Madison Bumgarner has had a tremendous start to his young career.
He pitched well down the stretch to help the San Francisco Giants win the World Series in 2010—with his signature moment being the eight shutout innings that he threw against the Texas Rangers in Game 4 of the World Series at the ripe age of 20.
In 2011, he continued his ascent by throwing over 200 innings with an earned run average of 3.21, supported by an outstanding 2.67 fielding-independent pitching line, fourth-best in baseball amongst starting pitchers.
So far this season, Bumgarner has pitched at an All-Star level, especially considering that he is still only 22 years old. However, he has had several starts recently that have highlighted the weaknesses that he needs to shore up to become a perennial Cy Young candidate.
On the 4th of July, the Washington Nationals roughed up Bumgarner for nine hits, seven runs and three home runs in his five innings of work. Two starts ago in Oakland, the A's hit Bumgarner hard for 11 hits, four runs and two home runs over six innings.
The light-hitting Padres hit Bumgarner hard in San Diego on June 6th for seven hits, four runs, a home run and four extra-base hits in six innings.
Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow often says that Bumgarner is the victim of throwing too many strikes. However, the problem isn't that he is throwing too many strikes. The real issue is that he is virtually a two-pitch pitcher, which forces him to have to be exceptionally fine with his command in order to avoid hard contact.
Bumgarner's best two pitches are his fastball, which sits around 90-93 miles per hour (MPH), and his slider, which is usually in the 85-89 MPH range. He uses his fastball and slider a combined 80 percent of the time, according to FanGraphs, and both pitches are hard, with movement boring into a right-handed batter.
He has a hard time snapping a good curveball, and turning over a changeup, because of his low release point. According to FanGraphs, he throws his curveball and changeup less than a combined 20 percent, and neither pitch is as effective as his slider.
However, his changeup is the third-best pitch in his arsenal, and it is a nice change of pace to his hard slider and fastball—with movement running away from a right-handed batter.
His low release point makes him extremely tough on lefties, who are only hitting .158 against him, but more susceptible to right-handed batters, who are hitting one hundred points higher.
To make the leap against right-handed batters and into the Cy Young debate, Bumgarner must improve by further developing his changeup. He needs to rely less on his slider against opposite-handed batters, reduce the usage of his flimsy curveball, and start pounding the outside corner with changeups running away from righties.
Baseball is a game of constant change and adjustments. Bumgarner has had an outstanding beginning to his career, but now the league is starting to realize that they only need to account for two of his pitches, which have similar speed and movement.
To combat this, Bumgarner has to increase the usage and effectiveness of his changeup. If he makes this adjustment, he can become even more dominant.
You are either getting better or worse in this game, because the constant adjustments the opposition makes keeps you from ever staying the same. Bumgarner is very good, but he needs to improve his changeup to become elite.