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San Francisco Giants have unique leverage with Madison Bumgarner

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 29: Pinch hitter Madison Bumgarner #40 of the San Francisco Giants acknowledges the fans after batting in the bottom of the fifth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Oracle Park on September 29, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 29: Pinch hitter Madison Bumgarner #40 of the San Francisco Giants acknowledges the fans after batting in the bottom of the fifth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Oracle Park on September 29, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
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The San Francisco Giants season is over, which means that Madison Bumgarner is set to become a free agent.

Thanks to a surge in June and July, the San Francisco Giants unexpectedly found themselves in the playoff picture and decided against trading away their assets, including Madison Bumgarner, as a result.

Now that the season is over and free agency is on the horizon, team president Farhan Zaidi has to weigh the pros and cons of keeping a player of Bumgarner’s stature.

The fan base has seemingly been split on this decision as well.

On the one hand, many believe the Giants should pony up to reward Bumgarner for everything he has done for the organization. On the other hand, fans argue that the team should not overlook his declining performance. Many want him back, but the cost is certainly going to be a factor.

The San Francisco Giants carry well-known leverage in their negotiations with the southpaw. That is, they can tender him a qualifying offer.

The qualifying offer should be in the neighborhood of $18 million this season, and it is an option that can only be offered once in a player’s career.

If the Giants tender Bumgarner a qualifying offer, and he declines it, then any prospective team will lose one or more draft picks as a consequence of signing him.

If a team is rebuilding, they will be in no position to sign a player with draft pick compensation tied to him, so the player’s market will quickly shrink. In general, teams do not like losing draft picks, so the qualifying offer does help teams retain their own players once they hit free agency.

However, the San Francisco Giants also carry some subtle secondary leverage with Bumgarner.

The 30-year-old is sitting on 119 wins for his career. Win-loss record is not entirely indicative of a pitcher’s performance since so much of the game is out of his control, but as a player starts to build a legacy, it does add to the picture of a pitcher’s career.

To that point, Bumgarner is a far more effective pitcher at Oracle Park, and it’s a trend that has been observed for several years running. The table below shows Bumgarner’s home and road ERA since the start of 2017, as well as his career splits:

Throughout his career, Bumgarner has been a quality pitcher at home and on the road. However, he has been noticeably better with a 2.79 ERA in 140 career starts at home.

Based on these numbers, it is evident that Bumgarner is a better starter in the pitcher-friendly confines of Oracle Park. This could be due not only to the park’s expansive dimensions, but also to the climatic conditions such as game-time temperature and wind intensity.

From 2017-2019, Bumgarner allowed home runs at a much lower rate at Oracle Park compared to the road. Limiting the long ball could certainly be one factor that explains his superior effectiveness preventing runs at home.

Those home and road splits are available for every front office to see. Teams may be wary in handing out a substantial contract to the 30-year-old without having a better idea of how he would pitch in a different ballpark. This is especially true in the likely event of Bumgarner rejecting a qualifying offer, thereby attaching draft pick compensation to his name.

In this regard, the Giants hold subtle leverage, as they have no plans to significantly change the dimensions of Oracle Park in the near future.

As the postseason stalwart enters the second half of his career and dives into free agency for the first time, one consideration Bumgarner may contemplate is how he can remain an effective pitcher for as long as possible.

The recent data shows that Bumgarner can still be a highly effective pitcher at Oracle Park, but that he struggles badly on the road. This might be enough to scare off a good chunk of his prospective market.

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In the end, it may very well be in the best interest of both the San Francisco Giants and Bumgarner to continue their relationship for the next several years. He still has plenty left in the tank, and the Giants are not changing home ballpark venues anytime soon.

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