One of the bigger questions facing the Orioles for the upcoming season is, “Will the starting rotation be good enough?” This was also a question facing the team last year; the rotation wasn’t good enough and they still ended up making the playoffs. They shouldn’t count on that working out again, so improvement in the rotation, if they’re going to contend, is almost a necessity.
Each of the projected starters will need to contribute in order to make that happen for the Orioles. Each one of those starters faces questions of his own. For Dylan Bundy, who pitched in Monday’s exhibition contest, the two big questions, which are related to one another, are: “Can he stay healthy?” and “Will he be able to use his best pitch?”
The saga of Bundy and ~the cutter~ (scare quotes) has been almost as long as Bundy’s own development. Before Bundy ever pitched in the big leagues, GM Dan Duquette was out there talking about how the Orioles didn’t like the pitch and had it on a shelf. One Baseball Prospectus writer proclaimed of Bundy’s cutter that it was something “that some think could possess religious properties.”
More than three years after Jason Parks wrote those words, the Presbunderian religion has yet to take root in Birdland or elsewhere. And it still remains unclear exactly how much the pitch will be available to Bundy to throw, with a Jon Heyman column last week referencing “O’s people” who are still concerned about its possible effects on Bundy’s health.
In the present, as if to ward off the reflexive dislike of Duquette, the pitch is referred to as a cutter/slider rather than just a cutter. Whatever you want to call it, Bundy himself chose to dial back on the use of the pitch for health reasons last season, he told reporters at FanFest in January.
It’s worth noting that Bundy is not the only pitcher who doesn’t want to use a slider too much for health reasons. A bit farther south down I-95, $175 million man Stephen Strasburg, another pitcher with Tommy John surgery in his medical history, believes that a new slider he unveiled in 2016 led to forearm problems and he is planning to use it less this year.
For all that Heyman sounded concerned on behalf of “O’s people” last week, Bundy himself didn’t seem too concerned when he spoke to Orioles reporters following his Monday start, in which he made use of the pitch. MASN’s Roch Kubatko transcribed Bundy’s interview.
Asked about his progress compared to last spring:
“Arm is feeling great. Next day soreness is all where it’s supposed to be, and good soreness. I just don’t want to use that slider too much yet too soon. I want to build it up through spring and that’s kind of been the plan so far. I’ve stuck to it.”
The importance of the slider or cutter or whatever is that Bundy needs an extra pitch. This was illustrated by Eno Sarris of Fangraphs last month, listing Bundy as basically the worst pitcher for the third time through the order compared to how good he is the first time through the order. What’s that spell? SLIDER! Or cutter.
Bundy himself recognizes the importance of the pitch as another weapon to have in his arsenal against hitters:
Just give me another pitch I can show guys. Either at the beginning of a game I can break it out, or I can break it out at the end of the game. You never know. But yeah, if you’ve got four pitches they’ve got to think about instead of three, those percentages there make it a little harder to hit.”
If Bundy is able to successfully bring along the pitch through the spring while staying in good health, he could be poised for the breakout season O’s fans have been dreaming of since he was drafted.
Bundy used the pitch - which he called a slider - less in the Monday start, but he told reporters that he was happy with how it went, feeling that he had traded quantity for quality. “The slider was a little bit tighter today,” he said, “and I was over the plate more, not so sweepy, so I was really happy with that.”
Not that three innings of results in one spring training are worth a whole lot, but they were good results for Bundy today nonetheless. He pitched three scoreless innings, giving up just two hits and striking out three Tigers batters against a lineup that was missing the WBC-bound Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
The outing included going back out for the third inning after waiting out a 30+ minute top of the third inning, when the Orioles scored six runs against a series of struggling Tigers pitchers. Better to be the guy who’s pitching well in the meaningless contests than to be the guy who’s struggling and needs to get things right before the season.
If the regular season rolls along and Bundy is still using just three pitches, we’ll know which side of this debate won out. At least for early March, it seems like Bundy is headed towards the regular season with a four-pitch mix that includes the pitch that once had him regarded as one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball.