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October 31, 2010

World Series Prospectus

Game Four Pitching Matchup

by Matt Swartz

GAME FOUR:

Madison Bumgarner: 3.00 ERA, 3.88 SIERA

Bumgarner, the highly touted prospect, appeared to be the Giants’ fifth starter heading into spring training, but he struggled with his fastball velocity and did not make the team. However, the Giants gave him his shot in late June and he did not disappoint over 18 starts. His velocity is back, helping him strike out a respectable 18.2 percent of hitters in 2010. He was also very good at limiting walks in his rookie season, issuing them to only 5.5 percent of batters. Bumgarner also generated a 46 percent ground ball rate, which is about average as well. The key to Bumgarner’s success in 2010 was his control, but he also had some luck go his way. He had a similar rate on home runs per fly ball that other Giants’ starters had, and his overall BABIP was actually a high .314 despite the Giants’ overall team BABIP of .286. However, Bumgarner allowed just a .253 BABIP with runners in scoring position and a .269 BABIP with runners on base. Thus, despite a modest WHIP of 1.31, his baserunners were frequently stranded. The ability to induce a weaker BABIP with runners on base is not something that pitchers tend to consistently repeat. While some pitchers are better at dodging home runs with men on and better at pitching to contact with the bases empty, the results do not tend to carry over to BABIP. In the 2010 playoffs, Bumgarner has been strong for the most part. He allowed just one run in seven innings against the Braves in an NLDS-clinching win, but was chased after 4 2/3 innings in his Game 4 start of the NLCS. However, Bumgarner came out of the bullpen in Game 6 to give the Giants two scoreless innings of relief en route to their 3-2 pennant-clinching win over the Phillies. His success has again been rooted in his control, as Bumgarner has only walked three of the 56 hitters he has faced in the posteason, allowing him to limit the damage from the 15 hits he has surrendered. Bumgarner is certainly beatable, despite his low ERA. He is not going to issue walks often, so the Rangers will need to make solid contact when they get a pitch to hit and not wait around for bases on balls that may not come.

 

Tommy Hunter: 3.73 ERA,4.78SIERA

Hunter’s ERAmakes him appear to be an intimidating Game Four matchup for the Giants, but his SIERAdemonstrates that he is quite beatable. However, despite only pitching a combined 7 1/3 innings in his two disappointing post-season starts, Hunter has improved in the skill statistics while struggling to record outs. In the regular season, Hunter struggled with striking people out. His strikeout rate declined from 13.5 percent last year to 12.7 percent this year. His batted ball rates are decidedly average as well, with 39 percent ground balls in 2009 and 42 percent in 2010. His pop-up rate was 10.0 percent in 2009, but fell to the league average of 7.5 percent in 2010. The reason for Hunter’s low ERAin the 2010 regular season was his BABIPof just .257, even lower than his .277 in 2009. Some of that is because the Rangers' overall defense is strong with a .283 team BABIPin 2010 and .289 in 2009. In any situation where a pitcher puts up two low BABIPs in a row, you need to snoop around for a cause even if the explanation could easily still be luck, and in Hunter’s case, luck remains the most plausible reason. While some pitchers do keep their BABIPs low, those pitchers typically dominate the strike zone or induce a lot of popups and fly balls. This is not the case with Hunter who clearly does not have either of these skills in bulk. Hunter has gotten by with just a .196 BABIPon ground balls this year, and has reasonably low BABIPs on outfield fly balls and line drives, too (.146 and .699). In the postseason, Hunter’s BABIP has gone through the roof. He currently sits at a .500 BABIP, with 10 hits on 20 balls in play. Ironically, after beating his 2010 regular season SIERA by more than a full run, Hunter has a remarkable (small sample size warning!) 1.21 SIERA in the playoffs in 2010. However, his ERA is an unimpressive 6.14. Chances are that Hunter’s true skill level is more in line with his 2010 regular-season SIERA, which means that the Giants will have a definite advantage in starting pitching in Game Four.

Matt Swartz is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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