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April 18, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Giants Extend Bumgarner

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

ANAHEIM ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Designated RHP Rich Thompson for assignment. [4/14]

Optioned LHP Brad Mills to Triple-A Salt Lake. [4/15]

Activated RHP Jerome Williams from the 15-day disabled list. [4/15]

Thompson will not be someone the Angels look back in four months and regret letting go, but he is someone another team will enjoy employing. A smallish righty with high-80s velocity, a curveball, and a cutter, Thompson managed more than 50 innings of 3.00-ERA ball in his only full season last year. The Angels never seemed to have enough room in their bullpen or enough interest in Thompson to give him a longer leash. Perhaps it had something to do with Thompson’s home-run issues. Whatever the reasoning, Thompson should find a home in another organization. 

MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Optioned CF-L Ben Revere to Triple-A Rochester. [4/15]

Claimed OF-L Clete Thomas of waivers from the Tigers. [4/15]

Baseball works in funny ways. Back in 2002, the Twins selected Thomas with their fifth-round pick. He opted to attend Auburn University instead, and the Tigers nabbed him in the sixth round of the 2005 draft. Thomas’ best skills then remain his best skills now. His arm is above average and his speed allows him to play any outfield position. Beyond that, Thomas is best used off the bench. He does not offer much power, though his strikeout rates (30 percent in Triple A) are more befitting of an all-world slugger. Add in Thomas’ injury history, and the Twins are getting a potentially useful player, but a potentially useful player with some obvious flaws.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Transferred OF-L Sam Fuld to the 60-day disabled list. [4/15]

Optioned RHP Dane De La Rosa to Triple-A Durham. [4/15]

Placed C-S Jose Lobaton on the 15-day disabled list. [4/15]

Recalled RHP Alex Cobb from Triple-A Durham. [4/15]

Purchased the contract of C-R Chris Gimenez from Triple-A Durham. [4/15]

Optioned RHP Alex Cobb to Triple-A Durham. [4/16]

Recalled RHP Brandon Gomes from Triple-A Durham. [4/16]

For those keeping score, the Rays made seven transactions over a two-day span in order to add a new middle reliever and backup catcher.

Gomes joined Tampa Bay via San Diego prior to the 2011 season. He had a reputation as a stat-sheet king with questionable big-league prospects, though he helped ease those concerns by making 40 appearances and holding a 2.92 ERA last season. Why then is Gomes in the minors? Offseason back surgery caused him to miss time earlier in the spring, and he did not seem to have his full velocity back later in the spring. A few days in Durham rarely does harm to anyone, so the Rays shipped Gomes there in order to rebuild his strength. Look for him to appear during the middle innings and mostly against righties, as he showed vulnerability against left-handed batters last season that could stem from his arm action.

Gimenez is an addition by necessity. With the Rays’ other backup catcher types—Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos—on the disabled list, Tampa Bay had to choose between the major league-experienced Gimenez and the defensive-minded Nevin Ashley. Gimenez got the call and rewarded the Rays by hitting two singles in his first game with Tampa Bay. Don’t expect that to occur often; Gimenez is a glove-first backstop with framing and archer chops.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Re-signed LHP Madison Bumgarner to a five-year extension worth $35 million with club options for the 2018 and 2019. [4/16]

To be perfectly honest, writing about pre-arbitration extensions is a drag. A lot of the analysis reads formulaic because, for the most part, you have to write the same things. The deals are usually sound for the team, and constantly deferring to the team’s knowledge of the player’s character and health makes for a predictably boring read. I bring that up because those thoughts could not be more relevant to the Giants extending Bumgarner. As BP2k11 explained (emphasis is my own):

Bumgarner’s season ended in a very different place from where it began. In the spring, 5 mph that had gone missing from his fastball down the stretch in 2009 hadn’t returned, and he was getting lit up. The pitcher later admitted that poor off-season conditioning and uncooperative mechanics had largely been to blame; accordingly, he got stronger as the season progressed, his fastball got faster, and his results got better. It didn’t take long; Bumgarner posted a 0.94 ERA in May and was called up at the end of June. Back in the majors, he only once followed a non-quality start with another of the same kind, missing by just one out in that lone case. He was dominant down the stretch, posting a 1.18 ERA in his last six starts and striking out 32 men in 32 innings against four walks and one homer in his last five. For those who weren’t paying attention, he announced his arrival with eight shutout innings in his only World Series start.

And as BP2k12 expanded upon:

Eight times in history a pitcher has thrown at least 162 innings with a FIP below 2.65 while 21 or younger: Dwight Gooden and Bert Blyleven twice each, Fernando Valenzuela, Vida Blue, Don Sutton, and the Bummer. The lefty doesn't overpower hitters like Gooden, and no single pitch he throws compares to Blyleven's curve. He's more like a left-handed Jered Weaver, throwing from an extreme angle and getting a tremendous strike rate on off-speed pitches, especially his slider. The lone blemish on his season—a 1/3-inning disaster start against Minnesota—is easily brushed aside as a BABIP-induced hallucination, as he allowed five consecutive singles on ground balls before the start really got away from him. Take away that start and his ERA is 2.86, more in line with his FIP.

How, then, do you approach a Bumgarner extension? Do you let bygones be bygones and chalk Bumgarner’s past transgressions up to his age while trusting his ability to learn from his mistakes? Do you tread carefully, knowing that some of Bumgarner’s company burned brightly, but burned quickly? Or do you throw caution to the wind and trust your damned good pitcher? That’s the long and short of extending a starting pitcher, and the Giants have chosen to stand by their (admittedly good) man. Unless you know something they don’t about Bumgarner’s work ethic, stuff, or health, then the only room for dissension comes down to the opportunity cost involved—which leads to another case of deference, since who knows more about a team’s budget than the team itself?   

An interesting foil here is San Francisco’s completion of extensions with Matt Cain and now Bumgarner, but not Tim Lincecum. Maybe that tells us something, but maybe that something is no more than the costs involved.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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