San Francisco Giants: The beauty of the Madison Bumgarner contract
No one needs any convincing that Madison Bumgarner is a valuable baseball player. He is the reigning NLCS MVP, World Series MVP, and Sportsman of the Year. All of these accomplishments came as a result of what many called one of the greatest postseasons of all time.
But in the glow of yet another masterful Bumgarner performance (coming one eighth-inning single away from perfection) perhaps it is time to delve into exactly how valuable—and, more importantly, affordable—Bumgarner truly is.
First off, I must admit that Bumgarner is not the best pitcher in baseball. He is not even the best pitcher in his division. If you believe WAR is a fair a representative statistic to measure a pitcher’s worth, Bumgarner has been the 10th-best pitcher this season. However, when you consider output versus cost, Bumgarner is clearly the most valuable pitcher in the game.
Of the 10 best pitchers this season (as determined by WAR), only four have signed long-term contracts. Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Bumgarner. Of these five pitchers, Bumgarner has by far the most team friendly deal.
Scherzer signed a seven-year, $210 million deal last winter. Kershaw signed a seven-year, $215 million deal in 2014, making him the highest paid pitcher of all time. Greinke, signed a six-year, $150 million deal in 2013, which in all likelihood he is going to opt out of in this offseason in favor of an even more lucrative contract. Bumgarner, in comparison, is an incredible bargain at five years, $35 million.
When one considers how much each ace is making per win above replacement, the comparison favors the San Francisco Giants even more. With a 4.4 WAR, Bumgarner has made a little more than $1.5 million per WAR so far in 2015. The guy is not exactly going to go hungry. But comparing Bumgarner’s numbers to that of Kershaw, who actually has a higher WAR at 6.2, but who is is making nearly $4 million more per WAR, and you start to see how valuable Bumgarner truly is.
A table of what these four pitchers is worth:
Greinke is the only pitcher who even comes close to making as little per WAR as Bumgarner—and he is making nearly double what Bumgarner is—and he is the likely NL Cy Young. He’s also having one of the best seasons in baseball since Bob Gibson.
This is not to say that Greinke, Kershaw, or Scherzer are not effective pitchers. They are all having stellar seasons. However, Bumgarner is nearly as effective and two-to-four times as cheap.
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This methodology does not include young players who have not yet signed lucrative extensions or free-agent contracts. For instance, reigning Rookie of the Year Jacob deGromm of the New York Mets is arguably having a better year than Bumgarner, but being paid far less (4.9 WAR, $556,875 2015 salary). However, if deGromm—and other players that fit his profile such as Dallas Keutchel or Sonny Gray—are able to maintain that level of play, they will eventually cost their teams huge sums of money.
For his part, Bumgarner does not seem to mind that he is being “underpaid” by MLB standards. Earlier this year, Bumgarner told the San Jose Mercury News, “”I grew up poor. I don’t need a whole lot of money to get by. I mean, I ain’t playing for money, I guess.”
With his $35 million guaranteed, Bumgarner clearly has a “whole lot of money.” But by MLB standards, he is practically destitute. And that is something the San Francisco Giants should feel very lucky for.
 John Lackey of the St. Louis Cardinals also signed a long-term deal, but is an outlier for the purposes of this conversation because of an odd clause in his contract concerning Tommy John surgery. He will only make the league minimum $500,000 this season.