Analyzing Madison Bumgarner’s glorious power stroke
One of the great, annual joys of baseball’s opening week is the goofy leaderboards it produces. The first entry in the 2017 series of unsustainable leaderboards comes courtesy of the great Madison Bumgarner.
After the first day of the season, Bumgarner led the majors with two home runs, becoming the first pitcher in MLB history to hit a pair of jacks on Opening Day. He held that lead through the second day of the season before being joined by Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal, A's outfielder Khris Davis and Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor by day’s end. By time Bumgarner makes his next start this weekend, he likely won’t be alone atop the homer leaderboard, and he may not even be in first. That calls for an appreciation of Bumgarner the hitter in this season’s first Hitting Report.
Let’s start by watching the two homers in all their glory, and they were both plenty glorious, in video form.
Those weren’t cheapies. There aren’t too many pitchers who can go right into a home run trot after making contact. Bumgarner did so twice in his first start of the season. The exit velocity on both of Bumgarner’s homers was north of 112 mph. To give you an idea of how impressive that is, here’s a non-comprehensive list of hitters who failed to hit even one ball as hard last season: Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Andrew McCutchen, Chris Davis and Carlos Santana. Bumgarner barreled up both of those homers as though he were an everyday slugger.
Now let’s take a look at both homers in GIF form. The repetitive nature of a GIF lets you appreciate just how majestic these shots were in their own respective ways.
The first one was a line drive, the likes of which we’re used to seeing off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton, but not from a pitcher. What’s more, Zack Greinke didn’t miss his spot terribly. It was supposed to be a high fastball by design. Greinke wanted it on the outer third, but it sailed back over the middle of the plate. Still, he got it high enough to blow past nearly every pitcher in the majors, and plenty of good-to-great position players. Bumgarner, however, made him pay for the slight mistake.
I had to cut the second GIF short so it wouldn’t take forever to load, but the camera angle tells you all you need to know about where that one landed. This is the sort of soaring home run perfected by reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant. Bumgarner launched this one off Diamondbacks reliever Andrew Chafin. Unlike Greinke, Chafin missed his spot horribly. The call was for a fastball on the outer third and, ideally, down. After seeing what Bumgarner did in his previous at-bat, the Diamondbacks didn’t want any part of him middle-in or up in the zone again. Unfortunately for Chafin, that’s exactly where he spotted this pitch.
The league’s great hitters do two things regularly that differentiate them from the merely good ones. They get hits on pitches that aren’t mistakes, and they make pitchers pay for the vast majority of mistakes they see. Bumgarner did both while making history on Sunday. And, by the way, he was also pretty good at his actual job, retiring the first 16 batters he saw before the Diamondbacks finally got to him. He won’t produce the only goofy leaderboard this week, but he almost certainly will produce the best one.
Kevin Kiermaier, OF, Rays
Kiermaier has been one of the best defensive center fielders in the majors since becoming a regular in 2014. His offense finally started to come around in the second half of last season, when he hit .251/.343/.391 with 15 steals, seven homers and 11 doubles. The Rays rewarded him with a long-term extension this offseason, and while the glove is unimpeachable, the jury is still out on his bat. He went 2-for-3 with a pair of walks and a steal in the Rays Opening Day win over the Yankees, showing the patience that allowed him to take advantage of his speed after the All-Star break last season. If that is now truly a feature of Kiermaier’s game, he’s going to be a fixture in all fantasy formats.
Devon Travis, 2B, Blue Jays
Travis’s recovery from offseason knee surgery dragged further into the spring than expected, but he was right where he belonged on Opening Day, hitting leadoff in the Blue Jays order. He went 2-for-6 in their extra-inning loss to the Orioles (and he was robbed of a double in by Manny Machado). In 163 career games spread across two seasons, Travis has a .301/.342/.469 slash line with 19 homers, 46 doubles and seven steals. He has all the ingredients to be a top-10 second baseman.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pirates
Polanco dealt with a shoulder injury at the end of spring training that had his status for Opening Day in doubt. The Pirates took advantage of starting their season in an American League park, keeping Polanco out of the field but giving him DH duties against the Red Sox. He went 1-for-4, but the results aren’t really of much concern to the fantasy community. The mere fact that he was able to play, albeit as a DH, suggests that the shoulder won’t be an issue for him much longer. The Pirates home opener is this weekend, with the Braves coming to town. The hope is that Polanco be good to play the field by then.
Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals
On the other side of the late-spring injury coin we find Rendon. The Nationals third baseman fouled a ball off his calf toward the end of spring training, and wasn’t able to give it a go in the team’s Opening Day win over the Marlins. The belief, however, is that it’s no more than short-term problem. The Nationals and Marlins have an off day built in for weather purposes on Tuesday. Rendon is expected to make his season debut on Wednesday. When he does, he will likely hit in the middle of a dangerous Washington lineup.
Andrew Benintendi, OF, and Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox
John Farrell will have plenty of options when putting together his lineups this season. Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez are locked into the middle of the order, but the rest of the regulars could move around, depending on matchups and performance. Benintendi and Bogaerts are two of the most movable players on the roster, and where they slot will contribute to how valuable they are in fantasy leagues. Benintendi hit second on Opening Day, while Bogaerts hit sixth. The rookie went 1-for-4 with a three-run homer, and Bogearts, coming off the best season of his career, got a pair of singles in four trips to the plate. We won’t know for some time if one, or both, of the two are locked into the spots they held on Opening Day, but hitting second is likely a more valuable place than the sixth spot Bogearts inhabited. Keep an eye on that over the next few weeks.
Opening Day means two things: hope for every team and Bryce Harper homers. Harper took David Phelps deep in the sixth inning of the Nationals 4–2 win over the Marlins. It was the fifth Opening Day homer of his career.