As Madison Bumgarner and the D-backs coaching staff search for ways to get the left-hander back on track after a rough start to the 2021 season, they are looking to simplify things. In other words, the analytics are great, but let’s stop focusing on changing grips and the like, and get back to executing pitches.
“What we’re doing now is kind of going back to his old way of doing things,” pitching coach Matt Herges said. “Not that we’re ignoring analytics and Trackman and things like that, but it’s the premise that he’s getting back to execution. And I’ve always said that. Even last year, I think the reason why he wasn’t successful every time out [was] because he wasn’t executing.”
In his first season with the D-backs last year, Bumgarner struggled with the ramp-up after the pandemic shutdown, and his fastball velocity dipped to career lows while his ERA rose to 6.48 in his nine starts. Through three starts this year he is 0-2 with an 11.20 ERA, and the frustration was obvious in his voice following his last start against the A’s.
“I’m trying everything I can think of,” Bumgarner said after that game. “We’re doing the best we can. It is tough. It’s not [a] very fun game for me right now. We’re trying to do what we can to get things rolling.”
With all the technology available today, there is great temptation for pitchers to tinker with their grips or try to change the shapes on their breaking balls. When Bumgarner is at his best, he throws his fastball and cutter primarily and then mixes in some changeups.
Forget about the shape or the velocity — which has come back a bit on his fastball — and just focus on locating those pitches. That was the focus in his bullpen session between starts this time around.
“We have done enough focusing on what your pitches are doing and how they’re behaving, and that’s great and there’s a place for that,” Herges said. “But right now, where he’s at, we’re focusing on flat-out executing. And right now, we’re going to put the analytics aside and worry about execution. We’ll handle the scouting reports, we’ll handle how your pitchers are behaving — we’ll keep a close eye on that. But you, Bum, you’re going to focus on executing your pitches.”
Bumgarner’s next scheduled start is Sunday in the series finale against the Nationals.