It's always interesting when a player is hyped up and then, when he lives up to the hype, is never discussed again. Such is the case with the Giants' Madison Bumgarner.
Bumgarner is the highly rated prospect who was called up by the Giants to stay last August, and capped a strong rookie year with a masterful performance in Game 4 of the World Series, shutting out the Rangers for 8 innings while striking out 6. This performance pretty much guaranteed Bumgarner a spot in the 2011 rotation. Now, two and a half months into the season, Bumgarner is 18th in the NL with a 3.21 ERA (an ERA+ of 115). It doesn't seem to be a fluke, as his peripheral stats seem to back up that quality - through 84 innings, he has 64 strikeouts, 24 walks, and only 4 homeruns allowed. The HR/IP rate is the fourth best in the league. Furthermore, after a 7.79 through his first four starts, Bumgarner has been spectacular. In his last 10 starts, he has quality starts in exactly 10 of them, with an average Game Score of 61. In those 10 starts, he has allowed only 15 earned runs in 66.2 innings, good for a 2.03 ERA. He has 56 strikeouts to only 14 walks, and only 2 home runs allowed.
So why aren't we hearing more about Bumgarner's all-star level performance? Maybe it's because of his slow start. Or maybe he's been overshadowed by the emergency of Ryan Vogelsong and the spectacle that accompanies every Tim Lincecum start. Maybe his emergence has coincided too closely with the Buster Posey collision story.
What's more likely though, is that nobody is talking about Bumgarner because he's 3-8.
In Bumgarner's 10 game stretch, he has not won consecutive starts. In the five losses he's had during that time, the Giants have scored 5 runs - a stat that is misleading, since 4 of them came in one start against the Cubs in which the Giants' bullpen gave up 8 runs after Bumgarner exited. In the other four losses, the Giants scored one run. Not "one run per game," but one run, total, in four games. Sure, pitching for the second lowest scoring team in the league will bring its share of tough luck losses, but the Giants have only been shut out a total of three other times. The run support average of 3.96 (per 9 IP, not per start) Bumgarner has received is second worst in the NL, ahead of only Paul Maholm (another tough luck pitcher, as he's another pitcher having otherwise having his best season). So Bumgarner has had more than his fair share of bad luck.
Maybe this is sort of the Giants initiation process though. In 2007 and 2008, Matt Cain went 15-30, despite an ERA+ of 120. In 2009-2010 Jonathan Sanchez fared slightly better, at 21-21 with his ERA+ a measly 114. Tim Lincecum was somehow able to avoid this curse, though its easy to imagine a pitcher who leads the league in strikeouts and is second in ERA having better than the 15-7 record Lincecum finished with in 2009. Moral of the story? If you're going to win games for the Giants, pitch really, really well, because they can't really hit.
As for Bumgarner? Let's make sure to give him his due. Or, at the very least, when his luck changes and he runs off a 9-0 streak with minimal change in his numbers, let's not call him "lucky."