If Madison Bumgarner could change one thing about his 2020 season, aside from the results of course, it would be how he went about his workouts after Spring Training was shut down on March 13.
Bumgarner returned to his home in North Carolina and no one knew just how long a layoff it would be or whether there would be any season at all. After ramping up for the first Spring Training, Bumgarner backed off and then tried to ramp things up again when camps opened four months later.
"The only thing I wish I would have done different last year was kept it at a steady pace instead of getting way up here and then dropping back down and then way up," Bumgarner said of his throwing program. "We didn’t really know what to plan for. I was trying to take it days and weeks at a time instead of staying somewhere in the middle. I think that would have been more beneficial. But who’s to say I should have known that last year. It’s hard to say. Hindsight is always 20/20."
Signed to a five-year, $85 million free-agent deal, Bumgarner looked good when Spring Training opened last year, with his fastball reaching into the low 90s.
But sometime between the shutdown and the restart in July, Bumgarner lost the oomph on his heater, and that helped lead to a rough stretch for him.
Four starts into the season, Bumgarner's fastball velocity was at a career-low 87 mph average and his ERA was 9.35. He wound up on the disabled list with a back issue and even when he returned, his struggles continued.
"We all know Spring Training 2.0 was difficult for a lot of people," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. "He just didn’t get off to a good start. He was a little banged up and sore."
Bumgarner's final two starts of the year were his best, both in terms of fastball velocity and results, as he held the Astros and Rockies scoreless over five innings in both of them.
While the fastball ticked up to a season-best 89.6 mph average in his final start, there was more to it than just the velocity. Bumgarner's control got better and the way he attacked hitters also changed.
"The game-planning was maybe altered a little bit," Lovullo said. "We started to get into the things that we can do as a staff that were going to help him walk on the mound and be successful, and then he took it from there."
Bumgarner did not want to get into specifics of how his approach changed, because he didn't want to give away too much information to opposing hitters. But a glance at the Statcast data shows that Bumgarner used his four-seam fastball a lot more in his final two starts and he threw his curve less often.
In his final start, he also increased the use of his cutter, throwing it 37.9% of the time and the fastball 47% of the time against the Rockies.
"Certain things I’m not going to disclose obviously, but mixing it up and not doing the same thing over and over," Bumgarner said. "That’s about the most I’d feel comfortable giving you. Just not being predictable. It was kind of a group effort to come up with what we did. It was nothing crazy, just trying to kind of keep it simple more than anything. I definitely felt good about the last two [starts]."
Bumgarner threw his first bullpen session of the spring Wednesday as D-backs pitchers and catchers went through their first workout. While he throws a lot during the winter, Bumgarner saves his bullpens for when he gets to camp.
"I felt pretty good about the bullpen today," he said. "I didn’t come in and try to do too much. I felt pretty good with the effort I put into it and the amount of pitches I threw. The location and command was pretty good for the first one here."