Madison Bumgarner Saddles Up for Arizona

Madison Bumgarner is staying in the National League West, but it won’t be with the Giants, the only professional organization he’s ever known. And he’s not joining the Dodgers, the championship-starved, longtime rivals who pursued him after losing out on Gerrit Cole, either. Instead, the 30-year-old lefty will join the rebuilding Arizona Diamondbacks via a five-year, $85 million contract, one that includes $15 million in deferred payments as well as a five-team no-trade clause.

The deal is the fourth-largest for a pitcher this winter after those of Cole (nine years, $324 million with the Yankees), Stephen Strasburg (seven years, $245 million with the Nationals), and Zack Wheeler (five years, $118 million with the Phillies), but it’s well short of the $100 million-plus contract he was reportedly seeking. Indeed, the gap between the third- and fourth-largest deals is strikingly large, particularly given that the two pitchers are similar in age (Bumgarner is 10 months older than Wheeler) and that for our Top 50 Free Agents list, both Kiley McDaniel and the crowd had the two pitchers very close together in terms of their paydays. The teeming masses estimated that both would receive four-year deals at $72 million, with McDaniel estimating $68 million for Wheeler and $64 million for Bumgarner.

It’s not hard to understand the discrepancy. Wheeler was worth a hefty 9.8 WAR over the past two seasons, including offense, with 5.3 (4.7 from pitching) in 2019. Bumgarner was worth 5.2 WAR over that same span, with 3.7 (3.2 from pitching) in 2019. Given his recent performance and the mere 749.1 major league innings under his belt, Wheeler, despite the injuries in his past, is seen as a pitcher who’s still on an upward trajectory, while Bumgarner, with 1,846 innings to his name, may have his best days in the rearview mirror.

The projections bear that out. Per ZiPS, Wheeler is projected to produce 12.6 WAR over the next five seasons, to Bumgarner just 8.4 (that’s pitching only):

ZiPS Projection – Madison Bumgarner
Year W L ERA G GS IP H HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2020 9 8 4.35 30 30 175.7 170 32 44 167 101 2.3
2021 8 7 4.44 27 27 162.0 162 30 40 150 99 1.9
2022 7 7 4.59 26 26 152.3 157 30 39 137 96 1.6
2023 7 7 4.62 24 24 140.3 144 27 36 126 95 1.4
2024 6 6 4.73 22 22 127.0 132 26 33 115 93 1.2

That’s… not pretty. One doesn’t even really need to throw in the presumed dash of must-win desperation from the Phillies on one side, and Bumgarner agreeing to something of a ranch-town discount — wait, I’ll let The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly explain:

— to account for what might be about a 50% discrepancy once the deferred money is factored in. The projections alone do that. Also, it’s worth noting that both pitchers rejected qualifying offers and therefore cost their new clubs a draft pick, so that doesn’t account for the discrepancy either.

With a closer look at Bumgarner’s underlying performance, it’s not that hard to understand why his projection isn’t more sanguine. After being limited to just 17 starts due to an AC joint sprain of his left shoulder — via a dirt bike accident! — in 2017, and then 21 starts due to a fractured metacarpal in ’18, he was back to being his workhorse self in 2019. His 34 starts tied for the major league lead, while his 207.2 innings ranked ninth, but his run prevention was more solid than stellar. His 93 ERA- (on a 3.90 mark) was the highest of his career, though his 93 FIP- was his best mark since 2016.

While Bumgarner posted his best strikeout rate (24.15) and strikeout-walk differential (19.0%) since 2016, his home run rate (1.30 per nine) was the second-worst of his career. He chose a bad year to produce a career-high fly ball rate (41.6%) and career-low groundball rate (35.8%), neither of which have any obvious basis in changes to either his repertoire or velocity. As I noted for our Top 50 list (where he ranked eighth), he did induce batters to chase curveballs outside the zone — particularly below it — with greater frequency (43.8%) than in any full season of his career, which helped bolster his otherwise-flagging groundball rate.

Via Statcast, Bumgarner’s average exit velocity of 89.4 mph was 1.6 mph higher than 2018, and 1.9 higher than in 2016; it ranked in just the 14th percentile, while his 41.5% hard hit rate (up from 31.1$ in 2016) ranked in the 10th percentile. Both his xwOBA (.316) and xwOBACON (.393) are about 30 points higher than they were three years ago. All of that is worth bearing in mind as Bumgarner moves to a less pitcher-friendly ballpark, particularly given that he was touched for a 5.29 ERA, 4.51 FIP, and 1.59 homers per nine on the road in 2019. Dating back to the start of 2015, Bumgarner has pitched to a 2.36 ERA and 3.04 FIP with 0.81 homers per nine at home, with a 4.18 ERA, 4.03 FIP, and 1.41 HR/9 on the road. Caveat emptor.

Though the likes of Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford are still around in San Francisco, Bumgarner’s departure marks the end of an era, one that for him lasted a decade and change. Chosen with the 10th pick out of a North Carolina high school in 2007, he made the jump from Double-A and debuted just 38 days after his 20th birthday in 2009, returning in late June the following year after more seasoning in Triple-A, and helping the team to three championships, in 2010, ’12, and ’14, plus a Wild Card appearance in ’16.

