When left-hander, Madison Bumgarner, made his MLB debut last year, the top pitching prospect in the Giants organization showed up with less velocity than advertised. After working in the low-to-mid 90′s in the minor leagues, Giants fans were shocked to see Madison posting 88′s on the stadium radar gun. Velocity concerns aside, Bumgarner has a plus-fastball because of his ability to locate the pitch, but little else in the way of other offerings. His slider, by most reports, has flashed promise but still needs tinkering. His changeup is also coming along, but it’s his 3rd best pitch in a 1 pitch arsenal. The Giants have stated that they see Bumgarner as a candidate for the 5th starters job coming out of camp.
It wouldn’t be totally crazy to start the season with Bumgarner in the rotation, but I’m not sure it’s the best situation, either.
The yeas would break it down like this:
- He excelled in the minor leagues
- His velo drop could be the result of his workload and not any physical issues
- The Giants think he’s ready and I’ll trust their judgment. If it’s one thing I trust the Giants on, it’s pitching
The nays respond:
- Outside of his fastball (which was a lot slower in the majors than scouting reports) Bumgarner really only has 1 pitch. It’s a terrific pitch, but it’s all he has.
- He’s yet to top 140 innings of starting in a season. Why not ease him along? Let him develop in AAA (working on pitches and stamina) and then bring him up.
- If you call him up late, you can delay his arb-clock. The Giants might have learned this the hard way with Lincecum.
I have to admit, at this point, I’m siding with the nays. It’s not completely crazy to start Bumgarner in the majors, but it’s also not completely crazy to eat a mayonnaise and broccoli sandwich. Hey, it could be good.
There are a few remaining free agent pitchers on the market — do any of them fit with the Giants? Let’s check them out. I’ve listed 3 groups of pitchers. ‘Could Be Expensive’, ‘Old and/or Injured’, and the ‘Scrap Heap’. I think each group is self explanatory. Also listed in ()’s is the 2009 pitching stats of that pitcher.
Could Be Expensive
Jarrod Washburn (176 IP, 5.11 K/9, 2.51 BB/9, 4.58 FIP):
Washburn is most likely the best pitcher left on the market. But, buyer-beware, he’s going to need a top-notch outfield defense in front of him. In 2009, Washburn pitched 133 innings in front of Seattle’s monster defense and looked great posting a 2.64 ERA in the process. Traded to Detroit at the deadline, Washburn struggled and posted a 7.33 ERA as his new outfielders were less adept at turning flyballs into outs. As a flyball pitcher that doesn’t strike out many hitters, whichever team picks him up should pair him with a good defensive outfield. He’s a strike-thrower (career BB/9 of 2.75) that throws a lot of fastballs. Another data point of interest from Washburn’s ’09 season is the number .244 — that’s his BABIP. We expect most pitchers to pitch around a .300 BABIP. CHONE projects Washburn as a 4.70 FIP pitcher in 2010. I can’t see the Giants bidding on Washburn. He’ll probably earn around $4-5M per season and the Giants seem to be done spending big money.
Old and/or Injured
Erik Bedard (83 IP, 9.76 K/9, 3.69 BB/9, 3.55 FIP):
There’s no denying that of the remaining free agent pitchers left, Bedard has the best stuff. But, durability and injury issues place him directly in our ‘old and/or injured’ category. When Bedard is healthy, he’s one of the better pitchers in the game. He works off of a low-90′s fastball and a tough curveball that’s given batters nightmares since he came into the league. By FanGraphs’ pitch values, Bedards curveball has been worth 58.5 runs above the average curve over his career. That’s a great pitch. Bedard rattled off back-to-back +5 win seasons between 2006-07 with Baltimore, but over the past two seasons he’s only pitched around 80 innings per year. When he’s healthy, he’s very good, but there’s a good chance he might not be ready to go until sometime in May. Because of his health, he’ll have to sign a 1-year deal. And because of his health I’m not sure he fits in with the Giants. They need someone at the start of the year that can log time in the rotation to give Bumgarner time. Whichever team that picks up Bedard and can wait for him to get back might just have one of the better bargains of this offseason.
John Smoltz (78 IP, 8.42 K/9, 2.08 BB/9, 3.87 FIP):
The 43-year-old John Smoltz could be an option for a team like the Giants that needs a veteran to hold down the fort until Bumgarner is ready. Because of his age, you can’t really expect Smoltz to pitch more than 100 innings. If Smoltz would take on a role like or not is another question, but he does fill some of the criteria for what the Giants need. His AL tenure was short, but overall he was still an above-average starting pitcher. Much like Randy Johnson, if Smoltz goes down with an injury then you can promote Bumgarner, but he should give the Giants a little breathing room. CHONE has Smoltz projected as a 4.01 FIP pitcher next year. I like the idea of Smoltz in the rotation. Do the Giants?
Pedro Martinez (44.2 IP, 7.46 K/9, 1.61 BB/9, 4.28 FIP):
Martinez is a lot like Smoltz. You can’t expect him to throw more than 100 innings, and he’s not the same pitcher he once was, but he’s still got some value. Pedro doesn’t throw in the mid-90′s any more but he’s got enough secondary pitches to keep hitters honest.
Braden Looper (194.2 IP, 4.62 K/9, 2.96 BB/9, 5.74 FIP):
Well, one thing you can say about Looper is that he’ll probably give you 200 innings of baseball and he’ll throw strikes. The former reliever had an awful season in ’09. Despite going 14-7, his underlying numbers weren’t pretty. He doesn’t strike out hitters, he’s not really a groundball pitcher, but he is durable. In this market, Looper is going to have to settle for a minor league deal. He might find his way into Giants camp but I’m not sure he’ll make the rotation. I’m also not sure he’s better than internal options. He’s in the scrap heap for a reason.
Livan Hernandez (183.2 IP, 5.0 K/9, 3.28 BB/9, 4.44 FIP):
This is the Comedy Option. I’m always amazed that year in and year out Livan manages to find work. Teams that need a warm body in their rotation always seem to pick up Livan. Livan’s numbers from 2009 aren’t all that bad. He posted a solid FIP and was worth +1.7 wins. He actually looks to be the best in our scrap heap, so why shouldn’t we be interested? First, Livan’s fastball has slowed in almost each season. In 2002 he was throwing his fastball around 88 mph, it’s closer to 83 mph these days. Second, his K/9 of 5.0 was his highest strike-out rate since 2006. Between 2007-08 Livan was striking out around 3 hitters per 9 — for a guy that doesn’t get groundballs that’s horrific. Livan’s approach is to nibble around the strike zone and let hitters put the ball in play. He mixes in a slider, a slow curve, and a changeup. He could probably throw 200 innings a year until he’s 60-years-old but the Giants can do better. Is it bad when your fastball is slower than Kirk Rueter’s best heat?
If the Giants want to bring in FA to pitch in the 5th spot to give Madison Bumgarner more time in AAA, my first choice would be Smoltz. He offers the best chance for above-average pitching and with his age (and injury history) you can only really expect 100 innings or less — making him the perfect candidate to hold down a rotation spot for a young prospect. Ideally when Bumgarner is ready, you could shift Smoltz into the bullpen and let him work from there. If Smoltz is agreeable to this plan, he would be a fine addition to the Giants. Bedard would be nice, but with his injuries I’m not sure he fits the time table for the Giants.
If the Giants want to with internal options, I like Joe Martinez. He’s shown some GB tendencies in his career and he could fill in for Bumgarner until he’s ready. I think I much prefer him to Kevin Pucetas.
Comment Starter: Is Madison ready?