When it came to Dylan Bundy being thrust into the Orioles starting rotation, I was in the camp of naysayers. But in that denial, it was easy to understand why the Orioles pulled the trigger.
Excluding Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Tyler Wilson and Yovani Gallardo combined for a first-half 6.17 ERA/5.02 FIP, with all three failing to manage the heavy contact the trio are susceptible to allowing. On July 15, the night of Bundy’s first-career start, the Orioles were 52-36, two games ahead of the second-place Red Sox, and in need of someone to give a first-place team quality innings.
However, there was enormous risk in asking a pitcher who hadn’t logged more than 57.0 innings since 2012, and had missed the entire 2013 season because of Tommy John surgery, to suddenly eclipse a plateau his body had never reached. The Orioles opted to scrap their gentle nudging of Bundy, instead throwing him into the fire of the AL East race. And to their credit, the risk has paid off.
Over the course of 12 starts and 61.2 innings, Bundy has amassed a 4.38 ERA/5.21 FIP, and though his peripherals lean aggressively against him, he’s posted a very solid .230/.314/.444 opponent slash. Having strayed away from his extended every-fifth-day relief role and into the starting staff, Bundy has maintained a few similarities while finding life as a starter to be that much crueler.
Congruent to his time in the bullpen, Bundy’s repertoire has seemingly maintained equal footing, with one slight adjustment.
While his fastball rate has remained a source of reliance, Bundy began his starting tenure as a primary fastball-changeup guy. Kevin Gausman has shown that it is indeed possible to pitch at an effective pace despite relying on a diet of two pitches with the rare breaking ball mixed in as dessert, but as time has trudged on, Bundy has looked to his breaking ball just a little bit more.
Accompanying his somewhat steady arsenal has been his guidance of the fastball up in the zone.
Bundy has made a habit of working to his glove side with the fastball, transitioning away from his arm side. Again, like Gausman, Bundy has made a concerted effort to cover the outer-half of the plate to righties, which seems to be step one in the Orioles’ pitching handbook.
Though using the high fastball as a strikeout resource, Bundy has also found the middle of the plate far too often with the heater. In what continues to be his biggest bugaboo, the burden of surrendered power has offset a lot of his progress on the mound.
Prior to making the change in roles, Bundy was seeing a steady uptick in velocity. It’s too irresponsible to say that Bundy’s two mile per hour regression in fastball velocity is the difference in its effectiveness within the zone, but we do see that Bundy hasn’t manipulated the outer rims of the plate with much purpose. Living dangerously over the plate, especially up in the zone, is where power originates.
Finding solace in what can be classified as extreme, Bundy’s HR/FB ratio has skyrocketed from 5.8% to 18.1%, even where his fly ball rate has lowered from 44.1% to 42.1%. Though BABIP doesn’t account for home runs, he’s managed to lower his reliever mark of .368 all the way down .260.
Strikeouts are up from 19.2% to 24.2%, and despite a bump in his walk rate, he’s also improved his ground ball frequency. There’s stuff happening here, and a lot of it seems to be riddled with boom or bust tendencies.
As the season has progressed, Bundy has shown traits of someone that should be able to smooth out the bumps. Even as hitters have progressed in their success within the strike zone, Bundy’s strides in making bats miss indicates a hopeful trend. With more whiffs and chases out off the plate, the heaping of power more or less looks kind of fluky, as his 4.44 starting xFIP suggests.
From a couch scout perspective, it doesn’t take much to see that Bundy is losing a bit of his mojo deeper into his outings. While not out of the ordinary and given where Bundy was only a season ago, the 5th or 6th inning of September starts have become as arduous for the budding righty as they are for everyone else to watch.
The hulking Oklahoman is fighting the labors of the stretch run, and the fatigue-related breakdowns in his mechanics seem to be occurring sooner and sooner into his starts. Over his last four starts, in which he’s averaged 4.2 innings per start, Bundy has scraped together a 7.14 ERA/5.87 FIP having walked 14.3% of hitters over that stretch. A trained eye isn’t needed to see he’s getting tired.
The Orioles haven’t lined up the triple 7’s in the pitching department in recent history, but all indications show that Bundy is going to be a good one, especially as he continues to circuit the league, grow into his stuff and regain the baseball shape his body is so suited to retain.
We did see the peak of Bundy’s foundation in late July and most of August, so try to pause judgement and understand that the shift in roles has taxed him to a point not many expected him to reach. The Orioles calculated risk was shot down for reasons understood, but Bundy has already paid it back in full, and then some.