Those who've wondered how Madison Bumgarner might fare in an environment less pitcher-friendly than Oracle Park are about to find out. The legendary postseason pitcher who is widely regarded to be on the decline agreed to a five-year, $85 million deal with the Diamondbacks Sunday.
As park factors go, it isn't the night-and-day difference it would appear to be at first glance. Sure, San Francisco is a pitcher's dream, but since the Diamondbacks began storing balls in a humidor before their home games at the start of 2018, Chase Field has played like one of the fairer venues in the game.
The question is if "fair" is enough at this stage of Bumgarner's career. He's only 30, but his stuff and production haven't been the same since he injured his shoulder in a dirt bike accident early in the 2017 season. Plus, all those lengthy postseason stretches that have made him a household name have put some serious mileage on his arm.
Most damning of all, though, are the actual home/away splits. In 19 starts at Oracle Park last year, Bumgarner had a 2.93 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. In 15 starts anywhere else, he had a 5.29 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. They haven't been so extreme throughout his career, but they were also in 2018, when we were still growing accustomed to the "new" Bumgarner.
So is all hope lost now? Part of the reason I wouldn't go so far is that Bumgarner's stuff did enjoy something of a resurgence in 2019. His two most-thrown and hardest-thrown pitches, the four-seamer and cutter, saw their average velocity bounce back to about where it was in 2016, the year before the dirt bike accident. They had been higher at earlier points in his career, but in 2016, he went 15-9 with a 2.74 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP and a career-high 10.0 K/9, placing fourth in NL Cy Young voting. No one had reason to suspect anything was wrong back then.
Furthermore, the swinging-strike rate bounced back to where it was before any of the dirt-bike stuff. In fact, at 11.6 percent, it was the second-highest mark of his career. The strikeout rate was much improved from 2018 and the walk rate as well. The FIP and xFIP were similar because he gave up more home runs in a year when everyone gave up more home runs, but according to most of the standards by which we usually judge pitchers, Bumgarner was more effective in 2019.
So I tend to think his demise has been exaggerated to some degree. Yes, his xFIP the past two years has been about 4.30, and since xFIP accounts for venue, it gives us a good idea what his ERA might have been in a place like Arizona. Even in today's pitching landscape, a 4.30 ERA isn't great. But having said that, only 26 qualifying pitchers had an xFIP below 4.00 this past year. Zack Wheeler's was 4.06, Eduardo Rodriguez's was 4.10, and Kyle Hendricks' was 4.26, and you don't see anyone running scared from them.
That's about the range where I think Bumgarner needs to be drafted -- near the back end of the top 40 starting pitchers. He's a high-volume pitcher still, and high-volume pitchers are the ones most likely to be rewarded with wins. And it only takes a middling strikeout rate to pile up a healthy strikeout total if the innings are there. Bumgarner might go earlier than he should in some leagues because of name value, but he'll be a worthwhile Fantasy pitcher in 2020.
And because he showed some buoyancy last season, rebounding from what seemed like an ugly downward trend, I'm not sure he won't continue to recapture some of his old form.