He built his legend in those 2010-16 postseasons — a 2.11 ERA in 102.1 innings, including a 1.03 ERA in a record 52.2 innings, with 45 strikeouts and just six walks in 2014 en route to World Series MVP honors — and made four straight All-Star teams from 2013-16, but his regular seasons up to that point were notable more for their consistency than for their brilliance. From 2011-16, his first six full seasons, Bumgarner threw 1276.2 innings (fourth in the majors) and delivered a 3.00 ERA (also fourth) and 3.07 FIP (seventh), but some of that was the camouflage of pitcher-friendly AT&T Park (now Oracle Park); he was 14th in both ERA- and FIP- (82 and 84, respectively). His 23.4 WAR for that stretch ranked ninth, exactly 20 wins behind Clayton Kershaw, and his offense only shaved 1.7 WAR off that gap.

As injuries took a big bite out of Bumgarner’s 2017 and ’18, the roster around him, including that aforementioned trio, got old in a hurry. Amid three straight sub-.500 seasons, the Giants have changed regimes at the executive level and now the dugout, jettisoning several notable players along the way, but in 2019, Bruce Bochy’s final season before retiring, with the team having clawed its way from 12 games below .500 on June 29 to one game above it on July 30, they chose to keep Bumgarner instead of deal him at the trade deadline. Though the Giants reportedly offered a four-year contract at around $17 million annually, this belated parting of the ways was about as inevitable as the team’s late-2019 fade. New manager Gabe Kapler, who accepted the job just over a month ago, told Baggarly that he hadn’t even spoken to Bumgarner.

In Arizona, Bumgarner joins a team that has managed to retool on the fly but still seems to be more concerned with cutting costs than challenging for a playoff spot. After winning 93 games and a Wild Card berth in 2017, the Diamondbacks dipped to 82 wins in ’18, then lost Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock to free agency and traded Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals. Despite also trading Zack Greinke to the Astros at the July 31 deadline, they climbed to 85 wins in 2019, making them the lone NL West team besides the Dodgers to finish above .500.

Further retooling seems likely, as Bumgarner joins a rotation that will include some combination of Robbie Ray, Merrill Kelly, Luke Weaver, Mike Leake, Zac Gallen, and Alex Young. The presumption is that the Diamondbacks will now trade Ray, a pending free agent who made just $6.05 million last year and is projected to make $10.8 million in arbitration according to MLB Trade Rumors. If you’re wondering why they’ve added a name-brand pitcher after dealing one away last July, it’s worth noting that Bumgarner’s salary will be about half that of Greinke’s $35 million; they’re paying the Astros $10.3 million this year and again next to help cover Greinke, but also getting $9 million this year and $5 million next year from the Mariners for Leake. Via Cot’s Contracts, their Opening Day payroll fell from $131.6 million in 2018 to $123.4 million in ’19, while RosterResource currently projects them for $121 million in ’20. At least they don’t get to keep whimpering about the Greinke deal.

Bumgarner alone doesn’t make the Diamondbacks contenders, but they’re in that middle ground where if enough things go right — his season included — they could lurk on the outskirts of a Wild Card spot, as in 2019; to do even that, they probably need another bat or two, with right field and first base looking particularly ripe. Catching up to the Dodgers, who won 21 games more than them last year, seems unlikely; they boast one of the better farm systems in baseball, though many of their top prospects are still at least a year away. It will be strange to see Bumgarner sporting the Diamondbacks’ slightly-less-garish-than-previous togs, but everybody will feel right at home watching him compete in the NL West.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

What do you know? The D-Backs have a playoff rotation! I’m not a huge fan of Bumgarner for all the reasons listed here and think the D-Backs are probably not going to get anything more than a #3 starter out of him, so I think it’s probably going to be a “bad” deal for them. But I do like a Weaver/Gallen/Bumgarner rotation a lot. It’s deep enough that you could pitch one guy in the wild card game and still not be out of luck in the NLDS. So while I would have liked it better if they had gotten Ryu or Keuchel instead (and paid less money and not given up a draft pick), I don’t dislike that they got a starter.

Nathan
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Nathan

In what world is that a playoff rotation? That has to be bottom fourth of the league.

Kevbot034
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Kevbot034

Bottom 4th is extremely cynical. And not at all true.

Max Power
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Max Power

Plus 30 isn’t even divisible by 4

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

More like middle of the pack. It’s clearly behind a number of elite teams like the Mets, Yankees, and Nationals, but clearly better than the A’s, Angels, or Twins. It’s probably comparable to the Cubs and Cards; not ideal, but enough to hang in a series if you get enough offense.

carter
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carter

Padres have a good rotation too.

TrevorCap
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TrevorCap

Better than the A’s had last year, but Montas, Luzardo, Puk, Manaea , Fiers in 2020 is pretty good. (though certainly not elite)

Slappytheclown
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Slappytheclown

Agree. With some decent RPs in tow and a decent minor league system for depth at AAA, and a top 6 batting lineup that wasn’t bad by WAR last year including a good catcher in Kelly then depending on how Rojas does, who they get for Ray could be a good team. Buehler, May and Urias still look better on the LAD but still…stranger things have happened!

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I don’t think there’s more than 10% chance they beat out the Dodgers for the division, and probably less, but I suspect it will be a while before they’re eliminated, might take 1st for a little bit of the year (which will be fun for the fans) and will be in a strong position for a wild-card.

I’d rather they get themselves a good 2nd baseman or Ryu but if they wanted to spend $85M…I guess I’m less skeptical of this than I thought I would be.