If you had asked me in 2012 what Dylan Bundy’s 2018 season would be like, I would have guessed that he would win his third Cy Young Award and be on his way to the Hall of Fame career. That is slightly exaggerated, but the hype surrounding Bundy was real. Sadly, the reality is much more gloomy. Bundy’s third complete major league season was by far his worst. He went 8-16 (lead the league in losses) with an ugly 5.45 ERA.
Bundy seemed to be on a good track coming into 2018. A healthy 2016 and 2017 put concerns about his surgically-repaired throwing elbow firmly in the rearview mirror. While his ERA in 2017 was a slightly disappointing 4.24, his WHIP was a more respectable 1.20 and he struck out 8.1 batters per nine innings. This added up to a WAR of 2.7. After 2017, nobody was mistaking Bundy for the second coming of Jim Palmer. But coming into 2018 at just 25 years old, there was reason to be bullish on Bundy.
It didn’t take long for the talent that made Bundy one of the most hyped pitching prospects in the past several years to show this season. He was awarded the Opening Day start and threw seven scoreless innings and struck out seven. His ERA through five starts sat at a tidy 1.42. Even more impressively, he struck out 40 batters in the 31.2 innings that compiled those first five starts. It seemed as though the Dylan Bundy we were promised on Draft Day 2011 had finally arrived.
But after a strong April, Bundy pitched to an ERA of 6.12 in six May starts. That included the infamous start on May 8 against Kansas City. He faced seven batters that night and did not record any outs. All seven scored. Four hit home runs. As you would imagine, allowing seven runs without recording an out didn’t help his ERA; it jumped from 3.76 to 5.31. It also helps explain his awful May ERA. To Bundy’s credit, he followed up that stinker with seven scoreless, two hit innings against Tampa Bay.
June was a great month for Bundy, as he started the month with 15 scoreless innings spanning two starts. Through his June 23 start in Atlanta, where he allowed two runs in 6.2 innings while striking out eight, his ERA was 3.75. His WHIPs by month for the first three months of the season were 1.29, 1.30, and 0.99. His strikeouts per nine innings per month were 10.9, 10.9, and 8.2. It is interesting to note that he allowed far fewer baserunners in June when his strikeout numbers went down. If you remove that awful game against Kansas City (yes, I know you can’t do that, but for the sake of argument), his ERA through that point in the season lowers to 3.15. In short, Bundy was having a fine 2018 campaign.
But in that start in Atlanta, Bundy rolled his left ankle while running the bases. (It almost makes one think that two leagues playing with different rules is dumb.) He was placed on the disabled list but made a fairly quick recovery, returning to the mound on July 6. But whatever he was doing that led to his success earlier in the season did not return. He gave up five earned runs in each of his first three starts back and his ERA jumped to 4.53 after four starts back from the DL. August was even worse, as Bundy pitched to an ERA of 9.24 that month. He gave up seven runs in three consecutive starts that month. His ERA rose above five that month and remained there for the remainder of the season. While his ERA in September/October was 5.81, he did allow three runs or less in four of his six starts and he struck out 10.7 per nine innings. I’m trying to find positives where I can.
It truly was a tale of two seasons for Bundy this year. The obvious answer why is the ankle injury suffered in Atlanta, but Bundy did not use that as an excuse. The ankle he injured was on his landing foot and not his plant foot. His velocity did not appear to drop, though it did seem to vary more. He said in a September interview that he was working on and tweaking his mechanics during those rough summer months.
The final line for Bundy in 2018 was 171.2 innings pitched (two more than 2017) over 31 starts with a 5.45 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. He struck out a career high 9.6 batters per nine innings, further suggesting that Bundy isn’t necessarily at his best when his strikeout numbers are good. His walk rate (2.8/9 innings) was nearly identical to 2017 but he gave up nearly two more hits per nine innings. Perhaps the most glaring statistic from Bundy’s 2018 was 41 home runs allowed. This was after giving up 26 last season. All these numbers add up to a painfully average 0.1 WAR according to Baseball Reference.
Like any other Oriole with a shred of major league experience, Bundy is a prime trade candidate as the club embarks on a rebuild. It is likely that he would have been dealt this past summer if his value weren’t so low. Rival executives will surely be interested if the new front office decides to market Bundy. He’s got immense talent, is young, and isn’t a free agent until after the 2021 season. And there is precedent of talented arms reaching their potential after leaving Baltimore.
As it stands now, Bundy is one of three certainties (along with Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb) in the 2019 rotation. Given his struggles last season, the new front office will probably give him the opportunity to reestablish his value before discussing a trade. It is possible that Bundy could be a part of the next competitive Orioles team in 2021. But that would be his walk year and a serious rebuild would include trading Bundy as soon as his value rises.
Unfortunately for O’s fans, the much-hyped Dylan Bundy will most likely have his most successful seasons elsewhere. Bundy’s performance will be a storyline worth watching in 2019. Will he finally reach his potential? If so, what assets will the rebuilding Orioles be able to fetch for him?
Whether he is traded for a nice package or sticks around and helps the Orioles win, it would be nice to see this club not miss on another “can’t miss” pitching prospect.