2018: The Year of the Curve Ball
In 2018, Bumgarner suffered yet another freak injury which kept him off the field to start the 2018 regular season. When Bumgarner returned, the Giants were in the thick of a playoff race and Bumgarner pitched well. One thing about Bumgarner haters or worriers is they like to say “his peripherals are down.” And they are. This is what that means: his DRA and FIP have both gone up. His velocity is down and he’s giving up harder contact than he has in the past. Yet his ERA has remained steady.
Although, DRA is viewed as one of the more accurate measures of pitcher performance, it is still imperfect and there can still be exceptions. Bumgarner posted a career high DRA of 4.47 last season, but his ERA was only 3.26. Sure he “deserved” to give up more runs when considering all of the factors that go into calculating his DRA, but in the end, he didn’t give up those runs.
Like yeah, I “deserve” a Frick Award for all of this research I’m doing for this article, but odds are I will just get a “you suck” in the comment section from some troll. However, there is still something to be said about Bumgarner’s superior ability to pitch out of trouble. That is a skill that is unique to elite pitchers and Bumgarner has that skill because he is elite.
When Bumgarner returned from the disabled list in June of 2018, a new trend emerged. Bumgarner was throwing more curveballs. Just like 2017 Bumgarner entered the 2018 season with the intention of utilizing a pitch besides the fastball more. As you can see from the charts below, he threw a lot more curveballs.
Over the course of his career Bumgarner’s highest career curveball use was 17% in 2016. In 2018 he threw a curveball 22.8% of the time. It was a good idea to throw it more because the league only hit .180 against his curveball last season. It wasn’t a career low for Bumgarner, but considering the amount of curveballs he threw in 2018 compared to any other season, it is clear that Bumgarner developed a new comfort with his curveball. For a pitch that resulted in a 46.15% swing rate, 2018 yielded good results for his higher curveball usage. To add even more perspective he threw 471 curveballs in an injury shortened 2018 season as opposed to the 2014 season where he threw 471 curveballs all year.