Madison Bumgarner: Greatest Pitcher in World Series History?

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Watching Madison Bumgarner dominate during the 2014 World Series, it was difficult to imagine anyone pitching better with baseball’s championship on the line. MLB stat hounds have been furiously scanning the archives in an attempt to figure out if Bumgarner is indeed the best ever in World Series play. Here’s the case for Bumgarner having no equal in the past 50 years and likely being the second-greatest World Series pitcher of all time.

3 World Series titles, 1 earned run

In five World Series appearances (four starts) totaling 36.0 innings, Bumgarner allowed one earned run. His World Series stat line is impossibly gaudy: 36.0 IP, 14 H, 31 SO, 5 BB, 0.25 ERA. Included is a complete-game shutout in Game 5 of the 2014 series. Each of the three World Series Bumgarner appeared in were wins for the Giants. His relief appearance — five shutout innings in Game 7 on two days’ rest — may be an all-time clutch performance.

Looking at these numbers and considering Bumgarner’s only earned run came late in the Game 1 blowout, one could easily argue that he is the greatest World Series pitcher in history. He never gave up a run that mattered.

In order to get a more objective version of World Series greatness, The New York Times created an index called “The Matty Score,” named after Christy Mathewson, the New York Giants pitcher who threw 101.2 innings in World Series play to a 0.97 ERA. Based on the enormous body of work, there is no comparison to Mathewson, who did his dominating between 1905 and 1913. Next on the list comes Sandy Koufax, the Dodgers great who threw two shutouts and had four complete-game wins with a 0.95 ERA over 57.0 innings. By the Times’ estimation, Bumgarner comes third on the list of all-time World Series greats.

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Koufax and Mathewson versus Bumgarner

Like Bumgarner, Koufax was part of three World Series wins. In the final year of his career, Koufax gave up four runs (one earned) in his only start against the Orioles in the 1966 World Series (Baltimore won, 4-0). Bumgarner boosters could easily say their lefty never lost a World Series game, nor a World Series, for that matter. Yet Koufax’s numbers are impossible to ignore, as are his two World Series MVP trophies.

In short, Bumgarner’s smaller sample size in World Series action has been near perfection. Should he start more World Series games in the future, he would have to maintain his record to stay in Koufax’s company. As for Mathewson, his epic performances in over 100 innings will never be matched. However, Mathewson was part of three losing World Series teams. During the 1912 series, Mathewson allowed 11 runs (three earned) in two complete-game losses for the Giants. While part of a different era, Mathewson’s record doesn’t have the magical glow Bumgarner’s does.

No starter has come close to Bumgarner in the past 50 years. (Mariano Rivera is closest, as a reliever.) Giants fans and anyone who wants to make the point that Bumgarner is the greatest pitcher in World Series history could make a convincing case. Over the past 100 years, only Koufax is worthy of higher standing.