s never won the award. If you want name value, Bumgarner’s got it.
MadBum’s first real year in the bigs took place in 2010, when he threw 111 innings of 3.00 ERA (3.66 FIP) ball, but it wasn’t until the following year when he became the guy we all remember. Including 2011, Bumgarner would pitch at least 200 innings in 6 consecutive seasons, keeping his ERA under 3.00 in 4 of those 6 years. The dude was legit. He wasn’t quite Clayton Kershaw good over that period (who is?) but he was undeniably a frontline pitcher. One of the best.
An injury in 2017 (more on that in a moment) put a stop to that streak, and also seemed to denote the end of his peak. In 2017 and 2018, there were some real signs of decline. Take a look at this:
There’s a lot to break down here. First, 2017 really does mark a difference for Bumgarner, and it’s not just because he was hurt. Most of his rate stats declined: he struck out fewer batters, induced fewer grounders and more fly balls, and batters generated much harder contact against him.
That’s also evidenced by the fact that batters are performing much, much better against him. Check out the opposition’s triple-slash line against Bumgarner, broken up by the two different “eras” of his career, if you will:
- 2011-2016: .229/.278/.356 (.634 OPS), 2.3% HR%
- 2017-2019: .243/.294/.412 (.706 OPS), 3.3% HR%
Noticeably different! Batters have a different experience hitting against Bumgarner now, and they are clearly able to drive the ball more. He’s notably surrendering more home runs and is more susceptible to fly balls, as we’ve seen above. Harder contact and elevated contact is going to lead to more home runs, so no surprises there.
Now, this is not to say that the new Bumgarner is a bad pitcher. In fact, he very clearly is not that: he’s still quite effective and averaging 6.2 innings per start. That has real value. Not to mention, he is still comfortably above average. Not that FIP is the end-all, be-all (it very much is not that), but this is a good illustration:
Clearly, even though those two lines have converged a bit in recent years, he’s still above-average. And, if you want to be optimistic, they’ve actually started to split again in 2019.
Bumgarner is primarily a four-pitch pitcher, relying on your usual combination of hard stuff (four-seam fastball and cutter) and off-speed stuff (curveball and changeup). He uses his fastball (43% usage) and cutter (37%) heavily, relying on them in total about 80% of the time. His cutter is his best pitch.
He also mixes in his curve (12%) and change (6%, though there is a disparity with RHB/LHB here) to keep batters honest. Here’s his usage chart, if you want it:
Bumgarner’s fastball reliance would seem to contradict the Yankees’ ongoing anti-fastball approach, but I think we’re almost at the point where we can discount that altogether. After all, the Yanks have acquired James Paxton, J.A. Happ, and Lance Lynn all within the last calendar year–and they’re each among the heaviest FB users in the game. Maybe it’s time to retire this idea.
Anyway, back to Bumgarner. Over the past few years, Bumgarner’s velocity has declined, which feels worth noting. Check this out:
|2015||93.02 mph||87.15 mph||77.60 mph||85.85 mph|
|2016||91.71 mph||87.64 mph||75.67 mph||84.13 mph|
|2017||91.38 mph||87.13 mph||78.46 mph||83.38 mph|
|2018||91.47 mph||86.03 mph||78.16 mph||84.15 mph|
|2019||92.22 mph||87.39 mph||78.43 mph||84.32 mph|
There was a pretty clear downward trend right there from 2015-2018… but it seems like that’s changed so far in 2019. Back in May, Craig Edwards at FanGraphs wrote a very nice piece on Bumgarner’s velocity potentially making a comeback. You should check that out. Long story short, though, is that the uptick in velocity just might suggest that Bumgarner, who has been hurt in 2017 and 2018, might not have been operating at full capacity–and that the increased velocity is an encouraging sign.
That piece was written about six weeks ago, so I do have to say: looking at it now, it is actually encouraging. Peeling back the layers a bit further also illustrates the fact that there is some cause for optimism with Bumgarner. Check out his whiffs-per-swing over the same time period:
Given that he barely uses the changeup, let’s just ignore that one altogether, shall we? Good. Anyway, the rest of that data is mighty encouraging. After pretty precipitous drop off for both his curveball and fastball from 2017-2018, those figures have both rebounded significantly this year. Unsurprisingly, that correlates well to his rebounding K% that was highlighted earlier.
There’s a lot here, but I think if you look at his stuff overall, there are several signs to suggest that reports of Bumgarner’s decline–while not unwarranted, to be clear–may indeed be a bit premature. San Francisco is surely hoping he performs well over the next few weeks to make this case even stronger.
Bumgarner has dealt with injuries in each of the last two seasons, though neither incident provides serious cause for concern. They were fluky.
In 2017, he injured his shoulder during a dirt biking accident on a scheduled off-day in Colorado, going on to miss several months. A poor decision, no doubt, but it’s a fluke injury that isn’t representative of a recurring problem or anything like that.
Last year, Bumgarner broke his pinky and missed several months because of this:
Can’t do much about that. The comebacker, which came in his final start of the spring no less, is just bad luck. Those are two frustrating injuries!
As I said above, it is worth wondering if he’s been truly right the last few years. But one thing is for sure: Bumgarner has been a workhorse for several years and has no significant injury concerns. They’ve all been flukes. That’s a point in his favor.
Bumgarner is in the final year of an 8-year, $58.06 million deal with San Francisco. He’ll be a free agent after the season. San Francisco is terrible and there’s no doubt in my mind at all that they’d let him walk if they don’t trade him. Better to get something of value, right? So, in other words, Bumgarner will be a rental at the deadline, and he’ll almost certainly be traded.
What’s He Going to Cost?
Gosh, I really don’t know. He’s kind of a weird case: he has name value, October pedigree and a track record of success with a limited injury history. However, there are also signs of real decline, he has thrown a lot of innings (he’s “older” than your normal 29-year-old), and he’s not controlled beyond this season.
With so few teams actually trying, I’m not sure how robust the starting pitching trade market will actually be, either. It’s weird.
Anyway, I’m not sure what it would take to get him to New York, but I’d have to imagine that Clint Frazier would be where the conversation starts. I’m high on Frazier and probably wouldn’t pull the trigger, but I don’t think I’d be outraged if the Yanks went for it here. Other names to watch include Estevan Florial and Deivi Garcia as a potential headliner, but that still feels like a lot. The Yanks system is loaded with young, high-velocity arms as well, which always make for good trade bait.
This is all to say that the Yanks definitely have the pieces to get this done, but I’m not sure which combination would do it, but hey, that’s why I write words on the Internet for fun and don’t work in a front office.
Does He Make Sense?
Yes, he does. When I started this post, I was convinced that I’d see more signs of decline than I actually do. Folks, look at what happens when you do research. You learn things and maybe even change your mind.
Anyway, there’s enough here that I think you could get a very productive pitcher for the second half of the season. His velocity is up, he’s missing more bats, and, better yet, both of those figures are climbing back up toward where he was at his peak. Those are encouraging signs, even if his ground ball rate is down and his HR rate is up. Certainly enough to take a flier on, in my opinion.
Finally, he’s durable and gives innings. As I said earlier, even in 2019, he’s averaging over 6 innings per start and could help give the Yanks that stable, steadying force in the rotation that they so lack right now.