I just read Jayson Stark’s piece on Bleacher Report, in which he poses the provocative question, asked of sixteen baseball executives and scouts, if each could pick only one ace to build his rotation around for the next five years, who would it be, Madison Bumgarner, of the San Francisco Giants, or the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw? I will spare you the suspense and share that twelve went with Kershaw, two with MadBum and two had some variation, thereof.
Had all sixteen, in consensus, gone with Kershaw, I would still have presented an argument for choosing Bumgarner over Kershaw for one reason alone: Though both are southpaws, and both excel in the role of staff ace, one has three World Series rings in three appearances and the other has no rings in four tries. Statistics are the bling which makes Kershaw attractive, but three rings is the bling that gets my attention.
I could regale you with the logic that accompanied the twelve pro-Kershaw votes (“best of his generation…performance and results…more out pitches”), but that’s useless. It’s not a question one answers by sitting down and comparing facts. Whether Kershaw has been the staff ace from the beginning, or whether MadBum has been eased into it, is irrelevant.
Of those asked, one compared delivery styles, which would favor Bumgarner’s over the more explosive Kershaw, whose mechanics are more intricate, and therefore more stressful on his body. Again, speculating on what may happen, physically, is not productive, because Kershaw has been a Dodger since 2008 and seven seasons is an already enviable track record.
Sep 2, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) and shortstop Dee Gordon (9) celebrate after scoring in the fifth inning against the Washington Nationals at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
No, there is only one reason to choose Madison Bumgarner over Clayton Kershaw, but that reason is rock-solid: Madison Bumgarner knows how to bring it with him when he hits the postseason.
Only one reason need suffice: Three rings is better than no rings.
Kershaw’s supporters look at the past two series losses in the postseason, at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals, and say, “Well, heck, any pitcher can run up against a club that is tough on him.”
Unfortunately for Kershaw’s supporters, it was not the Cards in 2009, but the Philadelphia Phillies, who hammered Kershaw in the fifth inning of the National League Championship Series, for five runs, chasing him in an eventual Dodgers loss. The Phillies went on to win the series, four games to one.
I would use MadBum’s postseason stats as the backbone of my argument: No one cares about regular season stats, because no one remembers what happened DURING any given season; it’s what happens after the season ends that folks remember. Kershaw’s basics in four postseason trips read like this: one win, five losses, with a 5.12 ERA and a 1.235 WHIP (walks/hits per inning pitched).
MadBum’s postseason stats in three attempts read: seven wins, three losses, with a 2.14 ERA and a 0.883 WHIP. I point to that critically important walks/hits per inning pitched stat, and I have my guy. Bumgarner even threw one of his games away by hurling a ball down the third base line. I will still choose MadBum over Kershaw.
I suppose this is one argument that will almost always be determined by allegiance to one or the other of the two clubs.
Unless you like the kind of bling that sparkles on your ring finger.
Oct 31, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner waves to the crowd during the World Series victory parade on Market Street. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports