Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Madison Bumgarner and the Home Run Derby

Madison Bumgarner is undoubtedly one of the top starting pitchers in baseball, putting up great numbers year after year. He's been even better in the post-season. He's a great pitcher.

Unfortunately, he seems to think he's an elite hitter as well. Last year, when Max Scherzer mentioned that the National League should use the DH as well because pitchers simply can't hit, Bumgarner took offense. Bumgarner talked about how big his bat was (33.5 ounces, 34.5 inches) and mentioned that having a good hitting pitcher is a strategic advantage.

First, let's clear up the notion that Madison Bumgarner is a good hitter: he's not. Compared to major league pitchers, sure, he's considerably better, but compared to the league's hitters, Bumgarner is worse than even the worst regular. For his career, the Giants lefty has hit .180/.220/.306, good for a measly .526 OPS. In 2015, the absolute worst hitter that qualified was Chris Owings, who played in 147 games for the Diamondbacks. Owings hit a putrid .227/.264/.322, or a .587 OPS.

That means on average Madison Bumgarner is about 10% worse than the league's worst non-pitching hitter. Drew Butera, long known as maybe the league's worst hitter, has hit .190/.246/.280 for his career, which is a .527 OPS. That means that Drew Butera, who really has no business being a major league player, is still a better hitter than Madison Bumgarner.

Bumgarner had two seasons where he posted an OPS over .700, but because pitchers get so few at bats over a full season it's far too small of a sample size to get any real idea of the kind of player he is. Bumgarner's career at bats are very close to a full season's worth of at bats, which is why I'm referencing his career numbers.

Clearly, using a DH would improve the offense and make the game easier to watch, but people hate change. Some people call themselves "traditionalists" which bothers me a ton. If you can improve the game, improve it. Don't leave it as is simply because that's the way it's always been.

Others claim they like the "strategy" of having to double switch to minimize pitchers at bats. Anyone that understands baseball knows this is total crap; the strategy of when to double switch is laughably simple once you've studied lineups and situations for a few days. Managers who have been doing it their whole lives should know exactly when double switches are necessary; and if you watch an NL game, that's generally the case. I'm sorry, but if you can learn the best strategy for something in one or two days, it's not really a strategy. I'm tired of watching a pitcher make three terrible swings and then walk back to the dugout. Just let them stay in the dugout, and use a real living major league hitter in their place.

Anyways, this isn't about the DH in the NL. I only mention it because Bumgarner is again in the news, this time because he wants to participate in the Home Run Derby during the All-Star Game. People seem to like the idea; it'd be fun to see how a pitcher does, and some even think he could perform well. If Drew Butera wanted to participate, would they let him? Of course not.

Admittedly, hitting batting practice home runs is considerably easier than hitting major league pitching, so maybe Bumgarner's natural power will show up more in a Home Run Derby setting. Also, because it's the all-star game and an exhibition contest, I really don't mind if Bumgarner is in it. It could be fun to watch a pitcher try it, and I think most fans would be rooting very hard for him to do well. It would be a good decision from an entertainment standpoint.

What bothers me is that Bumgarner undoubtedly thinks he's a better hitter than he is. To lobby for a place in the home run derby as a pitcher is silly. If MLB allows him to compete, Bumgarner will take someone else's place, someone more deserving.

Personally, I'd like to see Bumgarner compete and hit 0 home runs, if for no other reason than to shut Bumgarner up. Him being cocky about hitting when he's one of the league's best pitchers would be like James Harden telling everyone what a great defender he is. It's just silly and wrong. Make whatever decision you want, MLB, but let's be clear: if Bumgarner is in the home run derby, it's not because he earned it. It's simply as a side show and a life preserver to an event that's been slowly dying for years.