SAN FRANCISCO - As big of a draw as he is in Scottsdale, there's little that can be taken from a Madison Bumgarner spring training start. He's years past the point where any results in the Cactus League matter. He's simply there to get his work in, and occasionally to make a small tweak or two.
And yet, the Giants found themselves getting more and more excited about Bumgarner as spring training went on this year. He was sharp throughout, and with 30 strikeouts in 21 innings, he looked ready to dominate. Bruce Bochy and members of his staff quietly wondered if Bumgarner was about to have a career year.
That all changed with one liner back to the mound.
Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield's shot up the middle fractured Bumgarner's fifth metacarpal and put a serious dent in the Giants' chances of getting off to a quick start.
Bumgarner had a solid year, but not the spectacular one that some were picturing back in Scottsdale. Here's a look at how it all went down …
What Went Right
Bumgarner had a 3.26 ERA and 1.24 WHIP and was particularly dominant at home, posting a 1.63 ERA in 10 starts at AT&T Park. At home, he held opposing hitters to a minuscule .204/.267/.306 slash line and allowed just three home runs.
He didn't get as deep into games as he used to, but he still completed eight innings three times and made it through seven on six occasions, which is increasingly rare in today's game. In 16 of his 21 starts, he pitched at least six innings, and he also allowed three-or-fewer runs 16 times.
This was a year when Bumgarner hit a few milestones. He became the fourth-fastest left-hander to reach 1,500 career strikeouts, and he needs just 16 to move past Gaylord Perry and into fourth place in San Francisco Giants history. He finished the year at 110 career wins, ranking him third in franchise history.
Bumgarner provided one of the coolest moments of the season, coming off the bench in the 12th inning on Sept. 25 and lining a walk-off single. He became the first pitcher in four years to get a game-ending RBI and the first Giants pitcher in 28 years to do it. He then rejected Alen Hanson.
What Went Wrong
There's nothing Bumgarner could do about the injury. It was bad luck that cost him 60 games a year after he missed 75. The Giants have a 59-76 record with Bumgarner on the DL the past two years.
The bigger concern might be some of the red flags within his overall numbers. Bumgarner had a 4.97 ERA on the road. His strikeout rate (7.6) was the lowest of his career and the walk rate (3.0) was the highest. For the first time since 2013, he didn't pitch a complete game. For the first time since 2010, he didn't have a double-digit strikeout game.
Bumgarner may be the most durable pitcher of his generation, but in 2018 he fell victim to the same third-time-through penalty as most other starters. Opponents had a .624 OPS off him the first two times through the order but it was .868 the third time, and Bochy adjusted and started pulling him earlier.
And since we mentioned the pinch-hit walk-off, we should mention that he failed to homer for the first time in five years and had a .378 OPS. Certainly, the fractured finger set him back, but he still is used to putting up far more resistance at the plate.
This week, the Giants picked up Bumgarner's option for 2019. He will make $12 million in the final year of his deal, and he has a limited no-trade clause that allows him to block eight teams.
Bumgarner's status is the biggest issue a new front office must address, and Larry Baer and Brian Sabean have been asking candidates about Bumgarner during interviews. After 2014, it seemed a lock that Bumgarner would get the usual Giants treatment, signing a massive extension before he hit free agency and maybe one day watching a statue go up outside AT&T Park somewhere.
But in recent months, Giants officials have acknowledged that they are in a deep hole and that trading Bumgarner for prospects is the easiest way to kickstart a rebuild. It's very possible that he'll start 2019 in New York, or Atlanta, or somewhere else.
If this were anyone else, it would be a no-brainer. The left-hander is a year from free agency and would be the biggest name on the trade market. But he's also Madison Bumgarner, the man who dragged this franchise to a third title, and it remains difficult to picture this ownership group signing off on a winter trade.