Saturday, August 14, 2010

This Man Is An Island

San Diego’s offense is more reliant on one player than nearly any I think I’ve ever seen. Adrian Gonzalez is a world-class hitter. I had hoped he would move to another team at the deadline, just so we could see what he could do without having to contend with the stingiest home park for offense in the league. It seemed like a virtual certainty that Gonzalez would move at the deadline before this season, his most likely destination being Boston. However, with San Diego in the hunt, he will stay in SoCal for another year, much to the chagrin of the rest of the NL West.

Gonzalez has been worth 27.7 runs above replacement level this year at the plate. He has- and this is not a typo- been more productive at the plate than the rest of the Padres at the plate combined this year, even if you discount players like Tony Gwynn, Jr., Jerry Hairston, and Everth Cabrera who have been below replacement level offensively in 2010. Once you factor in his excellent glove, it becomes quite simple to argue that Gonzalez is of the best and most underrated players in all of MLB.

The rest of San Diego’s bats are not quite up to the standard set by Gonzalez. The next best hitters by RAR- Chris Denorfia, Yorvit Torrealba, and Will Venable- reads more like an appearance list for a Yo-Yo convention than a murderer’s row in a playoff-caliber lineup. The Padres did improve their offense at the deadline, picking up Ryan Ludwick to add some protection for Gonzalez, but Gonzalez remains their only true slugger. However, as the Giants saw last night (and have been finding out all season), the Padres rely on their pitching and defense to keep the score low and hope their offense can scrape across just enough runs to make it work. So far, it has.

The Giants will again go with a young lefty tonight, as Madison Bumgarner will try to hold Gonzalez and his replacement-level teammates and give the Giants a chance to win the series on Sunday when Tim Lincecum takes the mound. During the last year, the public perception of Bumgarner has gone from top prospect to potential burnout back to excellent young ballplayer. 

The big southpaw’s main attraction as a prospect was a fantastic fastball. He threw hard and with a lot of movement, and dominated the low minors. However, at some point last year, Bumgarner seemed to experience a precipitous drop in fastball velocity. With developing but still mediocre secondary stuff, many thought that Bumgarner could never be an effective big leaguer without a fastball in the mid to upper 90s. However, Bumgarner has spent this season proving that this is not the case.

Bumgarner throws his fastball 58.6% of the time, so it’s still his go-to offering. However, he has displayed both a good slider (1.8 runs above average this season) and curve (worth 2.3 runs). He’s also been toying with a developing splitter and a changeup he uses just enough (7.8 percent of pitches this season) to keep hitters off balance and attempt to prevent them from sitting on his fastball. He’s also been much better this season at forcing hitters to hit his pitch, producing an above league average 30.5% O-Swing percentage this season, as compared to hitters swinging at only 18.6% of his pitches outside the zone last year (league average this year is 29%). As a big lefty with good secondary stuff and a crafty approach, Bumgarner seems to have a long career ahead of him in orange and black.

Thanks for reading! As always I appreciate your support and input. Check back tomorrow, when I’ll be comparing Buster Posey’s 2010 season to some other young catchers from the past and present to make a baseless and overly optimistic assessment of how good Buster can be.

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