Madison Bumgarner just keeps looking better

BY foxsports • October 28, 2014

Is Madison Bumgarner the greatest World Series pitcher in World Series history? Well, I guess that depends on how you look at it. According to The Upshot’s David Leonhardt, no, not quite:

Bumgarner now holds the record for lowest career earned run average (0.29) in the World Series among pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched. The mark is impressive by any standard. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that Bumgarner is the best World Series pitcher ever.

That distinction belongs to Christy Mathewson, who also did his pitching for the Giants (when they were in New York). It’s not even close, either.

I think that’s fair. After all, while even Matty’s 1.06 ERA pales next to Bumgarner, he pitched 101.2 World Series innings ... and of course Bummy’s 31 World Series innings looks pale next to that.

Oh, how to figure the “Matty Score”?

We calculate it by taking a pitcher’s career innings in the Series and subtracting three times the number of earned runs he gave up. That sets a high bar, we realize. A complete game in which a pitcher gives up three runs earns a Matty Score of zero. A shutout is worth nine points. An inning of shutout relief is worth 1 point. The intention is to reward both quantity and quality.

Oddly, Matty went just 5-5 in his 11 Series starts, which we might chalk up mostly to bad luck, but also partly to the era in which he pitched. If we want to really measure World Series greatness, we would make some era adjustments. But that’s sort of a hassle. And whatever we did, Matty would still wind up on top, because of all those innings.

By the way, Sandy Koufax ranks second on the Matty List despite a 4-3 record in his eight Serious games.

Is the list biased toward pitchers from pitcher’s eras? Sure. Here are the top seven guys – after which there’s a steep dropoff, with the four guys tied for eighth – along with the first and last years in which they pitched Series games:

C. Mathewson (1905 1913)
S. Koufax (1959 1966)
Waite Hoyt (1921 1931)
Eddie Plank (1905 1914)
Bob Gibson (1964 1968)
Geo. Earnshaw (1929 1931)
M. Bumgarner (2010 2014)

Oh, and you thought Mathewson and Koufax were unlucky? Eddie Plank went 2-5 in his seven World Series games. Two of those losses came in 1905, when Mathewson beat him 3-0 in Game 1, and Iron Man Joe McGinnity beat him 1-0 in Game 4. Of course that’s the same Series in which Matty pitched shutouts in not just the opener, but also Games 3 and 5.

By the way, I do have one other issue with the Matty Score method ... unearned runs don’t count for anything at all? They sure counted on the scoreboard, especially in the old days when a significantly higher percentage of runs were unearned. There are different ways to account for them, but a decent shorthand is giving the pitcher half the blame for unearned runs. Koufax gave up only six earned runs in his 57 World Series innings, but also four unearned runs. Christy Mathewson gave up almost as many unearned runs (10) as earned runs (12). Which does help explain, however slightly, their unimpressive records.

Anyway, I was wondering what Bumgarner would have to do to catch Koufax (since Mathewson is uncatchable, and anyway we don’t want to have rename the damn thing). Koufax’s Matty Score is 39: 57 innings, six earned runs. Bumgarner’s is 28: 31 innings, 1 earned run. If Bumgarner throws a shutout in his next Series start, he’ll still fall two points short of Koufax.

But what if we bow to rationality (and, it should be said, slightly more complexity) and include unearned runs? Counting them for half as much as earned runs, Koufax’s score falls to 33, still second all-time. But now Bumgarner can tie Koufax by pitching eight innings in his next start, and giving up just one run. Obviously, if he pitches another eight or nine shutout innings, he’ll actually pass Koufax.

Which would really be something! So check back in 2016!


share story