Some guy who clearly has no idea what he's talking about wrote this on Twitter
If Bumgarner is going to pitch two innings under basically any circumstances, why not start Bumgarner and let him pitch two innings?
— Sam Miller (@SamMillerBP) October 29, 2014
I'm sure it's a question that is on a lot of people's minds. We know that Madison Bumgarner will likely pitch tonight. We know that he can probably only go for two or three innings. We blithely assume that they will be brilliant innings, because no currently existing team has ever been bitten by bringing its ace into a deciding game of a series in relief.
So, why not start Bumgarner, for whom the Series MVP trophy is probably already engraved? The reason is that it would be a tactical error on the part of Bruce Bochy.
Let's start with the fact that Bumgarner is not available to make a "traditional" start tonight—that is, a "send him out there and hope he pitches seven innings" start. He is likely to be a classic "bridge" reliever, getting from a starter who exits early to the "real" relievers. Even being generous and saying that Bumgarner can pitch three innings tonight, there are still six other innings which will need someone on the hill.
Enter Tim Hudson. I can appreciate that since everything about this season comes down to this for Giants fans, anything less than the best is a felony, but let's give Tim Hudson his due. In 189 innings this year, he checked in with a FIP of 3.54. Adjust that as you will for the Giants' stadium, but it's not an awful mark and if there's something that can be said for Hudson, it's that he's been rocksteady since I was in college. Imagine a world where MadBum doesn't exist. You don't feel 100 percent sure going into Game Seven with Hudson, but it's not like he's some Triple-A call-up. I wonder how much of the #StartMadBum movement is because of a benchmarking effect. Hudson feels like a worse option because people are comparing him to Bumgarner, rather than evaluating him on his own merits.
Plus, he's facing Jeremy Guthrie.
Tim Hudson will likely have to pitch tonight, if for no reason other than the raw numbers game of it. Jean Machi pitched three innings last night. Hunter Strickland pitched two. It's not to say that either is completely unavailable, but given a choice between a fully rested Hudson and a tired Machi, a tired (and suspect) Strickland, the grab bag that is Tim Lincecum, and Yusmerio Petit, whom would you rather have on the hill? Bruce Bochy can't expect to get six or seven innings out of Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, and Santiago Casilla, so Hudson will spend time on the bump tonight.
Since Hudson is going to pitch at least a couple of innings, and Bumgarner is a limited resource tonight, Bumgarner makes more sense as a tactical weapon.
Consider a few paths that the game could take:
Scenario 1: Hudson and Bumgarner are both on top of their games. Hudson starts gives the Giants four or five (or more?) good innings, holds the Royals offense in check, and the game is still close. In that case, Bumgarner can pitch his two innings, handing the bullpen guys a two or three inning job to do. If the Giants have jumped all over Guthrie and Danny Duffy, the Giants can keep Bumgarner on the shelf and not risk his health.This is admittedly a best-case scenario.
If Bumgarner starts, the Giants get the benefit of six or seven strong innings from Hudson/Bumgarner, but don't get the benefit of knowing whether it was necessary to risk MadBum like that.
Scenario 2: Hudson is a disaster, Bumgarner is his usual self. Hudson is shaky in the second inning and the FOX cameras keep cutting to Bruce Bochy on the top step of the dugout, nervously sharpening his hook. Hudson will (and should) be on a short leash tonight but this is, by any estimation, a less-than-ideal situation. With runners on second and third, and Eric Hosmer up, Bochy realizes that the game might be won or lost here. He motions to the 'pen for Bumgarner. There's probably some penalty for Bumgarner to enter a game mid-inning like this because he doesn't usually do that, but compared to the other options available (see above), Bumgarner's probably his best bet, and theoretically, he can still stay in and start the next inning. If Bochy pulls Hudson between innings, this isn't an issue and Bumgarner still pitches his two innings as we previously figured he would.
If Bumgarner were to start, Hudson would likely follow, and if he fell apart mid-inning in the fourth, Bochy has lost the ability to go to Bumgarner as a tactical option. He would likely have to "burn" someone like Javier Lopez in that situation. Since Bumgarner is a limited-use option, it makes sense to adopt a strategy where Bumgarner's limited pitches can be used in the highest leverage situation that the game presents.
Scenario 3: Bumgarner is revealed to be human, Hudson pitches well. Bruce Bochy gets kicked out of the Hall of Fame for trying to be too aggressive and not trusting his veteran, Hudson. You're damned if you do. You're damned if you don't.
Scenatio 4: Both Bumgarner and Hudson are awful. Then it really doesn't matter who started and the Giants need to start praying for a 12-11 game. Oh hi there, Greg Holland.
The advantages to be gained by starting Hudson are small. The chances that Bumgarner won't be needed are small, but not zero. The Bumgarner as mid-inning guy scenario is more likely and probably means that there's a high chance that something is about to go very wrong, but it does keep an option in the bag for Bruce Bochy. The fact that the Giants are in the middle of a sticky situation is not due to the fact that Bumgarner didn't start, it would be the fact that Hudson didn't "have it."
I've seen others make the case that announcing Madison Bumgarner as a starter would represent a psychological missile, aimed directly at the heart of the Royals and their fans. As great of a narrative as that would be, everyone in the dugouts knows that Bumgarner won't pitch seven innings tonight. Having him available for two innings is a nice luxury for Bruce Bochy (and something that the Royals will have to deal with), and once he's out he's gone. If Bruce Bochy wants to keep fear in the hearts of the Royals, then he should know that anticipation of something is a much more powerful force, psychologically, than actually doing something.
So yeah, it would be fun to see Madison Bumgarner start on two days' rest and fantasize that he magically will pitch seven perfect innings. But a sober look at the strategy of it says that Bumgarner should be used in relief of Tim Hudson tonight. The advantages to be gained aren't huge, but in a winner-take-all game, you take every advantage that you have available.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now