Madison Bumgarner did not get off to the strongest start to 2019. But don't look now, because the Giants ace just might be finding the form that made him one of the top pitchers in the game.
Bumgarner is coming off his best performance of the still-young season, giving up only one run in six innings to the NL West rival Dodgers on Wednesday. That prompted catcher Buster Posey to say the left-hander displayed "the best stuff he's had all year."
As it turns out, Posey wasn't blowing smoke. Bumgarner was ... or was throwing it, rather.
As ESPN's Buster Olney points out, Bumgarner's average fastball velocity in the Giants' win was 91.9 mph -- essentially the same as it was in 2015, when the lefty arguably had his best season as a pro. He also generated 18 missed swings, his most in any start since September 2016 (also against the Dodgers). All 18 missed swings came on fastballs.
In fact, through his first seven starts of the season, Bumgarner's 2019 stats are eerily similar to his 2015 numbers. So far this season, he's pitched an identical 43 2/3 innings, issued one fewer walk, struck out one additional batter and allowed one additional home run, and his 2019 xFIP of 3.63 is just slightly worse than it was in 2015 (3.59). Really, only his ERA (3.92) is considerably different from 2015 (3.30).
With San Francisco looking far from being a contending squad, a potential Bumgarner trade likely offers the Giants their best chance at bringing back a transformative return for their ace. The fact that Bumgarner -- the most dominant postseason pitcher in league history -- is finding his form only can improve what that potential return would be.
At 29, Bumgarner hasn't suffered a significant decline in velocity. As for what might attract him to potential trade partners, Olney suggests looking no further than Cole Hamels, who had tremendous success with the Chicago Cubs in the playoffs after they acquired him at the deadline. Prior to the trade, Hamels had a 4.72 ERA in 20 starts for the lowly Texas Rangers. In 12 starts for the Cubs, Hamels had a 2.36 ERA.
That was enough to compel the Cubs to pick up Hamels' option for this season, and he's produced a 3.19 ERA thus far. It's evident the change in scenery -- particularly the change in competitiveness -- had a profound effect on Hamels' turnaround.
As such, it's easy to understand why a potential contender might be interested in Bumgarner, especially considering the playoff success he's had. The Giants don't appear headed back to the postseason, so perhaps Bumgarner is most useful to them elsewhere.