These days, $100 million contracts have become more common in baseball, particularly for starting pitchers.
Over the past three seasons, four contracts surpassing the $200 million threshold have been handed out. Clayton Kershaw was the first recipient in 2014, followed by Max Scherzer in 2015. Not to be outdone, David Price and Zack Greinke landed themselves monumental contracts surpassing the $200 million threshold this offseason, with Price’s deal breaking the record for the largest contract for a pitcher in baseball history.
Prior to 2014, the largest contract offered to a pitcher was a seven year, $180 million deal handed out to Justin Verlander in 2013. With this recent spike in money being spent on pitchers, there are surely going to be more bank accounts hitting nine digits in the not-so-distant future. One good candidate is San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner.
“MadBum” has been lining hitters up and knocking them down on a consistent basis since his first 200-inning season in 2011. Bumgarner owns a career .594 W/L %(85-58 record) in the regular season with 3.04 career ERA in 1,171 innings pitched. When comparing those career statistics to other pitchers such as David Price, Zack Greinke, or Max Scherzer, it looks like Bumgarner is a step behind in some categories, while right on par in others.
While his regular season numbers are stellar, it’s more his postseason performance that makes him a candidate for a nine-figure contract. More specifically, I’m talking about his 2014 postseason performance, where Bumgarner took his game to the next level. In 52.2 innings, he allowed a mind-blowing six runs over six starts and a relief outing. That works out to a 1.03 ERA. He became just the seventh pitcher in the last 100 years, to toss a pair of shutouts in the postseason. Additionally, he became just the 16th pitcher in baseball history to throw at least 30 innings with a sub-2.00 ERA. Perhaps the most mind-blowing stat though, was the 0.43 ERA posted in the World Series. That last number earned him a spot in an exclusive club of pitchers with two wins, and a sub-0.50 ERA in a World Series, joining Christy Mathewson, Sandy Koufax, and Waite Hoyt.
Bumgarner’s WAR has held it’s place nicely inside the top-30 for pitchers over the last three seasons, joining Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, and Zack Greinke as the only pitchers to do so over that span. Comparing the FIP statistic among those four pitchers, Bumgarner comes in second-place, about two-tenths of a point ahead of Scherzer and Greinke’s career numbers, while coming up a good half of a point shy of Kershaw’s incredible 2.62 career FIP.
Long-term contracts can always be tricky, as pitchers have a tendency to drop off significantly after signing them. One name that immediately springs to mind, is Justin Verlander. Following a pair of dominant seasons in 2009 and 2010, he signed a five-year, $80 million extension before the 2011 season. He turned in an amazing stretch of baseball between 2011 and 2012, going 41-13 with a 2.52 ERA over that span. He won both the Cy Young and MVP in 2011, while finishing 2nd for the Cy Young in 2012. In 2013, Verlander signed the largest contract ever given to a pitcher (at the time). Following the signing of that deal, he’s experienced a significant drop-off in performance, while also dealing with a significant injury in 2015.
Ultimately, when comparing statistics, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between three of the “$200 Million Arms” and Bumgarner. If anything, they’re a lot more similar than even I believed. For those reasons, I think that the San Francisco ace is in line for a payday similar to that of Kershaw and Co. While it might be in the Giants’ best interest to hold off to ensure Bumgarner can sustain his current production level, the longer they hold out, the more Bumgarner could step his game up. That would likely result in San Francisco shelling out more money that they first imagined. A resolution will come in time, but neither side appears to be in a rush.
Ryan’s Prediction: Eight Years, $200 Million (Team Option on Years 6-8)