Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bumgarner’s No Bum

Every single team has its untouchable prospects. These are players that a franchise could not bare to see play for another team and generally wouldn’t include in any deal. Unfortunately, there really is no such thing as an untouchable player. Every team will at least listen if the right deal presents itself. This includes the untouchables that have already established themselves in the Major Leagues – Mauer, Pujols, etc. If the Giants call the Twins tomorrow and offer Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval and Madison Bumgarner for Joe Mauer you better believe the Twins will listen and even consider doing the unthinkable, moving Mauer. The word untouchable prospect gets thrown around a lot but the average baseball fan doesn’t really know why a certain player is tabbed untouchable. Also, this is all so very fluid. Nobodies become untouchables and untouchables become flops, sustain injuries and as I said, get moved in the right deal. Last winter, I assure you, Pablo Sandoval was well liked but not considered untouchable. Now? The Kung-Fu Panda is pretty well untouchable alongside Lincecum. It wasn’t too far back when Sabean mulled the idea of sending the Freak (and soon to be first ever pitcher to earn two Cy Young awards in his first two full seasons) to the Jays for Alex Rios. The same Alex Rios who was picked up off waivers by the White Sox this past season for nothing. As I said, this stuff is fluid.

For the Giants, the current untouchable prospects are Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner. I’ve scribed a great deal about Buster in an earlier post, and thus it is time to expose the luster of Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner was drafted after high school by the Giants 10th overall in the 2007 Draft out of North Carolina. He is barely 20 years old. He is about 6’4” and 215 lbs. He is left-handed. Before wearing down in his second professional season in 2009, he was regualarly clocked between 93-95 MPH and topping at about 97. After his brilliant debut in professional baseball as an 18 year old in A ball, he went into 2009 ranging from about the #6 to # 19 prospect in all of baseball. Since then hes done nothing but raise the bar for his expectations. His ceiling is a strong, tall, power arm, #1 left-handed starter, i.e. a C.C. Sabathia type. The key word in that sentence is ceiling because theres no such thing as a true can’t miss prospect. These are the types that make scouts wet their pants. Their size* is believed to allow them to endure the 200 inning workloads and avoid injury. Also, left-handers of this caliber are particularly rare. Lastly, Bumgarner has a smooth and easy delivery that he is able to consistently repeat. It’s not violent which is yet another characteristic of Tim Lincecum’s scouting report that scared off multiple teams. What does this mean? Generally, when a pitcher has an easy delivery it makes them that much more capable of controlling their pitches. The result? Better command = less walks = less balls left over the plate. His stats will beautifully illustrate the type of command his delivery has afforded him. When you add a power left-handed arm to that equation, well, you can see why the Giants like him so much. There aren’t enough explatives to describe the promise he has…and he has good makeup (meaning the Giants don’t expect to get a call that he’s been accused of murder in North Carolina).

(*) The very lack of size is what allowed Tim Lincecum to fall to the Giants at #10 overall in 2006. Had he been Bumgarner’s size he’d have no doubt been #1 overall after he won the Golden Spikes Award in 2006. This award is given to the most outstanding player in the NCAA each year and Buster Posey was the recipient in 2008.

I imagined that a good way to analyze his statistics thus far in the minor leagues was to compare them to a mixed bag of other players’ minor league stats. I chose 8 others. I chose mostly left-handers (7 of 8). Of them, I chose 4 established and highly successful Major League left-handed starters, 3 of which has won an AL Cy Young (Zito 2002, Sabathia 2007, Lee 2008) and one with a World Series MVP (Hamels 2008). I chose two highly touted left-handed prospects who have already made their debuts in David Price (Rays) and Brian Matsuz (Orioles). Lastly, I chose two Giants. One was another lefty in Jonathan Sanchez who has been an enigma with his minor leagues success and no hitter which directly followed his demotion to the bullpen in 2009 prior the injury of Randy Johnson. The last player I chose was the only righty in the field and your back-to-back NL Cy Young winner, Tim Lincecum. Why? He’s a Giant and his minor league statistics are disgusting.

I’ve listed a good number of statistics to gaze at but I’ve ranked 7 of them in this field of players 1 thru 9. I chose to rank each player in ERA, WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched), H/9 (Hits per 9 innings pitched), HR/9 (Home runs allowed per 9 innings pitched), BB/9 (Walks per 9 innings pitched), K/9 (Strikeouts per 9 innings pitched) and K/BB (Strikeout to walk ratio). These statistics are readily available on Baseballreference.com and are an excellent barometer for comparing pitchers. You will see from them that among the 9 players he is easily one of the most impressive. He lead the pack amont this this field in BB/9 and K/BB. You can conclude from this that he has excellent command (remember that easy delivery?) and the ability to strike out opposing hitters. He ranks second in WHIP (he is allowing less than one baserunner per inning) and HR/9 (he is allowing few than 1/3 dingers for every 9 innings pitched). He ranks 3rd in ERA and H/9. The only category in which he ranks out of the top 3 is K/9 where he ranks last. Among the players shown here, only Tim Lincecum outdoes him and perhaps Cole Hamels is a peer to him, statistically. It was noted that sometime during the 2009 season his velocity started dipping into the high 80’s and low 90’s. The general concensus is that he wore down because he was still just a baby at 19 years old in his second professional season. You can partly attribute this to the fewer number of strikeouts he started to accumulate as the season wore on. Should this be a concern? It certainly seems to raise a red flag, however, there is no indication whatsoever that he is injured or that his velocity will not return. In fact, some people believe a few other scenarios. 1) He began working more heavily on his secondary pitches which may have affected his velocity. 2) He began pitching more for contact to reduce the number of pitches per inning to get deeper into games. 3) He indeed wore down do to the long season and his age. Scouts have even been known to believe his dip in velocity was a plus. Madison learned how better to attack hitters despite his diminishing raw “stuff” and, additionally and most importantly, he continued to dominate. I’m sure there will be plent of guns on him come the spring and we will then where the young mans velocity stands.

It is clear as day why the Giants love Bumgarner and why other teams would love to get their paws on him. Let’s pray Sabean won’t have it and he takes the mound for the Giants as the 5th starter come April. I think we would all be thrilled if his promise culminated in him being as productive of a pitcher as Hamels, Sabathia or our very own Lincecum. And for the next 3 seasons at about $400,000 to $500,000 I’d say that’s quite the bargain…especially if you read my previous post. For now, we can only hope but as I said… this is all very fluid.

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