Madison Bumgarner came into the postseason with a 5.89 ERA over his final seven starts of the regular season, and he has kept that same trend in order through two postseason starts, totaling a 14.73 ERA. The signs that he would continue to struggle after enduring a miserable end to a disappointing regular season, were written on the wall. It was clear to even the most casual spectator that his quirky mechanics were a bit off, making him vulnerable. And Bumgarner,who heavily relies on deception in his wind up, hasn’t fooled anyone lately.
Bumgarner surrendered two home runs during Game 1 of the NLCS on Sunday night. The first jack was off the bat of David Freese, a two-run homer, and the second homer was off the bat of Carlos Beltran which was also a two-run shot.
Considering that Bumgarner is a two-pitch guy whose known to have solid command, good hitting teams such as the Cardinals are going to pound him with that in mind. It’s not that hard to look for a fastball or a slider and swing away knowing that he’s usually going to deliver a good pitch to hit. Instead of guessing, they’re making very good predictions, which for Bumgarner, isn’t a good sign.
Unfortunately for Bumgarner, this flaw isn’t something he can fix quickly, or at least in time for his scheduled start which would be Game 5 on Thursday. Although, manager Bruce Bochy poked at the idea of his 23 year-old lefty not starting Game 5 after Sunday’s rough game. Barry Zito seems like he will get a start.
Let’s not forget that Bumgarner was tough to hit for the majority of the season. In fact, he had a sub-three ERA in every month of the regular season except for May, July, and September/October, though it was the end of August when the wheels ultimately began to roll off. In September/October, he posted a 5.47 ERA which has inevitable carried into the playoffs.
For Bumgarner, the offseason months are going to be crucial because a new pitch must be added to his arsenal for him to take the next step up. For him, the next step up is somewhat of a replication of Clayton Kershaw. Although, I’m sure the Giants would settle for a bit less.
Anyway, Bumgarner can’t be too reliant on his fastball and slider. During the regular season, he threw those two pitches 82% of the time, combined. With that said, he obviously didn’t have much faith in his change up and curveball. Combined, he threw those two pitches about 18% of the time. So, from a hitter’s standpoint, they eliminate those two pitches from what they’re expecting, and instantly, their lives become a lot easier, especially considering that the differential in speeds between his fastball and slider are marginal.
Specifically, his average fastball clocks in a 91 miles per hour, while his average slider generally sits in the 87 to 89 MPH range. The only thing that’s different about the two pitches is the movement which doesn’t have a huge impact if the speeds are nearly a mirror image of each other.
Along the line of speed variations, Bay Area Sports Guy points out that ever since shutting out the Dodgers over eight innings towards the end of August, the speed of his fastball and slider have decreased steadily. One word should pop into your mind based on that statement—fatigue. Just from a general standpoint anyone can tell that his arm is dragging along, while he barely tops 90 MPH on the gun in result. All the extra innings he threw during the 2010 postseason look to be catching up to him now.
Whether his issues stem from fatigue or a some arsenal of pitches, Bumgarner can’t make many changes in so little days. It’s a long process. At this point, every pitch, every inning, and every game is important for the Giants. Yes, that’s cliche, but it’s unlikely that they can craft another miracle comeback. Well they can, but it’s doubtful that they want to be banking on such a miracle at this point.
If Bumgarner does pitch game five, there’s nothing he can change that will make a difference. And the likelihood of the lefty pitching Game 5 seems slim given that Bochy was reluctant to defend his starter.