It’s fair to say Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner and Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler are the two best soon-to-be free-agent starters who could realistically change teams before the July 31 trade deadline. Neither the Giants nor Mets are in contention, and there haven’t been any rumors about extension talks between the teams and the hurlers. Furthermore, both clubs’ farm systems are lacking, so trading Bumgarner and Wheeler could help the organizations better themselves in that area. The question is: Who’s the more desirable of the pair?
The more impressive track record belongs to Bumgarner, who will turn 30 the day after the deadline. He’s a three-time World Series champion and one of the most successful postseason pitchers in recent memory, which could matter to starter-needy clubs that have their sights set on fall baseball. Bumgarner owns a phenomenal 2.11 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 in 102 1/3 playoff innings, though he hasn’t pitched that deep into the season since 2016. More recently, Bumgarner has morphed into a mid-rotation starter, no longer the front-line stalwart he was when he was helping the Giants to championships.
This season, Bumgarner has pitched to a 4.02 ERA/3.96 FIP with a 35.8 percent groundball rate over 109 2/3 innings, and has seen hitters put up a .332 expected weighted on-base average against his offerings versus a .311 real wOBA. Those are respectable numbers, but they’re not those of a rotation savior. At the same time, though, Bumgarner has produced a K/BB ratio befitting of an ace. With 9.27 K/9 against 1.97 BB/9, he stands 17th in the majors in K/BB ratio (4.71). The fact that Bumgarner has recorded career-best chase and first-pitch strike rates has helped him in that regard.
Wheeler’s also 29, yet he doesn’t have a single inning of playoff experience. Still, there’s a case to be made that he’s a better asset than Bumgarner. This much is clear: On a $5.975MM salary against Bumgarner’s $12MM, Wheeler is noticeably less expensive. And while Bumgarner’s not going to intimidate anyone with his low-90s velocity, Wheeler attacks hitters with one of the hardest fastballs in the game – a pitch that averages upward of 97.2 mph. Wheeler has used his velo to register 9.71 K/9 versus 2.53 BB/9 this year, yet he hasn’t had an easy time preventing runs. Wheeler’s ERA is at a lofty 4.42 through 114 frames, but his FIP’s a much more encouraging 3.63, and he has induced grounders at roughly a 45 percent clip. He’s also outdoing Bumgarner in the wOBA/xwOBA department (.295/.302).
Undoubtedly, Bumgarner or Wheeler is a question playoff-caliber teams seeking starters have asked themselves in recent weeks, and it’s one they’ll continue debating leading up to the deadline. With both pitchers likely on the move in the next four weeks, they may end up having a large amount of say in this year’s playoff race and perhaps the postseason itself. Which of the two would you rather have?
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