FanGraphs ranked Madison Bumgarner #3 in their list of Top-Five 2020 free-agent starting pitchers. Should the Blue Jays be mad about Bumgarner?
In previous articles, I argued that the Blue Jays should have as many irons (contract discussions) in the fire (free agent pool) as possible. This tactic would reduce the risk of missing out on all of the attractive 2020 free-agent starters. The Blue Jays should give consideration to targeting free agent Madison Bumgarner (aka MadBum).
Note that this article is not about if the Blue Jays will sign Bumgarner. It is a piece that examines his past and projected performance, and what would a reasonable contract offer look like.
The San Francisco Giants drafted Bumgarner 10th overall in the 2007 MLB June Amateur Draft. The highlights of his career-to-date are as follows:
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- For the period covered by the 2011-2016 seasons, Bumgarner’s fWAR was in the 96th percentile of 199 starters (minimum of 300 innings pitched);
- During that period, he pitched a minimum of 200 innings in each season;
- He produced a 2.11 ERA, 3.11 FIP, and 3.16 SIERA in 102 post-season innings;
- He won World Series rings in 2010, 2012, and 2014; and
- Bumgarner received MVP awards in respect of the 2014 World Series and 2014 NLCS
MadBum has been very durable. According to Spotrac, it was only in the 2017 and 2018 seasons that he was placed on the Injured List; he missed 87 days in 2017 and 69 in 2018.
After the conclusion of the 2019 post-season, the Giants made a $17.8 million Qualifying Offer to Bumgarner, which he declined to accept. If he signs with a team other than the Giants, MadBum’s signing has some ramifications for his new team.
Pitch and batted ball profile
Brooks Baseball describes the 2019 Bumgarner as follows:
"His fourseam fastball generates more whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, has essentially average velo and results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers. His cutter has slightly above average velo and has strong cutting action. His curve has little depth, is slightly harder than usual and has slight glove-side movement. His change is basically never swung at and missed compared to other pitchers’ changeups, is slightly firmer than usual, results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers’ changeups and has some natural sink to it. His sinker (take this with a grain of salt because he’s only thrown 2 of them in 2019) is basically never swung at and missed compared to other pitchers’ sinkers, is an extreme flyball pitch compared to other pitchers’ sinkers, has surprisingly little armside run, has slightly below average velo and has some natural sinking action."
Table 1 shows that there has been a steady deterioration in some notable stats for Bumgarner. His Barrel% and Hard Hit% rates have increased each season since 2016; in 2019, both were higher than the MLB average. Also, Bumgarner posted a 37.0 GB% in 2019, which was 8.4 percentage points lower than the MLB average. His 2019 FB% jumped noticeably from the comparable figure in each of the 2016-2018 seasons; it was 7.1 percentage points higher than the 2019 MLB average (22.0%). His xwOBA (0.316) was close to the MLB average (0.318).
Bumgarner’s 2017 and 2018 seasons were shortened due to injuries; a shoulder in 2017 and a finger in 2018. He pitched 111 innings in 2017; 129 in 2018. From a key data perspective (ERA, FIP, SIERA, and fWAR), those two campaigns were similar. Therefore, I combined those two seasons as a point of comparison.
Table 2 illustrates that Bumgarner excelled during the 2011-2016 period: MadBum was no lower than 94th percentile in K%, K%-BB%, ERA, FIP, and SIERA. As previously noted, he was 96th percentile in fWAR. He was definitely one of the best starters during those campaigns.
During the 2017-2018 period, Bumgarner was not as dominant as he was in the 2011-2016 seasons. His relative ranking in terms of BB% and ERA were similar to their respective rankings in the 2011-2016 segment. However, HR/9, K%, K%-BB%, FIP, and SIERA were below the top quartile of starters.
2019 marked a rebound of sorts for Bumgarner. His respective percentile ranking in K%, BB%, K%-BB%, FIP, and SIERA were better than they were during the 2017-2018 period. However, compared to his stellar 2011-2016 seasons, MadBum was not nearly as good in 2019. With the exception of BB%, there is a notable relative decline in HR/9, K%, K%-BB%, ERA, FIP, and SIERA. To his credit, his 2019 fWAR was 3.2, which was 79th percentile.
