MadBum for the Hall?
Uh…not so much
With the recent announcement that Madison Bumgarner had been designated for assignment by the Arizona Diamondbacks, speculation began that it may be the end of the road for him. That led, inevitably, to questions about Bumgarner’s place in baseball history. Specifically, should he be elected to the Hall of Fame?
The MLB Network even ran a segment where they discussed this topic:
Before getting into the specifics of his Hall case, let’s quickly summarize Bumgarner’s career accomplishments:
134-124 won-loss record. That’s a .519 winning percentage.
3.47 career ERA, good for a 110 ERA+, or 10% better than league average.
Led the league in starts twice and complete games once.
32.4 WAR as a pitcher, his best season was 5.0 WAR in 2015.
A good hitter for a pitcher, .172/.232/.292, 44 OPS+, an additional 4.9 WAR as a hitter.
4 All-Star selections, 4 top-10 Cy Young finishes (same 4 seasons), with a high of 4th in 2014.
An excellent post-season record of 8-3, with a 2.11 ERA. Part of 3 World Series winners, including being World Series MVP in 2014.
Before I got to that final bullet point, his résumé looked decidedly short of Hall-worthiness. But, as Brian Kenny adamantly notes in the video clip, Bumgarner’s post-season mark is so exceptional that extra weight should be given. He feels that’s enough to put him in the Hall. The other guys in that segment disagreed.
The other guys are right.
Here’s Bumgarner’s problem in a nutshell. First, his regular season record simply isn’t close to qualifying him for the Hall of Fame. Forgetting the post-season just for a moment, it’s thoroughly clear the Bumgarner’s regular season record falls well short. And we know that because qualifications like his have been ruled on by voters.
Here are five pitchers who had really, really, really similar career statistics to Bumgarner:
Frank Lary never got even one Hall of Fame vote. Neither did Josh Beckett or Dan Haren. Cliff Lee got 2 votes. Not 2%…2 votes. Harvey Haddix was on the ballot at a time when you didn’t automatically drop off if you failed to get 5% of the votes cast, so he showed up on 10 ballots. But his best showing was just 15 votes, 3.8%, in 1985.
In short, pitchers with Bumgarner-like regular season accomplishments aren’t viewed as Hall of Famers by the people responsible for deciding such things. And keep in mind that some of these guys had better regular-season accomplishments than Bumgarner. Lee won a Cy Young award in 2008. Josh Beckett nearly won one in 2007. Haddix won 3 Gold Gloves, and famously threw a perfect game for 12 innings in 1959.
Next, it’s fair to note that Bumgarner was really only an excellent pitcher for those four All-Star seasons. In all other seasons, his record was 70-87 with a 3.87 ERA, which is no one’s idea of a Hall of Famer. And while his four great years in his 5th-8th seasons were wonderful (64 wins, .634 win percentage, 129 ERA+), they also weren’t that uncommon. Forty different pitchers managed to reach or exceed each of those numbers in their 5th-8th seasons, including Jake Arrieta, and Roy Oswalt, and Jim Maloney, and Johan Santana, and Mort Cooper, and Joe Wood, and Urban Shocker. It simply doesn’t separate Bumgarner from other pitchers who didn’t make the Hall.
That means that for Bumgarner to have any valid case for election, we can’t just give a bit of extra weight to his post-season record. We’d have to grossly overbalance the weight given to his post-season record in order to to lift him from the 0.0%-to-3.8% range of support from Hall voters all the way up to 75%.
So, can we? In the clip above, Steve Phillips claims that Bumgarner is on the Mt. Rushmore of post-season pitchers. If by that he means he’s one of the four best starting pitchers in post-season history, Phillips is wrong. Among pitchers who started at least a half-dozen post-season games:
18 won more games than Bumgarner
26 had a better winning percentage
16 had a better ERA
26 threw more innings
30 had more strikeouts
In fairness, no one was better than Bumgarner in ALL of these areas, so it’s a bit misleading to present the numbers this way. That said, it’s also not fair to pitchers who didn’t get to play in the current playoff format, where they are now able to rack up lots of post-season starts and innings in one year. Bumgarner appeared in 16 post-season games, more than Carl Hubbell and Bob Gibson combined, but that’s because Hubbell and Gibson only had the World Series available to them (and went a combined 11-4 with a 1.85 ERA).
I just don’t see any way Bumgarner displaces Gibson and Curt Schilling and Christy Mathewson and Sandy Koufax, let alone Hubbell and Jim Palmer and Bill Foster and Lefty Gomez and Dave Stewart and Whitey Ford and Jon Lester, and so on. Top-10? Okay, maybe he’s in that discussion. But post-season Mt. Rushmore? Probably not.
Kenny also noted that the post-season means more now, since baseball has added so many extra layers to it over the years. I’m not sure I buy that, but let’s go with it for the moment. The problem for Kenny and any other Bumgarner advocate who goes down that road is that we then have to look at his performance at each stage of the playoffs, not just the World Series, and that doesn’t help Bumgarner as much.
For just the World Series, his record is remarkable, maybe the best ever. In five games, he went 4-0, with a 0.25 ERA and a remarkable title-clinching 5-inning save in 2014. Definitely in the Mt. Rushmore discussion for just the World Series alone.
But for the rest of the playoffs? Not so much. Bumgarner was 4-3 with a 3.12 ERA. Solid, sure, but no one is making the Hall of Fame due to a 4-3 record in the first three rounds of the playoffs.
No, his whole case really comes down to those five World Series games. The regular season record just isn’t there. Other than four standout seasons, he was actually a middling pitcher for most of his career. And his post-season record was good but also fairly routine until he reached the World Series and became unhittable.
That’s just not enough. Admire his solid career, and remember his World Series heroics with the awe they deserve. But Bumgarner’s going to have to be satisfied with just those three rings in his trophy case, because a Hall of Fame plaque won’t be joining them.
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