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Dylan Bundy is poised to make big strides for the Orioles this season

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A deeper look into Dylan Bundy’s pitching shows that he could be a candidate for a strong breakout in 2017. Good thing, too - the Orioles need him.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

For most of offseason, the Orioles had been targeted as possible destinations for all of the vagabonding starters still left on the market, and justifiably so. Even before Chris Tillman abruptly showed up to camp telling the world he needed a PRP shot in his throwing arm late in December, the O’s bottled up their need for an additional starting pitcher or two without talking to a therapist, or you know, signing anyone of note.

To Dan Duquette’s credit, he truly believes the O’s are OK on the starting front, and as easy as it is to dismiss his faith, there is certainly reason for optimism.

Though Chris Tillman is likely to start the season on the disabled list and is scheduled to be a month behind in spring preparations, there’s plenty of history to suggest his contributions will be a grade above sufficient.

At the expectation his absurd home run numbers fall to a reasonable status quo, Kevin Gausman has enough evidentiary support to prove he can consistently perform to his immense talents. If Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley are simply serviceable more often than they’re bad, the differences would certainly be noticed.

And then there’s Dylan Bundy, who probably becomes the most important pitcher of the Orioles’ projected rotation.

Bundy’s full-time presence in the starting rotation, though long-awaited, is a move that tightropes the ends of anxiety and wonderment. Bundy is a strapping young pitcher who in his rookie year performed much better than a 0.9 WAR and 4.09 DRA are designed to suggest. Though when Buck Showalter believes the Tommy John recipient has enough forward momentum to appear in 30-plus starts in just his second big-league season, you can’t help but catch yourself from falling into a trap.

Even so, both ends of the spectrum must pass through circumstances of fact. And the fact remains, Bundy has a lot of tools to work with, and new data shows it.

One of the bigger developments of the winter was done behind the scenes at Baseball Prospectus and the revolutionary creation of pitch tunneling. In short, pitch tunneling can be summed up as a way to measure a variety of specific pitcher intricacies.

The tunnel point, set at 23.8 feet away from home plate, stands as the batter’s last possible marker in his decision to swing, or as the BP staff called it, “the point of no return”. Quantifying late break, deception, and many other pre- and post-tunnel point findings, BP’s advances have and will continue to change the way we talk about pitchers.

A search through the tunneling database was met with the obvious names topping most of the lists. Still, among the company of Clayton Kershaw and Jon Lester was Bundy, whose name popped up at encouraging levels of the samplings.

Dylan Bundy Pitch Tunnels

Pitch Pairs: 1397 Tunnel Differential Post-Tunnel Break Flight Time Differential Plate Differential Release Differential Break-To-Tunnel Ratio Release-To-Tunnel Ratio
Pitch Pairs: 1397 Tunnel Differential Post-Tunnel Break Flight Time Differential Plate Differential Release Differential Break-To-Tunnel Ratio Release-To-Tunnel Ratio
Data Point 0.8198 0.3245 0.0346 1.5256 0.1814 0.3958 0.2213
Rank 64 19 23 109 94 12 92

In this set, Bundy was categorized with 162 pitchers with at least 1000 pitch pairs. For purposes of consistency, the numbers were ranked in descending order, meaning Bundy’s placement on each sampling has a different translation. Some numbers are better towards the top, whereas some of the quantities are desired to be smaller.

For example, the metric I naturally gravitated towards was post-tunnel break, a sample that measures a pitcher’s movement past the 23.8 feet threshold. Bundy’s 0.3245 post-tunnel break mark was 19th-highest a season ago, naturally a number a pitcher would hope to be inflated. Taking into account his rising fastball, 12-6 curveball and his salacious split-changeup, Bundy proved last season he produces late movement, a massive stepping-stone towards a growing foundation.

Bundy’s release differential, which measures the release point of back-to-back pitches, was somewhere towards lower third of the sample. In essence, Bundy’s release point between two pitches didn’t vary much, which is a good thing.

Utilizing a simple over-the-top delivery, Bundy’s arm slot is forced to fluctuate depending on the selected pitch and the manner of its delivery, but for the most part Bundy’s high-reaching release didn’t change much, furthering his deception to home plate.

And then there’s flight-time differential, a metric that determines the change in speed between consecutive pitches. Despite being on a team which again saw its starting staff finish in the top-five in fastballs thrown, Bundy still managed to keep hitters on their front foot at an accelerated rate. And he only used three pitches!

Plate differential calculates the separation between a pair of pitches at the point it crosses home plate. So for someone like Collin McHugh who uses his curveball at a higher frequency, the dots are far apart. Or if you’re Ubaldo Jimenez (crying emoji) who struggles to throw strikes, the same effect can be had.

Like the great Bill Burr once reminisced about a hillbilly describing shotguns, McHugh and Pineda “got a good spread.” More pistol than buckshot, Bundy saw a plate differential closer to the bottom of the stack.

For Bundy, this could mean a few things. It can point to a developing harness on control, while it can also shed light on a need to differentiate his sequencing in terms of location and pitch selection. Though with only one season in the books, Bundy likely needs more time to see where the data takes him and how the number correlates with expected growth. However, for a guy with such ferocious life on all of his pitches, living on the same plane doesn’t have to be a detriment.

Fangraphs’ pitching connoisseur Eno Sarris wrote an article on Tuesday listing ten bold predictions for the 2017 season, and his first take was Bundy grasping his immense potential. Sarris listed his strikeout peripherals, a reframed release point (!!!) and the late-game, late-season fatigue he experienced deep into his first full year with the Orioles as reasons to suggest Bundy is on the road to fulfilling his first round promises.

With BP’s tunneling statistics adding mortar to a structure plenty fortified, Bundy’s “what-if’s” are certainly more positively slanted than they are based in fear. We saw a pitcher with hardly any high-level experience roll through stretches of dominance without the slightest idea of the kind of pitcher he intends to be.

While ERA’s and other things of the sort paint a distorted image, the underlying aspects and the new ways we can analyze Dylan Bundy are far too exciting.

The Orioles starting staff has reasons for doubt. There’s plenty of weight to why the projections don’t like the O’s. But with a cutter he says “so far, feels great,” and a new pitching philosophy within the organization, Bundy himself has enough working for him to even out the playing field.

Like Chris Pine in Hell or High Water, Bundy has that southern calmness to him that you can’t help but root for. And if all of these things fall into place sooner rather than later, the Orioles may finally strike oil.