A Legend is Born

October 30, 2014



The 2014 post-season will likely go down as one of the most memorable of the last 20 years. Two wild-card teams matched up in the post-season after surviving a play-in game, and one of the teams – the Kansas City Royals – got to the championship round with two unlikely sweeps. True, they are a team that is built for the post-season with a lights-out bullpen and numerous players capable of manufacturing a go-ahead run without the benefit of a hit… but they got there by basically out-homering two homer-happy teams that possessed what during the regular season would be considered two superior pitching staffs. Apparently, their problem in the World Series was that they ran up against a team with an even less impressive pitching staff. However, what the Giants did have was Madison Bumgarner. And it was his performance that made this post-season so memorable. 


First, he set a major league post-season record for most innings pitched with 52.2 over four rounds of play. You read that right. He pitched the equivalent of a quarter of a season in the span of just under a month.  He threw 9 innings against the Pirates in the play-in game, 7 against the Nationals (who, by the way were the only team that beat him), 15.2 against the Cardinals in the NLCS and an incredible 21 against the Royals in the World Series including a legendary 5 inning save to seal the deal in Game 7. Additionally, he finished with a career World Series ERA of 0.25 (best ever for any pitcher with at least 25 innings). By comparison, the man who many consider the best post-season pitcher in history - Mariano Rivera – his career World Series ERA is 0.99 in roughly the same number of innings. Bumgarner’s performance will certainly go down as one of the greatest in post-season history, alongside those of Orel Hershiser in 1988, Josh Beckett in 2003, and the tandem of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson in 2001.


According to his Wikipedia page, he also set:

·                    MLB record for most starts in a single post-season - 6 in 2014 (tie with Chris Carpenter in 2011 and Curt Schilling in 2001) [52]

·                    MLB record for fewest hits allowed in a single World Series by any pitcher with at least 20 innings of work - 9 in 21 innings in 2014 [53]

·                    MLB record for most shutout innings in relief in a World Series game 7 - 5 (tie with Joe Page) [53]

·                    MLB record for longest save in a World Series - 5 innings in Game 7 in 2014 [53]

·                    MLB record for longest save in a winner-take-all game - 5 innings in Game 7 in 2014 [53]

·                    MLB record for most World Series wins through age 25 - 4 [53]

·                    First MLB pitcher in a single World Series to earn at least two wins, throw a shutout and earn a save - in 2014 [53]

·                    First MLB pitcher in a World Series to pitch a shutout with no walks and at least eight strikeouts - game 5 in 2014 [53]

·                    His 0.43 ERA in the 2014 World Series was the lowest in a single World Series (minimum 15 innings) since Sandy Koufax posted a 0.38 ERA in the 1965 World Series [53]

·                    Second-most strikeouts in a single World Series while walking no more than one batter - 17 in 2014. Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants struck out 18 in 1905 [53]

·                    First pitcher to throw at least four scoreless innings in a World Series Game 7 (2014) on two days' rest since Sandy Koufax's shutout for the Dodgers in 1965 [53]

·                    In the 2014 post-season, he threw more than double the innings of any other pitcher [53]



The question now is this: was it too much? Throwing 50+ stressful postseason innings on top of a 200+ inning regular season… for a pitcher who has not even celebrated his 25th birthday? Is that too much to ask for a player so early in his career? Will he become the next Steve Avery – a great post-season pitcher who burned out way too soon? 


As it turns out, probably not.


Josh Beckett was 23 when he threw 42.2 innings in the 2003 post-season when the Marlins defeated the Yankees. While his career never quite matched the hype that surrounded him as a high school fireballer out of Texas, it was still a very respectable run, with a 20-win season and a World Championship with Boston in 2007. He had experienced periodic injuries before that epic 2003 campaign and the aftermath was no different.


Likewise, Hershiser (29) threw 42.2 innings during the Dodgers run in 1988. The following year he tossed a nearly identical season to his 1988 Cy Young masterpiece (save the gaudy number of wins) so there’s not much evidence to suggest that his post-season workload was damaging to him long term. It wasn’t until 1990, two years later that Hershiser experienced arm troubles. Even so, with less stuff he still managed to top 200 innings four more times. The 1988 postseason might have played a role but just as likely a culprit was the fact that he had topped 250 innings for three regular seasons from 1987-1989.


Curt Schilling was already 34-years old in 2001 when he set the previous post-season innings mark at an even 48. He followed that up with a similar year and then threw another in 2004 with the Red Sox that helped them win their first World Series since 1918. No adverse affects there.


In the same 2001 postseason, Randy Johnson threw 41.1 innings at age 37, followed that up with what would be his fourth consecutive Cy Young award in 2002 and pitched effectively for another 8 years.


Fernando Valenzuela was 20 in 1981 when he pitched 40.2 playoff innings and the Dodgers to the title. He pitched at a high level for the next five years before becoming a serviceable journeyman. His downfall might just as easily be attributed to a high number of regular season innings at such an early age as anything he might have done in the postseason.


John Smoltz (29) had already had his first arm surgery by the time he won his Cy Young award in 1996. It was that season in which he also threw 38 post-season innings. He followed up the next year similarly to Hershiser, just as good except for the wins column, followed by several years of injuries at which point he was converted to the Braves’ closer. However, injuries were nothing new to Smoltz having already recovered from one arm surgery, and he did manage to move back into the rotation for three years starting in 2005, topping 200 innings with well above-average performance. I don’t know how anyone could draw the conclusion that his 1996 postseason was in any way detrimental.


Kevin Brown (33) should have won the Cy Young award in 1998, when he also pitched 39.1 playoff innings for the Padres. After the season he signed with the rival Dodgers and pitched four quality seasons (out of six) for them before moving on to the Yankees for his final two years. NO adverse affects there either.


Cliff Lee was 30 when he threw 40.1 innings in 2009 and with the exception of last year has been going strong ever since.


Bruce Hurst (28) threw 38 innings for the ill-fated 1986 Red Sox but went on to pitch more than 200 innings in each of the next six seasons at a level as high or higher than his 1986 campaign.


Greg Maddux was 29 in the last of his four consecutive Cy Young seasons in 1995. That year he also tossed 38 innings in the postseason. Needless to say, he pitched at a high level (albeit not quite as high as the best pitcher in baseball) for another 11 years, pitching at least 190 innings every year following until he was 42.


Obviously, Bumgarner has entered uncharted territory with the number of post-season innings, the frequency and duration he was used over the final days of the World Series and perhaps the stress of those last five innings. But there is nothing in history to suggest that we should expect some kind of arm injury next year or anytime in the near future due to his usage in 2014.