When they said that Madison Bumgarner might be the best pitcher in the National League, last October, we scoffed. Well, I shouldn’t speak for you. I did scoff, though. We knew, before October, that Clayton Kershaw was the best pitcher in the league. By a fair piece. Could a few weeks of Bumgarner’s brilliance really change that much?
I sure didn’t think so.
Now I’m wondering, at least a little.
No, not because of what happened last fall, when Kershaw got rocked and Bumgarner was All-World. Not only because of that, anyway.
And certainly not because Tuesday night, Bumgarner outpitched Kershaw.
No, it’s more than that. More than anything, I just figured it wouldn’t hurt to wonder, even spend a few minutes with some numbers. They’re just sitting there, after all. Might as well take a peek.
The first thing I did was choose a seemingly arbitrary beginning point: Aug. 1, 2014. I could have chosen another. I chose that one, largely because Bumgarner gave up a few runs in his last July start. So yes, I’ve stacked the deck. If ever so slightly.
Once I had my (seemingly) arbitrary beginning point, it was simple to add 2014’s postseason statistics to each pitcher’s ledger, and finally this month’s numbers.
Madison: 156 1/3 innings, 38 runs, 18 walks, 147 K’s, 15 home runs
Clayton: 121 innings, 46 runs, 25 walks, 151 K’s, 10 home runs
It’s hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison here, because Bumgarner piled up so many innings last October. More on those in a minute. To make this easier, I’ll just generalize and report that Bumgarner has a slightly better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Kershaw, who has a slightly better home-run rate than Bumgarner. When I say slightly, I mean slightly.
Bumgarner owns a substantial lead in runs allowed (per nine innings).
But we don’t pay much attention to that any more, right? DIPS and FIP and all that?
Which means we’re looking at something like a push, at least before looking at anything else. Park effects, quality of competition, that sort of thing. But even if we did look at more things, nobody’s getting a big lead. Looking just at what’s happened in the last four baseball months – August, September, October, and April – there’s just not much separating Bumgarner from the guy who’s won three of the past four NL Cy Young Awards.
Is it appropriate to look at just the last four months?
Of course it’s not. Everything counts, including Kershaw’s earlier brilliance.
I’ve got a real point to make here, though. Projections are fine. You use them. I use them. Our dogs use them. But projections miss things. A long list of things. You’ve seen a list before, I’m sure. Nobody saw Jose Bautista coming in the projections, because the projections couldn’t know about his career-saving adjustment. Nobody saw Mike Moustakas coming in the projections, because the projections couldn’t know that Moustakas would stop trying to pull everything.
You can’t blame the projections for those ones! I will, though, blame the projections – from what I know about them, anyway – for not taking postseason performance into account. I know it wouldn’t make a big difference, and would make even a small difference only in a few cases. Maybe, for example, when a pitcher throws more than 50 innings … and is brilliant in most of them?
Yeah, I’m still taking Kershaw. But during the World Series last fall, when even the pundits were suggesting that Bumgarner might actually be the best pitcher in the league, I dismissed the notion out of hand.
Which I shouldn’t have. It’s a weird, wonderful, unpredictable world out there.