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Dylan Bundy hasn’t been as bad as you think

His ERA is high, but there are a lot of numbers that might indicate he’s settling into his decreased fastball usage.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s difficult to say which opinion of Dylan Bundy is the correct one.

I’m not afraid to say I’ve slowly pulled the emergency brake on the Bundy train, basically looking for any reason to exit off of at the nearest stop. I mean, it’s not as if he’s done much to keep the pistons firing.

Since 2016, the fourth-overall pick in 2011, including this year, has compiled a career 107 ERA-, 105 FIP-, with strikeout and walk numbers just around league average over that time span. To put it plainly, Bundy has been an average pitcher in spite of incremental velocity loss. The “best high school pitcher ever” label that was aided by a high-90’s fastball is long gone, though Bundy is still only 26-years-old.

His average fastball velocity has dipped from 95 mph in 2016, to just under 92 mph in 2019. It isn’t impossible to survive in baseball nowadays without an overpowering heater, but Bundy has never really shown the kind of fastball command to suggest he’s capable of such a feat.

Now I wouldn’t blame Doug Brocail if he decided to forfeit his position as pitching coach, lose himself up in the Nepalese mountains and live life as a sherpa after trying to fix the unfixable. Despite what I’m about to show you, I can’t imagine Bundy would be one of the reasons for him to go off the grid.

As of today, Bundy has posted a 5.06 ERA, has actually matched his HR/FB totals from last season when he gave up the most home runs in baseball, and is striking out nearly one less batter per nine innings than he did in 2018. What’s that sound? It’s ole Doug searching Amazon for a walking stick.

But even though Bundy’s numbers may be initially gross, there’s reason to believe that he deserved a little bit better.

Pitching peripherals rightfully favor those capable of taking matters into their own hands. That’s why the likes of Max Scherzer, Jacob DeGrom, and Gerrit Cole to name a few are always towards the top of WAR and other various leaderboards. Bundy won’t and hasn’t found his name near the top of any leaderboard other than the nefarious kind in years past, because whether folks like it or not, the less-than-average fastball velocity has hurt the rest of his arsenal in that regard.

But has it?

Conventional wisdom says more fastball velocity makes the secondary stuff better for obvious reasons, but Bundy hasn’t had a plus-fastball in nearly three years. But as said decline has continued, his whiff rate has maintained at just under 13 percent for two seasons now, the highest marks he’s had as a big leaguer. In 2019, he’s thrown four-seamers only 43 percent of the time—a new career low—as his changeup and slider usage have naturally risen as an effect.

When Mike Elias took over, one of my initial reactions was whether he would institute how the Astros operate on the mound, as 2017 World Series champions have thrown the second-fewest fastballs in baseball since 2016, while throwing the most curveballs in that span. Having the caliber of arms that the Astros have had the past few years may have made that mindset easier to sell, but looking at it now, Bundy morphing into that mold does make a ton of sense.

Bundy has a two-plane slider that’s compiled a weighted value of 5.9 so far in 2019, easily his best pitch and in that frame of reference, has been better than Chris Sale’s. Throwing it around 23 percent of the time, Bundy has used the pitch 24th-most among qualified pitchers, which is somehow less than he used it a season ago. That’s because he’s really tried to throw his changeup into the mix as well.

And that’s a nasty pitch too! In terms of weighted value, the pitch has been slightly above average, but he’s commanded it well and it’s a pitch that’s attracted more whiffs as guys have swung at it more often. The curveball is whatever and he throws it as often as a “meh” pitch should be thrown, but as it always is, the fastball tends to be the true indicator of success. And oh boy, has Dylan Bundy’s fastball been indicative of his success.

Owning a -19.6 wFA value, Bundy owns the second-worst fastball among qualified starters, and it probably has a lot to do with the fact that this picture exists in real life.

You ever notice how often Bundy throws middle-middle fastballs and it frustrates the hell out of you? Well, it’s because he does do such a thing, and he does it A LOT.

That’s a lot of straight fastballs in the heart of the plate, and his inability to mix quality strikes with quality misses has basically been his biggest bugaboo for the better part of two years. You can’t miss with 91 mph over the plate. Not in an era where anything under 96 mph is considered slow.

Of course he isn’t trying to locate his fastball where the heatmap says he is, but how do you so many fastballs get turned into cookies? When you’re trying to elevate. Bundy is in the 86th percentile in terms of fastball spin according to Baseball Savant, and his four-seamer has nearly identical vertical sustainability to...Justin Verlander?

There’s some formula there that Bundy is aiming to use, but the margin for error on a fastball averaging 91.5 MPH is razor thin when bat angles are propelling upwards. Bundy has found spotty success throwing a ton of sliders and changeups and trying to change eye levels with his fastball. It just hasn’t worked often enough.

There are a lot of factors that weigh into how a season can unfold. One pitch here, one ball that should have been fielded there, and considering Bundy has done more to miss bats and create weaker contact, he’s probably pitched better than his numbers may suggest. Even more so over the past month or so.

The Orioles are probably not going to move on from Bundy, considering he’s probably one of only two shoe-ins for the 2020 rotation and isn’t a free agent until 2022. But as much as folks have rightfully put Bundy’s velocity concerns at the forefront, the guy didn’t ask for Tommy John surgery and shoulder calcification. All of that has undoubtedly eaten away at his ability to generate enough arm swing to produce the elite velocity he had as a super prospect.

But Bundy has tools that are still good, and still capable of being tweaked. The biggest and most important “if” is whether or not he can figure out to work the fastball safely up in the zone and to the boundaries of the plate. Maybe with a few more capable defenders in the infield and outfield his numbers would look different.

There are a lot of people wanting to get off the Bundy train, but we have no choice to but to see where the last stop takes us.