Big innings don't always equate to struggles next season
History shows Bumgarner's 2014 workload doesn't necessarily mean extra obstacles this year
By John Schlegel
At some point between the final out of the World Series and that time a photo of Madison Bumgarner and an ox went viral, the question emerged: Was the big Giants lefty's huge postseason on top of a career-high innings load too much of a great thing?
The answer may be evident in the relative similarity in size between the man and an actual beast of burden, but really it will be proven by how Bumgarner performs in 2015. And before we find out, charting it up a bit shows that his total of 270 innings between Opening Day and Game 7 was the most in zero years, ranked fifth in the past five seasons and wouldn't have rated in the Majors' top 10 for just the regular season many years in the 1960s and '70s.
Besides, it's not as though either the Giants organization or Bunyan, er, Bumgarner himself has much concern about last year's workload as Spring Training games begin.
"I couldn't pay any less attention to it than I do now. After 2010, it was the same deal," Bumgarner said upon his arrival in Spring Training, referencing his 214 1/3-inning rookie total through that October in his age-20 season.
What Bumgarner, now 25, did particularly in October last year was amazing, but as a full year's load, it wasn't even the biggest in a calendar year. Last spring, it was the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright coming off a huge regular season followed by a full October, an effort that stands as the highest innings total in the past five years
Most innings pitched in last five seasons
^ led Majors
As for the following year, Wainwright pitched 227 innings in the regular season and another 16 in October in 2014, finishing third in the National League Cy Young Award Award voting with a 2.38 ERA and 20 wins -- in short, another stellar season. While sidelined with an abdominal strain as Spring Training begins, there's no questioning Wainwright's place as the workhorse of the Cardinals' rotation once the regular season begins. Meanwhile, Justin Verlander's dominance has faded since his dual American League MVP Award and AL Cy Young Award winning season, but he remains among the game's elite pitchers heading into 2015, and both Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay posted their numbers toward the end of their careers.
Bumgarner set a postseason record with 52 2/3 frames, including those historic last five in Game 7. That came after a career-high 217 1/3 (12th in Majors) in his fifth regular season and age-24 season. Overall, Bumgarner is No. 1 for 2014, but he's not the only pitcher returning to action in 2015 after a full slate of innings last year.
Of course, those totals are relatively tame compared to many years in the past, even just for the regular season. On the other hand, as Bumgarner showed to the max in 2014, the potential for huge innings in October has been increased. With a Wild Card Game (a complete-game shutout for Bumgarner in 2014) and the rest of the current postseason setup, undeniably high-intensity innings are available at the end of a long regular season of work. And, regardless of era, that's where Bumgarner's 2014 performance stands out, right down to the final popup of the World Series, etching his name in the Fall Classic's mound lore.
Some of that innings lore from recent and not-so-recent World Series winners:
The Dynamic Duo, 2001
Curt Schilling, ARI: 256 2/3 IP + 48 1/3 postseason IP (No. 2 all-time) = 305 total IP
Randy Johnson, ARI: 249 2/3 IP + 41 1/3 postseason IP = 291 total IP
Orel's amazing season, 1988
Orel Hershiser, LAD: 267 IP + 42 2/3 postseason IP = 309 2/3 total IP
Fernando at age 20, 1981
Fernando Valenzuela, LAD: 192 1/3 IP + 40 2/3 postseason IP = 233 total IP
The last 300-IP regular season, 1980
Steve Carlton, PHI: 304 IP + 27 1/3 postseason IP = 331 1/3 total IP
A Hall of Famer at age 24, 1970
Jim Palmer, BAL: 305 IP + 24 2/3 postseason IP = 329 2/3 total IP
Entering 2015, Bumgarner's career innings pace vs. his age is in line with several of today's top rotation heavyweights. The 1,000-innings milestone is in sight well before his 26th birthday in August, with 47 1/3 frames to go. Of course, with a total of 88 1/3 in postseason baseball under his belt, he's already past the 1K mark in innings that count, just not as reflected in career totals.
As certainly Kershaw and Hernandez have shown in their rapid rise to 1,000 innings and beyond, it's not just about racking up innings, but what you do with them. Kershaw hit the traditional innings minimum for career numbers in May 2013 at a 2.73 ERA, the lowest ever by a starter -- now down to 2.48. And after Hernandez reached the innings milestone in his 2010 AL Cy Young Award winning season, he soon became the fourth-youngest pitcher to record 1,000 strikeouts.
Heading into 2015, Bumgarner is right there on pace with them after a particularly fulfilling 2014 campaign, carting a 3.06 ERA and 896 K's into another season, ready for more work -- a horse among horses.
Or ox, whatever.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnSchlegelMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.