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By now you probably know that Madison Bumgarner belongs in a one-person tier in the hierarchy of pitchers who rake. The Giants starting pitcher has lapped his field of peers with the bat the past two seasons and over that span he's been roughly 18 percent better than the average major-league hitter. Is it a small sample of plate appearances? Yes. But Bumgarner has done his best Dave Kingman impression since dedicating more time to his hitting, slugging nine home runs and posting a .258/.283/.492 slash line in 147 plate appearances since the start of 2014.

We know that his manager, Bruce Bochy, thinks highly enough of Bumgarner as a hitter that he called on his ace to pinch-hit in key spots on consecutive nights against the Cardinals in August. (Granted, Bochy was dealing with a short bench at the time.) But do opposing teams have as much respect for Bumgarner as a hitter as his own skipper does? Let's take a look at some of the ways teams have approached Bumgarner the hitter.

Pitch Selection
The first thing we can look at is the types of pitches Bumgarner is seeing. The chart below is a 100-pitch rolling average of pitches that Bumgarner has seen since 2012, categorized by Pitch Info as either hard, breaking balls, or off-speed.

Rolling average, pitch types vs Bumgarner since 2012

Bumgarner has indeed seen fewer fastballs since he's blossomed into a legitimate offensive threat. The North Carolina native saw the heaviest dose of secondaries during the stretch run of the 2014 season, with pitchers going back to the fastball against him slightly more frequently since.

Pitchers used to pound Bumgarner with nothing but fastballs early in the count and would resort to a breaking ball or off-speed pitch only once they got ahead in the count. But that's no longer the case, as pitchers have shown that they are more willing to pitch backwards to Bumgarner, who can't simply sit dead red when the count is in his favor. All in all, opposing pitchers are attacking him with their full arsenal more often now that he's established himself as a legitimate power threat.

Zone Distance
Just as pitchers were once able to just fire in fastball after fastball to Bumgarner, they were also able to steal strikes with pitches in the center of the zone with little fear of repercussions. But since he's shown the ability to punish pipeshots

we would expect pitchers to grow more cautious when pitching to him.

To see how pitchers have adjusted to Bumgarner over time we can borrow a tool that Rob Arthur utilized often here at BP: zone distance. With the help of Rob McQuown I took a look at how Bumgarner's zone distance—the median distance from the center of the strike zone—has shifted over time. Arthur used zone distance to identify hitters who were strong candidates to beat their projections or underperform them, based on the idea that the league might be able to identify when a hitter's true talent had changed quicker than the projection systems. Similarly, we can look at how pitchers have challenged Bumgarner over time to see how they've adjusted to him becoming more than just your typical pitcher at the plate.

Rolling median, zone distance vs Bumgarner since 2012

Sure enough, we see that pitchers have become much more cautious with how they pitch to Bumgarner, particularly during the 2015 season. Arthur found that the median zone distance for a player stabilizes very quickly, at about 250 pitches. So while it's often difficult to draw strong conclusions from the 70-ish plate appearances that Bumgarner accrues every season, his median zone distance is at least reasonably predictive of his true zone distance.


Median Zone Distance














This season pitchers have caught on to the fact that Bumgarner is no longer a pushover at the plate and his median zone distance is now slightly higher than previous zone distances that Arthur calculated for some of the hitters at the bottom of the zone-distance leaderboard in 2014. Bumgarner is by no means being pitched to as if he's a feared slugger, but at least pitchers are now beginning to treat him as if he is a major-league hitter.

Defensive Positioning
This one is less concrete than the others and certainly isn't a constant across teams, but looking at how teams are aligning their defenses against Bumgarner lends some insight into how deep some teams are going into their advanced scouting. We now live in an era when even light-hitting middle infielders are getting shifted if their spray charts justify it, so it would follow that if teams were preparing for Bumgarner like a "real" hitter they would try to set their optimal defense against him. The right-handed-hitting Bumgarner has been extremely pull-heavy on grounders hit over the course of his career with no noticeable change in his average spray angle coinciding with his improvements at the plate.

Bumgarner's 78 percent pull rate on grounders since the start of the 2014 season is the seventh-highest rate among pitchers with at least 20 non-bunt grounders put in play. The idea of shifting a pitcher probably makes a lot of people skeptical. In a lot of cases you have guys with ugly swings who lack major-league bat speed, which often results in being late against heat. Take Johnny Cueto and his spray chart for example.

But Bumgarner has enough bat speed that this isn't really an issue. In fact, you could make the case that a hitter with Bumgarner's tendencies makes for the perfect shift candidate. His pull rate seems to justify infielders playing him to pull but he also lacks the bat control of most major-league hitters (see his 35 percent strikeout rate since the start of 2014 and a contact rate lower than any qualified hitter during that span). In theory, he would be less able than most major-league hitters to adjust his swing to try and beat the shift.

It is fair to consider the possible psychological effects of shifting against a pitcher. It's already annoying for a pitcher to give up a base hit to his counterpart. Can you imagine how peeved one might be if a slow dribbler by the opposing pitcher gets through a hole opened up due to the shift? But if teams can convince their players to implement full shifts against hitters like Ruben Tejada

and Ryan Goins

then surely they can justify doing it against Bumgarner.

We have yet to reach the point of a full shift against the Giants pitcher, but the advanced scouting has gone far enough that infields have been heavily shaded against him in a few instances. Our first example of this happening against Bumgarner is back on August 11th against—who else?—the Astros.

Shortstop Carlos Correa is playing fairly straight up on this line out to left field but take a look at where Jose Altuve is positioned. The Astros' keystone is heavily shaded up the middle—what you might consider a partial shift—and that's with the first baseman holding on a runner at first base. That's a lot of real estate on the right side of the infield the Astros were willing to leave open.

The same goes for the Pirates, who had their infield positioned like this when Bumgarner hit his latest home run on August 21st.

It is worth noting that there's a runner on second base, so you could argue that second baseman Josh Harrison might be shaded a step or two further up the middle than he would have been with the bases empty. But this shot of the infield is immediately after Bumgarner makes contact and first baseman Michael Morse is also shaded to his right; the fact remains that the Pirates were prepared to have their right side of the infield shaded up the middle when the ball was put in play. Compare that to when they were playing Bumgarner completely straight during last year's National League Wild Card game

and it becomes clear that there was a lot more going into the scouting report for Bumgarner the hitter.

Between the noticeable change in how pitchers are attacking Bumgarner and the fact that some of the more aggressive shifting teams are now customizing a specific defensive alignment for Bumgarner, we have evidence that some teams are spending more time crafting an advanced scouting report for Bumgarner. It may not necessarily be the same for every team; maybe some simply know not to groove one to Bumgarner while others try to take exploit his tendency to expand the zone upward against heat.

We know that Bumgarner probably isn't quite this good a hitter, but he has proved that he can hold his own with the bat and has put up results over the past two seasons that resemble those of a major-league-caliber hitter. It seems like opposing teams are coming around to the idea that they might have to start preparing for him like he is one.

Thanks to Rob McQuown for research assistance.

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