Bumgarner V. Wheeler: Who Should the Twins Pursue?
Image courtesy of Brad Mills, USA TodayThe case for Bumgarner:
Bumgarner is one of the most prominent names in MLB, and for good reason. He was drafted by the Giants with the 10th overall pick in the 2007 Amateur Draft as an 18-year-old. Bumgarner quickly moved up the system, debuting in 2008 at Class-A and pitching 10 innings in the big leagues by 2009.
Bumgarner started in 18 games in 2010 with a 3.00 ERA in 111 innings. That breakout season was a bridge to six straight dominant campaigns as Bumgarner appeared in four All-Star games and finished in the top 10 for the Cy Young each of those years. This stretch included three championships and a World Series MVP Award in 2014.
For the first time since 2010, Bumgarner started less than 30 games in 2017 after a dirt bike accident sprained the AC joint in his left shoulder. Bad luck struck again in 2018 when a line drive drilled his throwing hand. Bumgarner nearly matched his combined total of 38 starts between those two years with 34 in 2019.
In his illustrious 11-year career, Bumgarner has never posted an ERA above the 3.90 mark he had in 2019. Consistency is perhaps his greatest asset, and Bumgarner is still just 30-years-old. There seems to be an assumption that Bumgarner has less left to give. His average pitch velocity actually increased in 2019:
With Bumgarner also comes postseason experience and October mystic. Bumgarner is 8-3 with a 2.11 ERA in 102 1/3 playoff innings. It is unwise to hang your hat on this, but there is absolutely a bulldog mentality and calm demeanor that gives Bumgarner an edge when the stakes are highest.
The case for Zack Wheeler:
One of the most enticing names of the offseason, Wheeler enters free agency after two phenomenal seasons with the Mets. Wheeler was selected by the Giants with the 6th overall pick in the 2009 Amateur Draft. Wheeler was traded to New York for Carlos Beltran at the 2011 deadline.
Wheeler was called up in May of 2013 and looked great in his first two seasons, posting a 3.50 ERA across 285 1/3 innings. In the spring of 2015, Wheeler had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and was sidelined for the next two years.
Wheeler returned in 2017 and was clearly rusty as he allowed 50 runs in just 86 1/3 innings. Full recovery showed in 2018 and Wheeler heaved his way to a sterling 3.25 FIP and 12-7 record, right back on track. Wheeler followed up his bounceback season with a 3.48 FIP and 195 strikeouts in 195 1/3 innings in 2019.
Unlike Bumgarner, Wheeler is an overpowering pitcher with a fastball that averaged 96.7 MPH last year. He is throwing as hard as ever and has a nice complement of pitches. Here is how Wheeler mixed up his offerings compared to 2018 and the seasons prior to Tommy John surgery:
For the Twins, Wheeler may have an edge over Bumgarner as he is dominant against right-handed batters. Righties hit just .245/.274/.360 off him in 2019. With the American League Central loaded with right-handed sluggers such as Franmil Reyes, Eloy Jimenez, and Jorge Soler, Wheeler could give an added advantage to Minnesota.
Who should get the final rose?
Both of these guys are proven, but Bumgarner offers stability and consistency that Wheeler does not. On the contrary, Wheeler holds upside that could turn him into a superstar, while Bumgarner has possibly reached his 95th percentile of production.
With either, the Twins are getting a serious upgrade to the staff and each guy brings different assets and limitations to the table. Let’s take a look at how closely they compared in 2019:
Who should the Twins get?
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