Things have gone from bad to worse for Madison Bumgarner in his first season with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Sunday afternoon Bumgarner was hammered for six runs in only two innings by the San Diego Padres (SD 9, ARI 5). It was the first time he allowed four home runs in a game in his 12-year career. Manny Machado took him deep twice.

Following Sunday’s game the D-Backs announced Bumgarner had been sent to Phoenix to have tests on his back. Bumgarner told reporters, including MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert, that he was dealing with back spasms throughout Sunday’s start and thought he could pitch through them after receiving treatment.

“Good enough where I thought I would try to go out there and give us what I could and, hopefully, try to save the bullpen a little bit and try to keep us in the game,” Bumgarner told Gilbert. “I wound up doing neither one. It would grab me at what seemed like random times to me. One delivery it seemed like it might kind of grab me is how I would describe it. Then the next one it wouldn’t do it at all, but you’re waiting for it. It was tough. It was aggravating.”

Monday afternoon GM Mike Hazen told reporters, including Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, Bumgarner will be placed on the injured list with a mid-back strain. Zac Gallen (2.81 ERA) and Merrill Kelly (2.29 ERA) have been the club’s two best starters in the early going. Bumgarner, Luke Weaver (12.19 ERA), and the new-look Robbie Ray (9.45 ERA) have all struggled immensely. 

Four starts into the season Bumgarner owns a 9.35 ERA through 17 1/3 innings. He leads MLB in hits (20), earned runs (18), and home runs (seven) allowed. Most alarmingly, his velocity is down significantly. Bumgarner is averaging only 88.0 mph with his fastball this year, down from 91.7 mph last year. He has not thrown a pitch above 89.6 mph in 2020.

Madison Bumgarner’s velocity is down considerably in 2020.
Brooks Baseball

Bumgarner is not the only pitcher missing velocity this year and it’s impossible to know how the COVID-19 shutdown affected his preparation, but losing this much velocity is worrisome. He turned 31 earlier this month and he’s endured a big workload throughout his career. Some velocity loss is to be expected that this point. Not nearly 4 mph from one year to the next though.

This is what losing that much velocity has meant to Bumgarner in the early going this season:

2019

24.1%

5.1%

1.3 HR/9

.259

.468

2020

15.7%

8.4%

3.6 HR/9

.312

.729

Statcast calculates expected batting average and expected slugging percentage using exit velocity and batted ball trajectory. Needless to say, Bumgarner’s diminished velocity has led to more unfavorable contact and thus better results for hitters.

The D-Backs signed Bumgarner to a five-year contract worth $85 million over the winter, and he reportedly turned down less money to join Arizona. The contract is backloaded — Bumgarner will earn $6 million this year ($2.22 million prorated) before his salary jumps to $19 million in 2021 and $23 million in 2022 and 2023 — which was done to give the team more flexibility in 2020.

“Coming to a new place, wanting to do good, and then this type of season on top of that,” Bumgarner told Gilbert. “It’s just, none of it has really went the way I wanted it to go. You’ve got to just roll with it and try to do the best you can. That’s what I’m doing, trying to get to where I want to be and need to be to give these guys a chance to win when I go out there.”  

Although they’ve won three of their last five games, the D-Backs sit in the NL West cellar at 6-10, and their postseason odds have taken a huge hit. They begin a three-game series with the first-place Rockies at Coors Field on Monday night.

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