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Madison Bumgarner brings the heat like KC's Big Three

Last night Madison Bumgarner did something that we haven't seen in years and may not see again, but how did he do it? How has he been doing it all October?

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Last night Madison Bumgarner needed to be seen to be believed. The Giants ace tallied the incredibly rare five-inning save on two day's rest, cementing his legacy as possibly the greatest World Series pitcher of all time. That label is pretty heavy, and the fact it could apply to Bumgarner at the tender age of 25 is incredible.

During the entire relief outing he never seemed like he was in serious trouble; the biggest threat to him came from his own team's comically poor outfield defense rather than Kansas City's bats. At the end of the night he had allowed only two base runners and struck out four, putting together an improbably quiet outing in the loudest of circumstances.

So, how was Bumgarner so good? It's possible he did it with nerves of steel and absolutely no regard for the structural integrity of his arm, but there's more to the story. Nerves of steel can take you only so far. A pitcher needs some power tools in the old utility belt.

In Bumgarner's case the most important tool was his fastball. In a vacuum that isn't surprising. The fastball is the most common pitch in baseball. However, for the Giants ace it is a bit puzzling because he has thrown fastballs only 46.1% of the time in his career and is better known for his cutter.

As Jeff Sullivan pointed out in an excellent piece a couple of weeks ago, he's become a fastball-first pitcher in recent months. To that end, in October he has thrown his four-seamer at a rate of 53.9%.

Time and time again during Game 7 Bumgarner attacked the Royals with the high heat, and by and large they had absolutely no answer for it.

In order to examine just how good Bumgarner's fastball was in the playoffs, I figured I would compare it to some of the best baseball has to offer: the heat coming out of the back end of the Royals' bullpen.

The success of Kansas City's hard-throwing relief aces has been well documented. The three-headed monster of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland dominated opposing hitters throughout October and during the regular season as well.

The trio features impressive velocity with Herrera often touching 100 mph and Davis and Holland comfortably sitting around 95-96. Without that kind of gas, or the luxury of being able to throw exclusively max-effort pitches, it would be unfair to expect Madison Bumgarner's fastball effectiveness to rival the intimidating threesome's this postseason.

That doesn't mean that it hasn't.

Player Ball% Foul% Whiff% AVG against SLG against
Kelvin Herrera 38.0% 16.0% 13.0% .136 .136
Wade Davis 27.4% 29.3% 16.0% .222 .333
Greg Holland 31.4% 24.3% 7.1% .167 .167
Madison Bumgarner 26.3% 22.0% 11.1% .132 .187

While he hasn't generated whiffs like Herrera or Davis, Bumgarner's numbers don't look out of place here at all. Considering that he has had to sustain his performance over long outings, and on short rest, it's pretty incredible that he kept pace with the relief aces.

Last night for all the marbles, Bruce Bochy asked his ace to be Herrera, Davis, and Holland all rolled into one. Madison Bumgarner did it convincingly, he did it with ease, and he did it with his fastball.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball

Nick Ashbourne is an Editor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.