As soon as I began to write this, Arizona’s Jeremy Lamb laced a single to break up Madison Bumgarner’s no-hitter last night at AT&T Park. This was disappointing, for sure: Bumgarner seems to be the only Giants pitcher who hasn’t thrown a no-no recently (they’ve had four in the past four years).
Nonetheless, Bumgarner turned in one of the finest pitching performances of the past few years. His complete game, fourteen K shutout not only registered as the best game by a pitcher as measured by Game Score in 2016, but it went down as one of the ten best outings of the last five years.
Still, I’m not going to pretend that Bumgarner is the best pitcher in baseball because, statistically, he isn’t. That honor belongs to Clayton Kershaw, who not only leads the majors in every conceivable category this year, but is the leader in WAR among pitchers by a staggering 14 wins since 2010. However, Bumgarner is clearly baseball’s best overall player; and it’s not just based on what we saw last night, but from what we’ve seen from him at other points in 2016 and in years past as well.
OK, so we know Bumgarner isn’t quite the best pitcher in the league, but he’s still damn great. Among all the terrific pitchers in the MLB today, the San Francisco lefty ranks in the top 10 in just about every major category. Most importantly, Bumgarner is second in all of baseball with a 1.94 ERA, trailing only Kershaw. He’s been thriving for quite some time, too. In six full seasons in the big leagues, he’s been at least a three win player every year as measured by WAR, something only a few other players can say. Moreover, he has posted an ERA under 3 each of the past four seasons.
But what really sets Bumgarner apart from nearly every other pitcher is his postseason success. Does anyone need a reminder of what he did in the 2014 playoffs? In short, what he accomplished, particularly in the World Series, was historic. Let’s not forget, though, that Bumgarner has consistently excelled when it has mattered most. Of pitchers to throw at least 25 innings in the World Series, Bumgarner’s 0.25 ERA is the lowest of all-time. Is there anyone else you would trust more in a big spot than him?
Yet, in my opinion, what really makes Bumgarner the game’s best overall player is the fact that he has achieved all this while also being the league’s best hitting pitcher. I mean, what other pitcher can do this?
Take Kershaw deep once? OK, you maybe got lucky. Take him deep a second time? That’s not a fluke. Since he entered the league in 2010, no pitcher has more home runs than Bumgarner (13). Essentially, there’s no one else in baseball that can do it all like he can. A couple weeks ago, he became the first NL pitcher I can remember that was allowed by his manager to hit for himself in an AL stadium. Back in May, Bumgarner basically beat the mighty Cubs on his own by pitching 7 2/3 scoreless innings in addition to driving in the game’s only run. Next thing you know, Bumgarner’s going to solve world hunger!
There may not be another pitcher like Kershaw or another hitter like Mike Trout. Yet, as we’ve seen the past three months, there’s still no one that can do it all like Madison Bumgarner.
Photo courtesy of Lance Iversen/USA Today Sports