Madison Bumgarner will go down in history as one of baseball’s most transformative players, because we can say with Richard Sherman-level confidence that without Bumgarner, the Giants never would have won the World Series last year -- not even close.
Bumgarner pitched well in the first half of the 2014 season, posting a 3.47 ERA in 20 starts and earning an All-Star bid. But he was better in the second half before hoisting the Giants' franchise onto his shoulders in October, when he threw more than twice as many innings as any other pitcher who picked up a ball in the postseason.
The left-hander reminded a generation of how one player can make a difference, as Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson did in 2001, and Orel Hershiser did in 1988. Not all transformative players will reach their level of course, but there are individuals whose performances could be linchpins to success for their respective teams. And this is not always just about the best and most expensive players who generate their usual production; it’s understood that Clayton Kershaw’s performance is crucial for the Dodgers, and Joey Votto, who has nine years left on his deal with the Reds, must produce for Cincinnati.
This is also about players who can be the difference between a team denting October, or not -- such as the Pirates’ Edinson Volquez in 2014, the Royals’ Wade Davis, the Angels’ Garrett Richards, or Bumgarner.
Here are 10 pivotal players going into spring training:
The Giants haven’t had more than a decent offense even while winning championships, but now Pablo Sandoval is gone and it stands to reason that run scoring could be a problem that prevents San Francisco from making the postseason.