Is The Bumgarner Experiment a Failure?
At the conclusion of the 2019 season and heading into MLB Free Agency, San Francisco Giants ace, 4x All-Star, and 3x World Series champion, Madison Bumgarner, was one of the hottest names in baseball. He was coming off an average campaign of 9-9, 3.90 ERA, 200+ SO, and 1.127 WHIP. In December 2019, the Arizona Diamondbacks made a splash and inked the veteran lefty to a 5-year/$85M deal that stole him away from a division rival. The move came as a surprise after the team had just traded Zack Grienke to Houston during the season, but the Diamondbacks were still in a position to where they could have qualified for the NL playoffs.
Nick Piecoro of AZ Central, predicted what we are witnessing today, and what many of us feared would happen. In December 2019, he wrote, “He comes with a lot of miles on his arm, having thrown 1,846 innings in the majors, with more than 1,700 of them coming over the past nine years. And Bumgarner’s results have begun to trend in the wrong direction. In addition to posting a career-high 3.90 ERA [in 2019], he has seen the batted-ball data on his two best pitches – his fastball and cutter – back up over the past several years. And he has seen his ground-ball rate decrease precipitously…”
Piecoro was correct to have doubts about this signing, Bumgarner followed up his career-high 3.90 ERA in 2019 with a whopping 6.48 ERA in 2020. While 2020 saw Bumgarner appear in considerably a large amount of fewer games, the results are still telling. For example, in his just 9 games in 2020 with Arizona, MadBum surrendered 13 HR. In 2019 with San Francisco, He gave up just 14 HR, but that was in 21 games.
I want to give General Manager, Mike Hazen, the benefit of the doubt here in that he was simply trying to keep Arizona in a position of contention after dealing Greinke during a 2019 season in which Arizona finished 2nd in the NL west, going 85-77 and missed a Wild Card appearance by just 4 games. Hindsight is 20/20 though, as at the time Arizona had gotten a decent trade return in the Greinke deal (1B Seth Beer, RHP JB Bukauskas, RHP Corbin Martin, IF Josh Rojas). Fast forward to 2021 though, and only Rojas has cracked the 2021 Arizona major league roster.
I myself even went as so far as to name Bumgarner as my choice for 2021 Comeback Player of the Year, but he has picked his struggles up right where 2020 left off. In only 3 starts this season, MadBum is 0-2, 13.2 IP, 22 H, 17 ER, 8 BB, 15 SO, and has an inflated 11.20 ERA. He has given up 5+ ER in all three starts, and that includes what many thought to be the worst team in baseball this season, the Colorado Rockies, and the team who got off to the slowest start, the Oakland Athletics.
At the end of the day, it’s time for Hazen, to admit that this signing has not worked out the way the Diamondbacks had envisioned it would, even if that is behind closed doors within the front office and begin planning for 2022. Bumgarner is no longer the ace he once was, and should no longer be considered a #1 or even #2 for this Arizona team. Bumgarner should be considered this team’s #3 or even #4 at this point. That is no disrespect to Bumgarner and the career he has had, this is just the reality that has set in in Phoenix.
Bumgarner remains under contract until the conclusion of the 2024 season, and will likely next take the mound this coming weekend on the road in our nation’s capital against the Washington Nationals.