Alternatives to Madison Bumgarner

Madison Bumgarner is widely regarded as one of the top left-handed starting pitchers set to hit the open market this offseason. It’s widely expected that he brings home nine figures this winter, but I, for the life of me, cannot understand why. At his peak, Bumgarner averaged roughly 94 mph on his fastball, induced groundballs at a rate near 50 percent, and contact from opposing batters was medium over twice as much as it was hard.

Fast forward to the 2019 season. Bumgarner has averaged 91-92 mph on his fastball the last four seasons, has seen his fly-ball rate surpass his ground-ball rate, and has allowed hard contact at a rate 18 percent higher than at his peak or a roughly 71 percent increase. While his bottom-line numbers remained ace-level until 2019, Bumgarner’s FIP has suggested that his performance hasn’t been quite as sharp since 2017, when he carried a 3.95 FIP.

My projections have Bumgarner throwing 179.2 innings of 3.61 ERA ball with strong results in K/9 (8.34) and BB/9 (2.22). This is a reasonable projection that would likely slot MadBum as a mid-to-lower tier two to a strong three, which, in conjunction with the fact that he can go late into games, has playoff experience, and is left-handed, would probably net him a contract in the vicinity of Jeff Samardzija‘s five-year, $90 million deal.

That being said, however, I wouldn’t want to be the one who gives him that deal. The first reason for my reluctance is aforementioned red flags suggesting his eminent decline over the next five seasons, but perhaps the most important factor towards my lack of enthusiasm in signing him is the presence of left-handed alternatives who have the potential to return the same results at a fraction of the cost. I’m referring, of course, to Gio Gonzalez and Rich Hill.

The obvious criticism with this comparison is age. No team is going to sign either Gonzalez or Hill for the purpose of using them as organizational cornerstones for the next five-to-10 years, nor should they. But one could argue that the same could be said for Bumgarner, who seems to be nearing a cliff that could pop up any time now.

First, let’s compare the projections.

Bumgarner: 179.2 IP, 3.61 ERA, 8.34 K/9, 2.22 BB/9

Gonzalez: 158 IP, 3.76 ERA, 7.91 K/9, 3.66 BB/9

Hill: 102 IP, 3.71 ERA, 10.42 K/9, 3.4 BB/9

Now consider the fact that Bumgarner seems likely to sign for more than 10 times the amount of what either of these guys will earn. While Gonzalez and Hill seem likely to be at the point in their careers where they’ll be limited to short-term deals ranging between one-to-two years, they’ve shown that they’re still capable of helping a team succeed. Teams would be better off paying Gonzalez and/or Hill $7 million apiece, rather than paying $20 million a year for five years, as well as a compensation pick for Bumgarner.

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