Why Madison Bumgarner Still has a Place on the Diamondbacks
By Peter Smith
Amid this lockout and all the nothing going on, fans' minds are preoccupied with two things: the Hall of Fame election and hypothetical moves that will turn their teams into contenders. For many Diamondbacks fans, Madison Bumgarner has been a source of frustration. And justifiably so. In a Diamondbacks uniform, he's carried a 5.07 ERA, 1.239 WHIP, and has been battling injuries the whole time. While his time in the valley has been fraught with issues, Madison Bumgarner is still a solid pitcher who belongs on this team.
Before we take a look at his on-field performance, I want to examine the contract he was given. Way back in December of 2019, Bumgarner took a 5-year, $85 million contract. According to Spotrac, he received $6 million of it in 2020 (prorated to $2.22 due to the COVID-shortened season), $19 million in 2021, will receive $23 million in 2022 and 2023, and will get $14 million in his contract year. In a vacuum, I still like this deal. The Diamondbacks were in a decent spot exiting the 2019 season, seemingly just a few pieces away from being great. The back-loaded nature of Madbum's contract allowed the Diamondbacks to make even more moves. The team also went out and picked up Kole Calhoun on a team-friendly contract and bet the farm to get Starling Marte. But as with nearly everything, COVID threw a wrench into those plans.
After all was settled and the 2020 season was a go, we all got to take a look at the signings. Starling and Calhoun both impressed and looked great. Madbum, however, was a different story. He was unable to pitch beyond the fifth inning in 2020. He held a 6.48 ERA in 2020, good for an ERA+ of just 70 (100 is average). He also doubled his HR/9 from 1.3 in 2019 to 2.8 in 2020, and his H/9 increased from 8.3 in 2019 to a whopping 10.2 in 2020. Granted, he did miss a substantial portion of his season with a back injury, but those results are not what you want to see in your big free agent pickup.
Going into 2021, the Diamondbacks were missing franchise faces Robbie Ray and Archie Bradley, but baseball carried on. While the Diamondbacks played their second-worst season of all time, Madison Bumgarner quietly began to turn things around. He brought his ERA down nearly two whole runs from 6.48 to 4.67. He went from a 1.440 WHIP to 1.182. His K/9 increased to 7.6 in 2021 from 6.5. He cut his HR/9 nearly in half with 1.5 compared to the whopping 2.8 in 2020. I'm not going to say these are All-Star numbers. They certainly are not. What I am going to say is he's trending in the right direction. There were several games and moments that felt like a look back in time. He threw a no-hit game in a double header this year! I genuinely enjoyed watching him pitch this season.
" Talent and Brent Strom go together like ice cream and cake: amazingly."- Peter Smith
If you want one more reason to be optimistic, the Diamondbacks picked up a new pitching coach: Brent Strom. Talent and Brent Strom go together like ice cream and cake: amazingly. Players sing the praises of Strom's guidance. I'd go so far as to say he's a big reason Gerrit Cole is the force he is today largely because of Brent Strom. While I wouldn't expect large, immediate change out of everyone, his coaching is certain to have an impact on this team over the next few seasons.
I'm not wanting to set expectations of a return to prime MadBum. I'm not sure if that's something he's got. But Madison Bumgarner is driven. Nobody wants to play poorly. In the face of adversity, he worked and is on the right track. The Diamondbacks want to turn over a new leaf. The changes in the coaching staff reflect this. Everyone will be looking to impress and I feel that Madison Bumgarner will be ready to do just that, whenever that time may come.