Madison Bumgarner
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With the New York Yankees desperate for a front-line pitcher, settling for Madison Bumgarner is something they can ill-afford. 

Thomas Hall

The New York Yankees have been heavily involved with free-agent pitcher Gerrit Cole thus far this hot stove season. But while the effort cannot be questioned, there’s a possibility the Yankees may finish second in the Cole sweepstakes.

If this occurs, general manager Brian Cashman will need to seek elsewhere to fill his team’s void at the front of their starting rotation.

Aside from Cole, there’s another free agent who the Yankees have been rumored to be interested in. According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, the Yankees could sign pitcher Madison Bumgarner as a fallback option to Cole.

This cannot happen. The Yankees are after a World Series and Bumgarner simply doesn’t move the needle sufficiently.

For argument’s sake, let’s say this report by Heyman is true. This would be the second time in less than a year that the Yankees have sought out Bumgarner. Prior to the July trade deadline, Cashman and his staff were reportedly seeking to acquire the veteran pitcher from the Giants.

Obviously, the Yankees chose to stand pat with the pitchers with their starting rotation through the rest of the 2019 season. This winter, Cashman could attempt to acquire Bumgarner once again.

Even if the Yankees fail to land Cole, Bumgarner shouldn’t be their alternative option. First of all, the 30-year-old is no longer a front-line starter. Based on his numbers from this past season, Bumgarner projects as a No. 2 starter heading into the 2020 season.

Over his 34 starts, Bumgarner threw 207.2 innings and recorded a 3.90 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 4.31 xFIP, 1.13 WHIP, .241 OPP AVG, 24.1% strikeout rate, 5.1% walk rate, 12.6% HR/FB rate and a 3.2 fWAR as well. The 2019 season was also the first time Bumgarner has thrown at least 200 innings since the 2016 season. His strikeout rate was also the highest of his career since his 2016 performance.

One of the biggest concerns with the three-time World Series winner is the increased amount of home runs he surrendered during this past season. Compared to his 2018 performance, Bumgarner sustained a 2.3% increase with his HR/FB rate and a 0.33 rise regarding his HR/9 during this past season. Bumgarner also allowed significantly more fly balls in 2019, a 6.6% increase from 2018. Meaning, the left-hander would likely surrender even more home runs in Yankee Stadium next season.

Specifically, Bumgarner’s curveball became worrisome to begin this past season. Through the first two months of the season, he utilized his breaking ball just 13.3% of the time, a 9.5 decrease from 2018. Bumgarner’s curveball was also pounded for a .342 AVG, .290 xAVG, .434 SLG, .410 xSLG and a .376 wOBA through the first two months of the 2019 season.

While Bumgarner’s curveball was unusually hit around through the first two months of the season, it never lost its ability to create swings and misses.

Throughout his career, Bumgarner has primarily utilized his curveball as his essential strikeout pitch. Overall, Bumgarner’s breaking ball rose to a 39.3% strikeout rate, a 6.7% increase from 2018. His curveball also produced a 33.1% whiff rate, which was a 5.7% rise from his 2018 performance.

Thankfully for Bumgarner, he solved his woes with his curveball through the rest of the season, which played a major factor in the increase of his overall strikeout rate. Bumgarner, who’ll be entering his age-31 season in 2020, sustained a 4.3% rise in his strikeout rate and a 1.23 increase with his SO/9 this past season. Both of those improvements were a result of Bumgarner’s successful second half of the 2019 season.

Bumgarner’s impressive strikeout ability is also one of the only attractive aspects that even appeals to the Yankees’ interests. Compared to Cole, the Yankees would be receiving significantly fewer strikeouts next season with Bumgarner. During this past season, the marquee free-agent pitcher generated a league-leading 39.9% strikeout rate and 7.4 fWAR as well.

Cashman and his staff are undoubtedly seeking to add a high strikeout pitcher to their rotation, as their staff created the ninth-highest strikeout rate (23.8%) and K-BB rate (16.5%) in 2019. Based on Bumgarner’s 24.1% strikeout rate from 2019, the Yankees won’t be gaining much of an upgrade to their rotation.

Bumgarner is also expected to command upwards of $100 million over five seasons this offseason. Based on his age and results from this past season, Bumgarner isn’t worth around $20 million per season. So, the Yankees would not only be overpaying Bumgarner to come to New York. But, they would also likely receive underperforming results from him as well.

If the Yankees are looking to spend this winter, and they are, their team needs to allocate those resources on a player who’ll significantly impact their team. If Cole signs elsewhere, Cashman and his staff will need to find another way to acquire a front-line starter.

With Stephen Strasburg officially resigned with the Nationals, the Yankees would be forced to search through the trade market. While acquiring an ace pitcher would cost a few top prospects from the Yankees, it’s a price worth paying, especially since Bumgarner just isn’t a viable option for New York if Cole is pitching on the West Coast in 2020.