Giants’ Madison Bumgarner pacing for prominence in 2012
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Prior to opening day each year, MLB experts are typically asked to predict who they believe will win each of the league’s major awards. Without fail, particularly in regard to the National League Cy Young Award in recent years, the same names are often mentioned – Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee, to name a couple. Yet, there always seems to be a few surprise vote-getters when the ballots are finally cast.
In 2011, Halladay, Lincecum and Lee all finished in the top six of the voting. The rest of the names on the ballot, including the eventual winner, Clayton Kershaw, likely weren’t a part of anyone’s preseason predictions.
Before winning his first Cy Young Award, Kershaw had a career 26-23 record and 3.17 ERA in three previous seasons – never even having appeared on the award’s ballot before last year. Ian Kennedy, who finished fourth after going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA with Arizona, boasted a career 10-14 record and 4.33 ERA prior to 2011.
Admittedly, it’ll be hard to argue with any experts who again select Halladay, Lincecum or Lee as their favorites going into 2012. However, just as it was the case a year ago, I believe the winner could potentially be a name that no expert will have foreseen.
That distinction could belong to San Francisco Giants southpaw, Madison Bumgarner.
After being chosen with the 10th overall pick in the 2007 draft out of South Caldwell High School (Hudson, NC), it wasn’t long before Bumgarner was contributing in the big leagues. Making his debut as a September call-up in 2009, the 20-year-old started one game and made three relief appearances (10 IP, 1.80 ERA).
Bumgarner was added to the Giants starting rotation at the end of June 2010. During his subsequent 18 starts, Madison established himself as a reliable member of the staff. Despite relatively lackluster support from the offense in the majority of games in which he pitched, Bumgarner still managed to finish with a 7-6 record, thanks in large part to an impressive 3.00 ERA.
In September, as his team worked towards an eventual NL West title, Madison posted a 1.13 ERA over five starts and instilled enough confidence in his manager to earn a spot on the postseason roster.
At the age of 21, he became the youngest pitcher in franchise history to start and earn a victory in a postseason game – the NLDS clincher against the Atlanta Braves. He didn’t stop there. Bumgarner was then given the nod to start game four of the World Series against Texas; in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in baseball, nonetheless. His eight shutout innings in the win helped propel the Giants to their first World Series title in 56 years.
Overall, against the likes of Atlanta, Philadelphia and Texas, Bumgarner posted a 2-0 record along with a sparkling 2.18 ERA in 20.2 postseason innings.
Last year, Bumgarner pitched his first full season in the MLB. Still being relatively inexperienced at the age of 22 didn’t stop a continuation of his success that started the two seasons prior. In 33 starts, Bumgarner went 13-13 with a 3.21 ERA in 204.2 innings. Most importantly though, for a pitcher who had never before experienced the duration of a full major league season, Madison’s dependability and effectiveness made him one of the most integral components of San Francisco’s 2011 roster.
Of course, awards aren’t handed out based on past performance (unless you’re talking about most of Derek Jeter’s Gold Glove Awards).
So, what makes Bumgarner someone to watch this coming season?
Well, a little bit of it has to do with a hunch. The rest is in the numbers.
For instance, while his ERA increased slightly from 2010-11, the rest of his statistics actually improved – reiterating once again that the earned run average is a less-than-reliable barometer of a pitcher’s overall effectiveness.
Then again, such statistical progression between one season and the next could just as easily prove coincidental. To that, I would point first to just when Bumgarner’s improvement took place in 2011.
Coming off the hangover of a World Series championship, the whole Giants team stumbled out of the gate in the first few months of last season; perhaps nobody more than Bumgarner. In his first five starts, he struggled to the tune of an 0-4 record and 6.17 ERA. His issues continued into May, where his winless record reached 0-6.
(It’s also worth noting that, again, Bumgarner was victimized by an oft-ineffective offense; 11 of his 13 losses occurred in games where his team managed less than three runs of support)
However, the turning point in Bumgarner’s season began in the month of July and continued throughout the remainder of the season.
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