According to FanGraphs 2018 park factors for home runs (2019 data is not available yet), the park factor for the Giants was 86 and 102 at the Rogers Centre; the league average park factor is set at 100. The Rogers Centre had 4% more home runs than the league average park (halved so 104 becomes 102 in 81 games). At the Giants home, home runs were 28% lower than it would be at the league average park.
There are quantifiable differences pitching to National League West teams compared to American League East teams. In 2019, NL West teams (ex-San Francisco), hit 942 home runs; AL East teams (ex-Toronto) hit 981 home runs (4% more). In terms of wRC+, these NL West teams produced a 95 mark; the AL East teams noted generated a 103 wRC+.
In 2019, the average ERA, FIP, and SIERA for AL starters were 4.76, 4.63, and 4.59, respectively. The comparable NL stats are 4.33, 4.39, and 4.50, respectively.
Given the noted park, division, and league factors, we should expect Bumgarner to have higher HR/9, ERA, FIP, and SIERA numbers as an AL starter than he would as an NL starter (all things being equal). For an estimate of the impact of a switch from the Giants home field to the Rogers Centre on MadBum’s HR/9, please refer to Schedule A for the detailed calculations.
The contract analysis has three steps:
- Determine a non-Blue Jays specific contract value for Bumgarner
- Address Blue Jays-specific issues
- Evaluate compensation draft pick and the reduction of international signing bonus pool money (“Bonus Pool”) ramifications
For a detailed analysis of the three steps noted, please refer to Schedule B.
A summary of these steps is as follows:
- Before considering Steps 2 or 3, a rational, non-Blue Jays specific contract for Bumgarner would be a 4-year, $40 million deal (see Table 3)
- Assuming that the Blue Jays have to pay a 20%-premium to attract free agents (taxes and other factors), a 4-year, $48 million contract would be reasonable
- The estimated dollar value of the forfeited draft pick is $6.6 million
- The dollar value of the Bonus Pool reduction is approximately $3 million
It is important to note that a reasonable contract value falls within a range of other reasonable contract values; call it a zone of reasonableness. There is not a precise number for a contract; it is not like going to the grocery store to buy broccoli.
FanGraphs estimated a 4-year, $64 million dollar contract for Bumgarner; Crowdsource placed the contract value at $72 million over 4 years. If we apply our assumed Blue Jays premium (20%), that would translate into a 4-year, $76.8 million deal for MadBum. Using our template from Table 3, Bumgarner would have to generate a 2.7 fWAR in 2020 in order to produce sufficient value to justify a 4-year, $76.8 deal. (This assumes the same aging-curve as noted in Table 3). Both Depth Charts and Steamer projected a 2.0 fWAR in 2020 for MadBum.
In my view, it is unlikely that Bumgarner would produce a 7.8 fWAR over the course of a 4-year deal (2.7, 2.2, 1.7, and 1.2 in 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023, respectively). That figure would be 2.8 higher than the Steamer and Depth Charts fWAR projection (after application of FanGraphs aging-curve factor). The reason for my skepticism is primarily due to the park, division, and league factors that will place upward pressure on his FIP, which is a fWAR input.
Bumgarner is not nearly the pitcher that he was during his 2011-2016 peak. While he was good in 2019, there are signs that his workload and age may be catching up with him. Assuming that FanGraphs contract estimate is market value (ex-Blue Jays premium), MadBum’s projected fWAR does not support a 4-year, $76.8 million deal (Blue Jays premium included). That cost, plus the value of the compensation draft pick and the reduction of international signing bonus pool money, is too high. Also, as Table 4 illustrates, it is more likely that Bumgarner will be a #3/#4 over the majority of a 4-year term, which suggests that a $76.8 million price tag is unreasonable.
The last word
Bumgarner has had a terrific career. However, in recent seasons he has not been as nearly as good as he was during the 2011-2016 period. Compared to FanGraphs view of a market-value contract for Bumgarner, the estimated contract terms are excessive given his projected future performance. I don’t think the Blue Jays should be mad about MadBum.