Searching for Madison Bumgarner's fastball

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Usually when a stud pitching prospect gets called up from Double-A just a month after his 20th birthday and throws 5.1 innings of two-run ball while making a spot start in place of the reigning Cy Young winner it’s cause for excitement, but instead Madison Bumgarner’s debut last night has people wondering what happened to his fastball.
Bumgarner has been an elite prospect since the Giants picked him 10th overall in the 2007 draft and his numbers in the minors are the stuff of video games set to “beginner.” He went 27-5 with a 1.65 ERA and 256/55 K/BB ratio in 273 innings prior to being called up, including 9-1 with a 1.93 ERA at Double-A this season.
Along with the first-round pedigree and insanely good numbers Bumgarner also comes with glowing scouting reports like this one from Baseball America: “There may not be a left-hander with a better fastball than Bumgarner’s. He hits 97 mph with minimal effort, consistently pitches at 93-94 and hitters have trouble picking up his heater from his high three-quarters delivery.”
Everyone who tuned into the Giants-Padres game last night expecting to see the 20-year-old phenom with a sub-2.00 ERA and mid-90s fastball instead saw a guy who topped out in the low-90s and worked mostly in the high-80s. There are reports that Bumgarner’s velocity has been dropping throughout the season and his declining strikeout rates back that up even if his sparkling ERA doesn’t.
Bumgarner struck out 187 batters in 166 innings between rookie-ball and Single-A, which works out to an outstanding 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings. However, after moving up to Double-A he managed only 69 strikeouts in 107 innings, which equals just 5.8 per nine innings. He’s also seen his walk rate nearly double while serving up significantly more homers, including a pair of long balls against the Padres last night.
Rob Neyer of ESPN wonders if the Giants “have backed Bumgarner off his big fastball in favor of better control of his breaking ball and more consistency with his changeup” because “it’s hard to think a guy with a 1.85 ERA is hurt.” That makes sense to me, but it’s also possible that a pitcher who logged nearly 300 pro innings before turning 20 is simply fatigued and showing decreased velocity without actually being hurt.
Depending on Tim Lincecum’s back injury, we may have to wait until next season to find out.

MLB orders Josh Hader to sensitivity training, participation in diversity initiatives

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Major League Baseball released a statement about Josh Hader a few minutes ago. Here it is in its entirety:

“During last night’s game we became aware of Mr. Hader’s unacceptable social media comments in years past and have since been in communication with the Brewers regarding our shared concerns.  After the game, Mr. Hader took the necessary step of expressing remorse for his highly offensive and hurtful language, which fails to represent the values of our game and our expectations for all those who are a part of it.  The Office of the Commissioner will require sensitivity training for Mr. Hader and participation in MLB’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.”

People can parse Hader’s apology if they want to — I wrote about what I feel like Hader needs to say and do to show that his tweets truly are not representative of who he is now — but this is probably about as well as Major League Baseball can do with this. The tweets in question occurred years ago, before Hader was in professional baseball. They even occurred before Major League Baseball had a formal social media policy. MLB attempting some sort of way-after-the-fact punitive action on Hader like a fine or a suspension would (a) be met with some understandable resistance by Hader and the union; and (b) would look more like the league trying to deal with a P.R. crisis more than dealing with the player.

That being said, the sensitivity training and diversity initiative participation makes loads of sense. If, as Hader said last night, he’s a different person now than he was back in 2011-12, he should embrace such activities. They’re positive ones and, hey, who couldn’t use a brush-up? If his claims of being a changed man were merely a reaction to a social media firestorm, well, that’ll be dealt with pretty well in those arenas as well. Either way, this gives Hader an opportunity to put his money where his mouth is.

If you think making Hader do such things is “punishment,” well, that opens up another conversation altogether I suppose.