Madison Bumgarner's 14-Strikeout Start Was the Best We've Seen This Year

Madison Bumgarner dropped a 14-strikeout, 1-hit shutout on the Arizona Diamondbacks Sunday night. Was it the best pitching performance of the season?

We've been lucky enough to see a bunch of top-tier performances on the mound this season. From Max Scherzer's 20-strikeout game to Jake Arrieta's second no-hitter -- and basically every Clayton Kershaw start -- we haven't been short on dominant outings.

Madison Bumgarner may have topped all of them last night.

That's 14 strikeouts, one walk, and one hit allowed over a complete-game shutout. Call it pre-All-Star-game resignation by the Arizona Diamondbacks if you want, but he was spewing filth last night.

Just how good was this start from Bumgarner, though? Based on at least one metric, it was the best we've seen all year.

Topping the Charts

In order to quantify Gucciness in starting pitchers, we can turn to Bill James' game score metric which was devised for just this purpose. You can find the full formula here, but the basic jist is to reward pitchers for strikeouts while penalizing for base runners and runs allowed. As you could probably guess, MadBum tore that puppy apart.

The highest game score possible (for a nine-inning game if a pitcher were to strikeout all 27 batters he faced) would be 114. Kerry Wood is the closest we've seen a pitcher get to that without throwing more than nine innings as he had a 105 game score in his 20-strikeout game in 1998.

Bumgarner clocked in at 98, the 22nd-highest performance since 1913 for any pitcher throwing no more than nine innings and the highest mark this season. Any time you can sniff Wood's dominance from that day, you're doing something right, and Bumgarner did more than just sniff it.

The table below shows the top five outings from this year in terms of game score. Even though we've seen some great ones, they can't quite catch MadBum.

PitcherDateInningsHitsEarned RunsWalksStrikeoutsGame Score
Madison BumgarnerJuly 10th91011498
Vincent VelasquezApril 14th93001697
Jaime GarciaApril 14th91011397
Clayton KershawMay 1st93001495
Clayton KershawMay 12th93011393

Once again, Clayton Kershaw is stupidly, stupidly good.

You'll notice that the aforementioned outings from Max Scherzer and Jake Arrieta didn't quite make the list. When you put some of their numbers head-to-head with Bumgarner's, you can see why.

PitcherDateInningsHitsEarned RunsWalksStrikeoutsGame Score
Madison BumgarnerJuly 10th91011498
Jake ArrietaApril 21st9004689
Max ScherzerMay 11th96202087

Arrieta didn't have the strikeouts, and Scherzer allowed a couple of runs to cross the dish. They hit the more recognizable benchmarks, but Bumgarner may have had the more truly dominant outing.

If we're trying to assess whether or not Bumgarner's Sunday start was the best of the season, it may even be more prudent to compare him to Vincent Velasquez's and Jaime Garcia's big days, both of which clocked in with game scores of 97. There's a fairly major issue with such a comparison, though; the levels of competition were grotesquely different.

Velasquez tore the San Diego Padres to shreds back in April with his 16 strikeouts and no walks. The Padres are currently 28th in wRC+ against right-handed pitchers.

Garcia left the Milwaukee Brewers baffled in his 13-strikeout one-hitter. They're 27th in wRC+ against lefties.

Bumgarner's start came against the Diamondbacks, who are seventh in wRC+ against left-handed pitching. They have dudes who can straight rake versus southpaws such as Paul Goldschmidt, Welington Castillo, and Yasmany Tomas, but Bumgarner held them to a combined 0-for-9 with 6 strikeouts. That's pure dominance, my friends.

Based on just the performance itself, Velasquez would likely hold the edge as the Padres made contact on only 54.2% of their swings against him that day. However, when we consider the discrepancy in the matchups for the two hurlers, Bumgarner's performance becomes even more impressive, validating game score's assertion that this was the best start we've seen all year.

A one-hit shutout doesn't carry the same gravitas as you'll see with a 20-strikeout game or a no-hitter. But failing to hit those benchmarks doesn't diminish the illitude Bumgarner dropped Sunday night, and despite some quality competition, it looks like we've got a new high bar for starting pitching for the year.