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Know your NLCS foe: Game 1 starter Madison Bumgarner

Madison Bumgarner is a really good left-handed pitcher who is especially deadly against left-handed hitters. He does not walk very many hitters (4.9 BB%), so the Cardinals will likely have to either string together a few hits or continue hitting home runs like they did in the NLDS if they want to succeed against the lefty.

Jason Miller

At 7:07 PM CST tomorrow night in St. Louis, MO, Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals will face off against Madison Bumgarner and the Giants in game one of the National League Championship Series. As we did with Clayton Kershaw prior to game one of the NLDS, let's take a look some things the Cardinals can expect when they step into the box against Bumgarner.

2014 statistics

2014 33 217.1 25.1 4.9 .235 21 2.98 3.05 3.6

Two statistics stand out in particular—one in favor of Bumgarner (4.9 BB%) and the other in favor of the Cardinals and their newfound power bats (21 HR allowed). To be honest, I was surprised to find out that there are actually 15 starting pitchers with a lower BB% than Bumgarner, including his teammate, Tim Hudson (4.3%). Nonetheless, a 4.9 BB% is terrific, and it is a testament to the quality of his pitches considering he throws ~42% of them out of the strike zone. According to Fangraphs, Bumgarner gets hitters to chase out-of-the-zone pitches 36.2% of the time (8th best in the majors) and they are only making contact on 63.3% of these swings (24th best in the majors). Thus, if Cardinal hitters are able to lay off Bumgarner's tough pitches, especially curves and cutters down and in to righties (down and away to lefties), they should be able to work a walk or two. If not a walk, it will at least force Bumgarner to enter the zone, which leaves him susceptible to the long ball.

Of the 21 home runs he allowed during the regular season, only one came against a left-handed hitter, and that was all the way back on April 11th against Carlos Gonzalez and the Rockies. Though Matheny chose to go with Pete Kozma at second base in game one of the NLDS with Kershaw on the mound, I don't see him making the same decision this time around (translation: for the love of baseball, he better not make the same decision this time). In his career, Bumgarner has held lefties to a .208/.249/.315 slash line, which is really good, but there is still no logical reason to keep Kolten Wong out of the starting lineup, especially considering he provides the threat of a game-changing home run while Kozma clearly does not.

Enough with the results, what about the process?

2014 PITCHF/x data

Pitch Frequency (%) Velocity (MPH) H. mov. (in) V. release (ft)
Fourseam 44.32 92.76 6.11 5.88
Cutter 34.25 88.78 0.69 5.80
Curveball 13.37 77.30 -5.71 5.78
Changeup 7.40 84.24 8.11 5.78

In short, Bumgarner's pitches move a whole lot (both horizontally and vertically), and he disguises them really well by consistently replicating his vertical release point (the biggest average discrepancy being 1.2 inches). His most-used pitch, the fourseam fastball, has held hitters to a .194 batting average and a .321 slugging percentage in 2014, but this still be exploited considering his career numbers with the pitch include a .250 BA and a .406 SLG. Against both lefties and righties, he tends to live up in the zone with his fourseamer. At his velocity (~93 MPH), Cardinals hitters, many of which are good high-fastball hitters, should be able to get good swings on the pitch.

In regards to his cutter, he consistently throws it down and away to lefties and in on the hands of righties. For how much he throws it (his second most-used pitch), hitters have actually had a decent amount of success against it (.271 BA, .377 SLG). To be frank, the success Cardinal hitters can have against his curveball will be largely dependent on if he hangs one or not, something he has not done too much of this season (but all it takes is one). We all know Matt Adams will be on the lookout for a hanging curveball, up and over the plate.

What about situational pitching?

Pitch usage

Hitter Type Situation Fourseam Cutter Curve Change
LHH 1st pitch 59% 29% 11% 1%
Batter ahead 58% 37% 3% 1%
Pitcher ahead 49% 30% 18% 1%
RHH 1st pitch 52% 26% 11% 11%
Batter ahead 44% 44% 3% 8%
Pitcher ahead 42% 32% 16% 9%

Bumgarner is clearly a fourseam-cutter pitcher, regardless of the situation with the count and regardless of which type of hitter is at the plate (using the combo 78-86% of the time). For hitters on both sides of the plate, he goes to his fourseam fastball over half the time on the first pitch. As I stated when I discussed Kershaw's tendencies, this is particularly beneficial to Cardinal free-swingers like Matt Holliday (first pitch: .381/.393/.692), Jhonny Peralta (.371/.368/.559), and Yadier Molina (.313/.320/.456), but I also wouldn't be surprised if Matt Carpenter (much smaller sample, but .385/.390/.573) took advantage of a fat fourseamer his second or third time through the order. Final note regarding data in the table, left-handed hitters can throw the threat of a changeup out of their thought processes at the plate because the numbers show that he just does not throw it to them.

Bottom line

I fully expect the Cardinals to be aggressive on the first two pitches they see from the left-hander. Sure, this leaves them susceptible to relatively quick innings, but the Giants bullpen is much better than that of the Dodgers, so they don't necessarily need to be in a rush to get to the relieving corps. As I stated above, Bumgarner goes to the fastball early and often, and he has been especially susceptible on first pitches (.313/.393/.492),1-0 counts (.312/.309/.545; an example seen in the video below), and 0-1 counts (.343/.346/.522) in his career. If I had the position of John Mabry, I would be telling my hitters to sit on fastballs, especially early in the count. Of course, Bumgarner has a good enough repertoire to make subtle changes to his approach, but this is definitely something the Cardinals can look for the first time through the order.

Hopefully, we can see another one of these...

, we can see another game like this one on July 3rd.

Credit to BrooksBaseballFangraphs, and Baseball-Reference for content used in this post.