Who’s the most dangerous young hitter in the game? Bryce Harper? His opponents sure think so, evidenced by the Barry Bonds treatment they’ve given him lately. Mike Trout? He’s a saberhead’s dream. Well check this out: heading into Friday’s action, these two young superstars had each hit 11 home runs in their last 190 plate appearances. The same can be said of San Francisco Giants slugger Madison Bumgarner.
That’s right. Going back to the start of 2014, Bumgarner has hit 11 home runs, which is good for one every 15.9 at-bats. Projecting that over a full, position-player season would put Bumgarner’s pace at about 35 home runs. Not bad for a guy who only bats every fifth game and doesn’t work on his offensive craft the way position players do.
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Of course, the statistical comparisons to Harper and Trout pretty much end with the home runs. Other than the home runs, Bumgarner has only batted .234 with 5 doubles, while never attempting to steal a base. None of his other percentage stats, such as on-base percentage and OPS, do much to impress.
But after watching Bumgarner launch his second home run of the season Thursday against Atlanta, it’s easy to ponder what kind of hitter he would be if pitching hadn’t worked out or if, say, he went the way of Tim Lincecum. (A nod to Lincecum, by the way, for making his first start the other day for the Los Angeles Angels’ Triple-A squad.)
While he’s leaving the yard as frequently has Harper and Trout, he certainly wouldn’t profile similarly to either of those guys. They’re five-tool types. At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Bumgarner is a brute with an offensive game predicated on the long ball.
Would he be like Giancarlo Stanton? They’re about the same size and both capable of regularly launching moon shots. But Stanton is a little more athletic. He’s not quite Harper or Trout, but he’s capable of stealing 10-plus bags in a season.
At 6-foot-8, Richie Sexson was an imposing presence who hit 308 career home runs before retiring in 2008. But he wasn’t nearly as bulky as Bumgarner. How about Kris Bryant? Possibly, but Bryant has a little speed to his game.
Considering how old school Bumgarner is, maybe we should go back a few decades for the right comparison. How about Frank Howard, one of the most feared power hitters of the 1960s? At 6-foot-7, Howard is (or was—at age 79, he’s probably shrunk a few inches) a little taller than Bumgarner. But at that size, two inches are a negligible difference.
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Without seeing Bumgarner hit on a regular basis, we don’t know what kind of all-around batter he’d be, so it’d difficult to project him as a high-average type. But a few 40-homer seasons would be likely. Match that with a mediocre average and some thunder hoofs, and this profile could just as easily be Bumgarner’s as Howard’s.