Why Bumgarner is the right call for opening day starter

Arizona Diamondbacks Summer Workouts

Why - in a league so ruthlessly beholden to algorithms and computer overlords - would the Arizona Diamondbacks sign a 30-year-old pitcher whose age denotes an impending decline in spin rate? What is the Matrix? Has Mike Hazen ever asked himself that? Does he think he can hack it? Are there robot umpires there?

I don't know the answers to most of those questions, but I think the latest announcement by the D-backs hints at at the answer to the first one.

Madison Bumgarner is a three-time World Series champion tone-setter, and he can strike a note these Diamondbacks haven't hit, at least since 2001.

"Tone-setter" is something I picture Jeff Luhnow - the Mark Zuckerberg of baseball - scoffing at, if he has unlocked the code for that human reaction. Yet, intentionally or not, Luhnow friend-requested his own aging tone-setter at the trade deadline in 2017. Justin Verlander was 34 when he was added as the final touch to a would-be championship Astros roster, but his impact went deeper than wins. In a sport whose season length demands the ultimate professionalism, Justin Verlander and pitching coach Brent Strom carved a path that was followed by teammates Charlie Morton, Wade Miley and Gerrit Cole into their best seasons. Verlander and Cole specifically were known in the locker room for their nonhuman intensity. Maybe that's why computer-boy Luhnow liked Verlander so much.

The value of a tone-setter is one of the many things an analytically-obsessed MLB fails too often to quantify, which is why Mike Hazen's signing of MadBum was ballsy, and correct. I love a heretic.

Take Robbie Ray, Arizona's second-most important pitcher, whose development is crucial to a pitching staff that can truly compete in the NL West. Ray's 15-pound weight-loss and retooled arm-action have led the way for an 11-inning, 1-hit camp performance. If MadBum's professionalism has anything to do with Ray's new identity, MadBum's signing is paying off before the season has even started.

Or, take Archie Bradley, whose herculean stature hasn't led to matching levels of constancy thus far for the D-backs. Bradley was recently named the team's official closer.

"When he walks into the clubhouse he just sets a presence about him," Bradley said about Bumgarner in a recent interview with MLB Network.

Opening day has always been about trying to strike the right tone. Starting this wacky, urgent, hopeful season on the right note feels even more important now as we inch towards a 60-game slate thrust upon us by the coronavirus pandemic. This season, strong leadership will be at a premium across the four major American sports leagues. I'm not sure I'd rather ride with anyone else than the guy caught riding rodeo horses this offseason.

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