The San Francisco Giants need to capitalize on Madison Bumgarner‘s trade value now before he displays the lack of ability he has left.
Newly-minted San Francisco Giants President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi inherited a mess: a roster decorated with grossly overpaid and underperforming veterans while maintaining one of the weaker farm systems in the game, ranked 28th in the 2018 season according to Baseball America.
The Giants’ new leader is also limited in the moves he could make to address his club’s shortcomings. The most effective first step for the Giants is glaring, and there isn’t much time remaining to capitalize.
Madison Bumgarner has just one-year remaining on his deal, and it would be in the Giants’ best interest to move the 29-year-old southpaw now.
San Francisco is not in a position to compete in 2019. They enter the season with crucial injuries to Buster Posey and Johnny Cueto, and a far less superior team to the Dodgers and Rockies in the NL West.
Bumgarner still has substantial value: there are few aces available considering the weak free agent market and lack of realistic trade targets.
Bumgarner threw in 21 games last season while posting a 3.26 ERA in 129.2 innings pitched, a solid enough stat line. However, many underlying issues are staring the Giants right in the face which should encourage them to part ways with their star.
The reality is Bumgarner has been on a steady decline since 2016, and it can only get worse.
Bumgarner posted a 3.99 FIP, the highest of his career. According to Statcast, opponents are hitting the ball hard 35.3% of the time coming off at an average exit velocity of 87.8 MPH, both Bumgarner’s highest recorded in the Statcast era.
These statistics are the result of an alarming decline in Bumgarner’s velocity and inability to strike batters out. In 2018, MadBum’s average fastball velocity was 91.4 MPH according to FanGraphs, the lowest of his career. The southpaw struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings, another low since his rookie season in 2010.
Bumgarner’s spin rate has seen a drastic decline in all four of his pitches, especially with the ones he throws most often. In 2018, the lefty’s cutter and sinker accounted for 69.6% of his pitches thrown as he’s abandoned his four-seam fastball.
In 2016, Bumgarner’s sinker registered at an average of 2303 RPM. That dropped to 2078 in 2018. His cutter/slider has also seen a noticeable decrease, with RPM dropping from 2308 to 2129 from 2016 to 2018. Even more concerning, MadBum’s cutter registered at an average of 85.5 MPH in 2018, while regularly sitting in 87-88 MPH range most of his career.
The sharp decline in Bumgarner’s underlying statistics may be due to injuries suffered in the past two seasons. In April 2017, the Giants ace suffered a partial tear in his left shoulder in a dirt bike accident, followed by breaking his hand on a comebacker in Spring Training of 2018.
Regardless of cause, a sharp dip in velocity and lack of strikeouts isn’t exactly a recipe for success in today’s game. Especially in a division where the Giants visit Colorado and Arizona, two very unfavorable ballparks for pitchers.
The Giants need to understand that Bumgarner will never be more valuable than he is right now. Advanced metrics are not favorable to the two-time World Series MVP, which may result in an implosion on the mound sooner rather than later. This can be avoided if the Giants pull the trigger and bring in a haul of prospects for their ace.
Giants fans are very familiar with aces losing their velocity, and suffering from multiple injuries. In 2011, Tim Lincecum‘s fastball was an average of 93.1 MPH according to FanGraphs, which resulted in a stellar 2.73 ERA, 3,17 FIP, and a hat in the CY Young award race.
Unfortunately, Lincecum suffered injuries in 2012, saw his fastball drop to an average of 91.5 MPH, put up a 5.18 ERA and was never the same pitcher. Luckily for the Giants, they were in the midst of their championship run, so those effects weren’t fully felt.
There will be no World Series to soften the blow of an imploding Madison Bumgarner in 2019.
San Francisco should be aware of the decline, and waiting until the July trade deadline would be quite risky. Trying to capitalize on a potentially underperforming Madison Bumgarner’s value with three months remaining on his contract would be counterproductive. That type of package wouldn’t give the Giants a strong foundation to build on going forward.
Entering 2018 with the third-highest payroll in baseball, and expectations inversely proportional to their investment is less than desirable. Exciting the fanbase with young talent would be the best way for Zaidi to approach this situation.
Although the Giants do have some intriguing prospects ready to make an impact as soon as next year in Shaun Anderson and Chris Shaw. Anderson and Shaw ranked third and fourth in the Giants system according to MLB Pipeline. Neither one of them rank high when matched up against other organization’s top prospects, being left off MLB’s Top 100 list entirely.
Anderson and Shaw likely won’t generate excitement or results the Giants need. The two prospects that will give the organization a shot in the arm are not close to being ready.
Joey Bart is ranked the highest in the Giants system, and the top catching prospect in the game. Heliot Ramirez, the second highest rated in their system, is their only prospect ranked in the top 100, coming in at 74. Neither of these players are expected to be ready in 2019, or 2020 for that matter.
Acquiring prospects that fit the time frame of when the Giants will be competitive again, would prove to be most beneficial for Zaidi. Teams like the Braves, Yankees and gasp!, the Dodgers have a lot to offer, and they’d likely do whatever they can to get their hands on a pitcher of Bumgarner’s stature.
Trading Bumgarner may not please the Giants faithful given the success he’s had in their uniform. If Zaidi puts his organization’s best interests first, though, the Giants hero will be wearing a different uniform come Opening Day.
James O’Connell is a contributing writer for Bronx to Bushville.