Not only has RHP Nick Pivetta had an extremely discouraging start for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2019 – he has a 9.45 ERA through the first three starts of what was expected by many to be a breakout season – but 2018 All-Star Aaron Nola has uncharacteristically allowed 10 earned runs over his last two starts. There’s reason to think that Nola, a year removed from finishing third in the National League Cy Young Award race, will round back into form. But if and when that happens, the Phillies are seemingly another legitimate starting pitcher away from being able to win a crowded National League East and compete in the postseason.
According to Jon Morosi of FOX Sports, the Phillies have already begun to monitor one potential solution to their starting rotation hole – San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner.
“[Trading] Bumgarner is going to be a difficult emotional decision for the Giants, but it’s the right decision to trade Madison Bumgarner,” Morosi said on FS1‘s MLB Whiparound. “There were a lot of conversations during the course of the offseason, the Phillies were one team that I was told already have been doing due-diligence – looking at his starts, maybe even looking at him in Spring Training to make sure they have all their information current.”
Bumgarner, 29, has a 3.32 ERA through his first three starts of 2019, though his 5.09 FIP is a red flag. Granted, it’s only three starts, but those three starts come after two odd seasons for the four-time National League All-Star. In April of 2017, he sustained a grade-two sprain in his left shoulder (his throwing shoulder) while riding his dirt bike. In March of 2018, he broke his pitching hand when a ball was lined at him during Spring Training.
Bumgarner hasn’t seen any notable velocity drop in the last two seasons – his average fastball velocity the past two seasons has been 91.4 mph, as opposed to 91.7 mph in 2016 – though he’s changed his approach as a pitcher. In 2018, Bumgarner used his fastball 34.2 percent of the time, down 14 percent since 2016. Meanwhile, his curveball usage increased to 22.2 percent in 2018, up nearly seven percent from 2017.
As he’s relied less on his fastball the past two seasons, Bumgarner has remained an effective pitcher when healthy, though the 3.1 combined fWAR he’s posted over the past two seasons (over 38 starts) feels underwhelming when you consider he averaged a 4.7 fWAR per season between 2014 and 2016.
The Phillies, who don’t have a left-handed starting pitcher currently, would love to add the Bumgarner that won the 2014 World Series MVP. Bumgarner is one of the greatest postseason pitchers in baseball history – he has a 2.11 ERA across 102.1 career postseason innings. But Bumgarner, still just 29, made his major league debut at age 19, and has pitched over 1,600 career innings. It, of course, makes sense for the Phillies to keep tabs on Bumgarner, who can be a free-agent after the 2019 season. But for the Phillies to make a major trade for him, Bumgarner will likely have to put together a few months that suggest he’s still an elite starter. It’s been a few seasons since he’s shown that.
Former American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel remains a free-agent, though there’s never been much of an indication that the Phillies are especially keen on the 31-year-old. The Phillies have also had interest in Arizona Diamondbacks lefty Robbie Ray for over a year now, according to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, so he could be a target before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
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