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Madison Bumgarner Can Dominate Without You Even Noticing

Last night's game between the Giants and Phillies was interrupted by a rain delay in the 4th inning that lasted nearly an hour. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a good time to just abandon watching the game altogether, but Madison Bumgarner was on the mound for the Giants, and that made sticking out the delay worthwhile.

Bumgarner dominated the Phillies, shutting them out through eight innings while allowing five hits and striking out six. That's not a stat line that's really going to jump out at anyone—audible gasps are saved for the occasional 12-strikeout game or a complete game shutout—but it's perfectly indicative of what's so fun about watching Bumgarner pitch.


Bumgarner doesn't have the kind of "Holy shit!" fastball that you see from the likes of Garrett Richards, nor does he possess a the kind of physics-bending curveball that guys like Clayton Kershaw use to break batters' brains. The fun part about watching Bumgarner work is in the intricacies of the great pitches he does have—a four-seam fastball and a cutter—and how he uses them as perfect complements to each other.

One of the things Bumgarner does so well over the course of a game is maintain consistent velocity on his pitches. This chart shoes how hard he was throwing his pitches in each inning of last night's game (Charts via Brooks Baseball):

And this chart represents the horizontal movement of his pitches throughout the night. (A number close to zero or a negative number indicates the ball diving toward a right-handed batter):


The stars of the show here are the fastball and the cutter. Bumgarner threw those pitches 38 and 39 times last night, respectively, and they made for a deadly tandem. The cutter was biting in on righties and diving away from lefties all night, while never reaching a velocity that would allow a guy who was sitting on a fastball to run into one. Meanwhile, the fastball was tailing in the other direction, coming across the plate with just enough zip to jump on anyone looking for the cutter or something else offspeed. To the naked eye, these pitches don't look all that different from each other, but small—and, crucially, consistent—variations in velocity and movement are all Bumgarner needs to keep a lineup flummoxed.


Bumgarner spent the night pitching a Greg Maddux-style game, needing just 70 pitches to get through the first seven innings despite having to work in a rain storm for a good chunk of the night. Watching guys blow away lineups with outwardly devastating stuff will always be a great time, but there's also something satisfying about watching a guy like Bumgarner dominate a team not with overwhelming velocity or movement, but with precision so complete that it's near imperceptible.

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