Madison Bumgarner hit another home run. Sure, it was against Aaron Blair, and sure, this just keeps Bumgarner tied with Jason Heyward, but, Aaron Blair is a quality prospect in the major leagues, and this keeps Bumgarner tied with Jason Heyward. Bumgarner apparently figured out hitting in 2014. Maybe he got bored because he’d already mastered pitching. Since then, over just shy of 200 trips to the plate, Bumgarner has batted .234/.265/.451, good for a 101 wRC+. The next-best offensive pitcher has been Zack Greinke, with a wRC+ of 65. On the mound, Madison Bumgarner is Madison Bumgarner, and at the plate, Madison Bumgarner is Jonathan Schoop. The Giants’ advantage is that no other pitcher hits like a powerful second baseman.
This table is funny to me:
The name right after Bumgarner is Kyle Schwarber. When Bumgarner has hit a ball between the lines, he’s had basically the same rate of home runs as Kyle Schwarber. You know the image you have of Kyle Schwarber. Bumgarner has made that kind of contact.
You pretty much always have to qualify these things. When we talk about offensively productive pitchers, what’s implied is that they’re productive, for pitchers. Sometimes it’s more than implied. A 60 wRC+ would be horrible for anybody but great for a pitcher. Teams would love if their pitchers could all put up a wRC+ of 60. But this is what’s so nutty about Bumgarner. He’s been an average hitter, period. He’s effectively allowed the Giants to play with an AL lineup in NL games. Since 2014, only Bumgarner and Travis Wood, among pitchers, have managed a positive Win Probability Added. Bumgarner has genuinely helped, and not just by sucking less than his peers. He’s helped by clobbering dingers.
The numbers do convey an impression. You see the power and the low OBP. Where Bumgarner has infrequently walked, he’s struck out more than a third of the time. He is, after all, a pitcher, and what it looks like is that Bumgarner just stands in and swings as hard as he can. Then, that would mean he’s connected often enough to balance out the missed connections. But in reality, it’s more complicated than that. Bumgarner isn’t just a talented hacker. He bats with an idea, and this’ll help get the point across. His extra-base hits over the past three years, from Baseball Savant:
Pitches up, mostly. Bumgarner wants to get under the ball. There’s one point there that does stand out, and as I look at the clip, this is one weird-ass dinger. How strong is Madison Bumgarner? This strong, is Madison Bumgarner:
Anyway, though, that’s not the point. That’s the opposite of the point. Bumgarner has hit a home run on a relatively low pitch, but those aren’t the pitches he seeks out. He went after that one because there were two strikes, and, what choice did he have? When he has a choice, he chooses with specificity. Bumgarner bats with a certain amount of discipline, and he hunts pitches up, spitting on everything else.
You can tell from that that Bumgarner is probably kind of extreme in this regard, but I can show you just how extreme. Let’s stay as simple as possible and divide pitches into two sections — pitches up, and pitches down. I calculated swing rates at pitches up, and I calculated swing rates at pitches down, and then I subtracted the latter from the former. Here are the 10 biggest differences since, again, 2014:
|Batter||High Sw%||Low Sw%||Difference|
It’s Bumgarner by a relative mile, and the guy in second place doesn’t play anymore. It is interesting to see three pitchers on the list, but I don’t know what that means. All I care about right now is the guy at No. 1, and it’s a huge difference — by far the biggest in the league among the players observed. Madison Bumgarner doesn’t just prefer to swing at pitches up. It might be the strongest such preference in baseball.
Bumgarner gets locked in there. He looks for pitches up, and he tries to pull them — he’s also managed a top-10 pull rate. Unsurprisingly, his contact success mirrors his pitch preferences. Which is to say, he hits the ball where he wants to hit the ball, and when pitches go other places, Bumgarner doesn’t hit the ball so much.
Pretty good contact up, and in! As for the rest of the picture, wow, look at that pretty good contact up, and in! Here’s basically a different way of showing you that earlier image, with the extra-base hits:
Bumgarner knows where his sweet spot is. He looks for pitches in the spot, and when he thinks he sees one, he gives it a rip. He takes a mighty cut, which is demonstrated by almost literally all of his statistics, and Blair is just the latest victim. Yeah, Bumgarner swings and misses, and yeah, he strikes out, but it does take three strikes to send someone back, which means Bumgarner can get at least three looks for something up. Call him a mistake hitter if you want, but if pitchers didn’t regularly make mistakes, there would never be any runs. Bumgarner has made enough out of the mistakes to float a wRC+ in the triple digits.
You don’t need to be told that Madison Bumgarner is a power-hitting pitcher. Really, he’s more like a power-hitting hitter. There’s no questioning the strength, and Bumgarner doesn’t go up and swing blindly, because if he did, he wouldn’t be having this success. He does bat with a plan, and he does do a good job of sticking to it. Bumgarner knows what he wants to crush. The other pitcher simply has to try hard not to throw it.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.