Madison Bumgarner is a superhuman machine. Let’s start this article off by acknowledging his prowess with a baseball in his left hand. In 2014, he went 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA. That’s far from touching greatness, but it’s borderline dominant and certainly impressive.
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Throughout the playoffs, Bumgarner not only touched greatness on the San Francisco Giants’ victorious World Series path, he surpassed it. His 2014 run was the stuff of legends. Baseball players, particularly starting pitchers, don’t usually put an entire team on their backs.
In an astonishing 52 2/3 postseason innings, which pushed him to 270 innings overall, Bumgarner had 45 strikeouts against six walks. He won four games and saved one; a five inning performance in Game 7 of the World Series. He allowed zero runs on two days rest. This dropped his playoff ERA of 2014 to 1.03. All in a year’s work.
With such a load on Bumgarner’s 25-year-old left arm, will he experience any sort of negative impact in 2015? It’s possible. Yes, Giants’ fans, despite Bumgarner’s elevated status in baseball lore, no pitcher is impervious to the physical reality of an astronomical inning total. This will likely catch up to Bumgarner at some point, but this article’s purpose ponders whether or not that will occur in 2015.
The short answer, quite simply, is difficult to grasp considering the lack of a recent precedent. We live in an age of inning limits, handling hurlers with kid gloves and valuing long-term staying power over short-term success. The Giants laughed at these ideas, hoping to both have their cake and, well, you know the rest.
In the opposite of what the Washington Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg back in 2012, an embarrassing mistake when Washington didn’t used the team’s best pitcher during an NLDS series loss, San Francisco pushed Bumgarner to the limit. He’s never been pushed that hard before.
During 2013, he threw 201 1/3 innings. The Giants didn’t make the playoffs. In 2012, another World Series winning season, he only tossed 15 playoff innings, 223 1/3 frames over the entire year. These are fairly standard annual totals by any measurement.
With his past taken into account, we can safely say that Bumgarner threw about 50 more innings last year than he’s ever thrown in his life. That’s basically the equivalent of six or seven extra starts, plus the five inning relief showing on two days rest is something other teams would’ve backed away from. It’s not unfair to suggest that last season’s high leverage frequency will hurt Bumgarner.
As the first sentence of this article states, though, Bumgarner is closer to having superhuman strength than anyone in the game. This upcoming year will test that attribute. Given the 270 inning number and short breaks between some of his appearances, here’s to betting Bumgarner suffers somewhat of a dip in 2015.
The Giants’ rotation is thin. Maybe thinner than ever. For an entire season, can Bumgarner put the entire team on his back once again? Is it possible? When he entered Game 7 of the World Series, tossing five frames on two days rest seemed impossible. Bumgarner has defied odds before. In 2015, the baseball world will witness whether or not he can do it again.