Wheeler’s Gone, But Bumgarner Would Give the Twins Plenty to Work With
Image courtesy of © Cody Glenn - USA TODAY SportsAfter just watching Wheeler’s market heat up and go beyond what anyone predicted, it seems likely that Bumgarner could end up with a bigger contract than expected, though likely still less than Wheeler. Cole Hamels also signing a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves could help the Twins, as Atlanta seemed to be the favorites to sign Bumgarner, but are now less likely to do so.
Personally, I was in the sign-Wheeler camp, but a recent article by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal has warmed me a bit more on Bumgarner. His number’s pitching outside of San Francisco definitely give me pause, but Rosenthal pointed to some encouraging stats in the 2019 version of Bumgarner.
Bumgarner’s strikeout rate (24.1%) was his highest since 2016 while his walk rate (5.1%) was the lowest since 2015. That’s great, but also encouraging is the fact that his fastball velocity was also the highest it’s been since 2015. Of course, Wes Johnson is known for getting a little extra oomph out of the fastball, so Bumgarner may even be able to add a bit more to the 91.72 mph he averaged in 2019.
However, the most interesting tidbit of the article has to do with the increase in spin rate that Bumgarner’s fastball saw last season. He had the greatest overall increase of all MLB pitchers, going from 2081 to 2405 for a difference of 324 from 2018 to 2019. The next four pitchers on the list, Lucas Giolito, Gerrit Cole, Mike Minor, and Matthew Boyd make for pretty good company. Minnesota’s embrace of analytics and technology may help to further enhance Bumgarner’s pitches.
Of course, Bumgarner is a legend for what he has done in the postseason and his track record in that regard would certainly be attractive to a team like Minnesota, who hope to be contending for the length of Bumgarner’s contract. In addition to his postseason success, Bumgarner also pitched better against “good” teams in 2019 with a 3.68 ERA against the top-18 offenses according to Rosenthal, which would also be welcome.
Now that Wheeler signed, Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu are all that is left of the second-tier of top free agent starters. With Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg seemingly out of the picture (not that they were ever in it), Bumgarner may be the Twins last chance, as Ryu seems unlikely to land in Minnesota. There are more than four teams in need of a front-end starter, so some teams are bound to be left out. If the Twins strikeout on Bumgarner, a trade may be the last hope in significantly improving the rotation.
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