For the Orioles to start with two wins in two games, both started by former first-round picks Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, it’s OK to believe, for at least a moment, the baseball gods are off in the woods finding a new stick to poke the O’s with.
While there is certainly more than meets the eye to Gausman’s 5.1 innings of two-run ball, that’s a conversation for another day. Like, yesterday, when our Alex Conway discussed such a thing. No, today we’re here to properly overreact and crown Dylan Bundy the nastiest Bundy since Al took a job at Gary’s Shoes.
Only falling victim to a series of unfortunate bloops leading to his lone blemish, Bundy not only cruised through seven innings while striking out eight, the 24 year-old finally unveiled the pitch Orioles fans have read about for, quite literally, years. The villainous slider of Bundy proved that its slumber was worth the wait, and like any true antagonist, it antagonized.
Unfortunately, the rest of the world will have to get up to speed with the fact that Bundy has reintroduced his slider into the wild after cautiously shelving it last season, so the available data from sites like Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball doesn’t account for Bundy’s slider usage just yet. Per usual, baseball progressive Jon Meoli had the deets.
To clear up Bundy's secondaries today, said he didn't throw more than 5 changeups. Most everything on TV/gamecast as CH was slider. #Orioles— Jon Meoli (@JonMeoli) April 6, 2017
So, given Bundy’s estimation, he likely threw around five or so changeups, and according to Baseball Savant, Bundy accounted for 37 changeups of his 99 pitches. After a quick skimming of Bundy’s seven dominant innings, the only true changeups I could recognize were all located on his arm side of the plate as a deterrent against the left-handed Kendrys Morales, with him peppering another one or two in other plate appearances. The rest were sliders.
So, take away a small percentage of these “changeups” and you have what was Bundy’s plan of attack against a heavy right-handed lineup. A lot of sliders starting over the plate and breaking out of the zone, and with equal effectiveness, living inside the zone with a pitch featuring coveted tilt and late-break. A trait atypical of Orioles starters, Bundy racked up an inordinate number of swings and misses, almost all entirely because of his new favorite pitch, once-removed.
Since his Tommy John surgery in 2013, promotion to the big leagues and everything in between, there seemed to be lingering talk of Bundy reworking the slider back into his arsenal at some point. As easy as it was to toss aside such a notion, especially given the reasoning behind the holstering of the pitch and the natural grains of salt needed to digest such reports, the idea really seemed to pick up steam this winter.
Just yesterday morning, Bundy downplayed the idea that the slider was coming, as he felt it wasn’t quite ready to fight on the main card.
“I’m bringing in that new pitch (the cutter/slider) and it’s not very consistent where it is going to go every single time. That is going to be a work in progress, but I feel like the last two outings - minor league camp and my last one at big league camp - went really well with the slider and changeup as well.”
So, after telling MASN’s Steve Melewski that it was still a “work in progress”, Bundy stepped on the mound later in the day and stymied a lineup that doesn’t need Edwin Encarnacion to still be considered intimidating. To be comfortable enough to throw the number of sliders he did, with the execution that he did, one can draw a pair of conclusions:
- Dylan Bundy has a terrific feel for his slider.
- It’s a damn good pitch.
Both of which, at least last night, were very much true.
First, you don’t throw one pitch nearly a third of the time, work it into less-favorable counts and create a massive number of whiffs if you aren’t confident in actually delivering the pitch to home plate.
And that was yet another aspect of what really stood out with Bundy from the beginning to the end of last night. He wasn’t just comfortable throwing the slider, but it routinely stepped aside the barrel of very potent bats. When you’re able to coax Jose Bautista into multiple swings and misses as ugly as this, rest assured the compliment is substantial.
Second, a lot of guys may have the repeatability on a given night to continually throw a certain pitch with such reluctance, but usually stuff plays higher than not. It wasn’t like Bundy was missing wide with his slider, giving us a glimpse into its potency while wondering how it would play within the strike zone. Instead, Bundy not only manipulated the zone with the slider, he pulled the tarp off of it like a 60’s Gran Torino.
Tight, with tilt and late-movement, Bundy’s slider is as good if not better than even the most optimistic of optimists could have projected. The ill-fated “red-dot”, the symbol of a good slider, makes it discernible from his fastball, while the sudden break only furthers the foray. There isn’t much else to say other than, well, it’s nasty.
As encouraging as it was to see so many swings and misses, the most interesting aspect of his slider usage came against Toronto’s two lefties, Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak. In a normal world, it would have been expected to see Bundy mix his slider into a few at-bats against righties, slowly gathering intel into its purpose, but that blueprint was shredded after the 1st inning. So, it became less shocking to see him use the pitch as mirage to both Morales and Smoak.
The slider boring in to lefties acts almost likes a modified changeup. Throughout the evening, Bundy presented the lefties with the reality that he can locate the slider deep into the inner-half of the plate, a facet of pitching that paid off later in the game.
In the fifth inning, after falling behind 2-0 against Smoak, Bundy followed with back-to-back sliders breaking down and in to Smoak, resulting in a foul ball and a whiff. At 2-2, after two fastballs and two sliders, Smoak had no idea what was coming. He could be on the receiving end of another slider, a changeup breaking down and away, or even a fastball. Utilizing the last of those options, Bundy used the fastball to play off the consecutive sliders, leaving Smoak standing still.
Later, Bundy approached Morales with the same agenda to end the 6th inning, concluding a spirited 10-pitch at-bat by blowing a fastball past Morales. By simply presenting to Smoak and Morales that he was capable of cutting a slider into their hands, it made his fastball that much better. By adding another capable pitch into his mix, it makes all the others that much better.
For a guy that had so much going for him minus the slider, Bundy made a profound statement that everything we thought about him needs a rewrite. He auditioned one hell of a pitch on Wednesday, and though it would be wise to maintain a sense of reservation, it’s tough not to given how talented he already is.
When asked about his slider, Bundy said, “We’re going to play it by ear. Those hitters will let me know how well it works. I’ll throw it and see what happens and go from there.”
He threw it. We saw what happened. And by the looks of it, there are certainly places to go.