MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Giants may struggle without Bumgarner

Ace provided club with more than just pitching once every five days

Giants may struggle without Bumgarner

After the Angels made the first postseason appearance in franchise history back in 1979, Nolan Ryan, the ace of the rotation, became the first $1 million-a-year player in Major League history -- with the Astros.

When Angels general manager Buzzie Bavasi balked at a multiyear deal, Ryan, with the guidance of agent Dick Moss, filed for free agency, and the game's king of no-hitters decided to sign with the Astros and head back home.

"I can sign two 8-7 pitchers for less than that," Bavasi said, taking a jab at Ryan's 16-14 record in that year the Angels won the American League West.

Manager Jim Fregosi shrugged his shoulders, explaining that with a pitcher like Ryan, the value extended beyond his win-loss record.

"What he does is allow you to get your bullpen in order every fourth or fifth day," Fregosi said in reference to Ryan's preference to pitch every fourth day instead of what had become the standard five-man rotation. "When he starts, tell closer Dave LaRoche to just wear his tennis shoes, because he's not getting into the game."

This is brought up to underscore the fact that while a starting pitcher may work only once every fifth day, those legitimate No. 1s are just as worthy of a Most Valuable Player Award consideration as an everyday player because they impact a team's day-to-day pitching alignment.

Their value extends past the day on which they pitch.

And if anybody needs a modern-day reinforcement of that value, check out the Giants, a team that has won the World Series title in three of the past seven seasons, but as of today, is in last place in the National League West.

What's wrong with the Giants?

Simple. Madison Bumgarner, the prize left-hander, is out for likely three months, having suffered a second degree left shoulder AC strain in a dirt bike accident on a recent off-day in Colorado.

Bumgarner's impact on the Giants is bigger than the fact that, when healthy, he will start once every fifth game, and more often than not, San Francisco will win that game. He is the guy who puts the rest of the pitching staff in order and allows manager Bruce Bochy to expertly mix and match his bullpen to get through situations, confident that on the days Bumgarner takes the mound, his relievers will get some relief.

Bumgarner hurls six strong

The Giants lost eight of the first 12 games after Bumgarner went on the disabled list.

Their starters have averaged 5 1/3 innings, are a combined 2-6 and have a composite 5.48 ERA. They have been unable to get through six innings in six of the 12 games.

OK, Bumgarner was 0-3 in four starts before he was hurt, but in those three losses, San Francisco scored two runs -- total. Bumgarner gave a total of six runs, and worked at least six innings each time out.

Get the picture.

The Giants are in trouble without Bumgarner, because he is the guy that Bochy can build his rotation around.

This isn't the Giants of those World Series of 2010, '12 and '14, which built their success off rotation durability.

Four starters made 33 starts for the 2010 Giants, which featured the in-season callup of rookie Bumgarner, who made 18 starts and made his World Series by pitching eight shutout innings in a Game 4 victory that set the stage for San Francisco to finish off Texas in five games.

In 2012, a rotation that went 71-49 featured five starters who combined to make 160 of the 162 regular-season starts, each of them winning in double figures. And in the Giants' World Series sweep of the Tigers, the starters combined to allow four earned runs in 25 1/3 innings, including Bumgarner working seven scoreless innings in a 2-0 Game 2 victory.

And in 2014, San Francisco's rotation depth started to wane, but again Bumgarner carried the load, particularly in the World Series, when he won both of his starts against Kansas City. And then, on two days of rest, he came back to add five shutout innings to be credited with the save in a 3-2 World Series-clinching win at Kauffman Stadium.

Bumgarner's stellar relief

Yes, the bullpen has become a bigger part of today's game.

Yes, a starting pitcher traditionally works only once every fifth day.

But no, you can't discount the impact of that true ace of a rotation, a Bumgarner type. He makes life easier for everybody else on a pitching staff, and the manager and pitching coach, as well.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.