Think about Jon Lester for one second. Lester was a formerly elite starting left-hander who is in the twilight of his career, but still pitches in a way that is more than acceptable for the point in which he finds himself. He relies on a cutter as well as his slower four-seamer; he is something like a 90 ERA- projected pitcher going forward, so you can say he’ll log something like 60-70 innings and toss a couple of important postseason starts.
When people imagine Lester in their mind’s eye, of course, they envision the one they saw in 2014. You have to actively decouple that from who that player is now, and just accept who they actually are right now. You know where I’m going with this.
Madison Bumgarner, also, is not the 2014 version of himself, nor is he the same pitcher that logged a 2.11 ERA over 102 1⁄3 postseason innings. His performance has naturally degraded as the wear on his arm grows, and injuries have taken their toll over the last two years. That being said, there are quite a few features to like.
For one, most of his peripherals have come back down to pre-injury levels. His whiff rate is at its highest since 2015, and he’s generated an above-average-for-his-career 34.8% O-Swing rate. The spin rate on his fastball is still elite, sitting at the 86th percentile.
Hitters have picked their spots, and it’s not unusual to see a higher launch angle against followed by a jump in home run rate. That stands in stark contrast to his postseason number of a paltry 0.7 per nine, so one would expect that to never return.
Yet put it all together and you get a pitcher that will be worth approximately one win down the stretch (not a joke for a lot of teams), and should toss, on average, one or two really big starts. Say what you want about how advanced the game has become and all the numbers involved, there are still scouts who are whispering to their higher-ups that they would prefer Bumgarner, except maybe a pitcher or two, to have the ball in that big game instead of what would be your fourth or fifth best current starter.
That means, considering the dearth of good back-end starters, essentially everyone and their father is interested in Bumgarner, or half the league. With just the remainder of his $12 million contract, one would also imagine that the (still surging, by the way) Giants would be willing to eat a dollar or two to get a slightly better player.
It won’t be a top 50 prospect, but it would move the needle just a little bit on San Francisco’s repair of their empty farm system. Given everything Bumgarner has given to the city (and he could still return), it’s only fair he gives them one more gift.