23 November 2016

What Should The O's Expect From Dylan Bundy in 2017?

For the past five years, Orioles’ fans have had high expectations for Dylan Bundy. Fans have hoped he’d be a homegrown ace that could help stabilize the rotation and become an ace that could go toe-to-toe with the best starters in the playoffs. But then Bundy was injured for a number of years and was unable to contribute. In 2016, Bundy was able to stay healthy and even entered the rotation for the second half of the season. He had excellent results in his first six starts, and fans began and are still dreaming big. But then the next eight starts happened, in which Bundy largely got shelled and ended up with an ERA of 6.00. Looking forward to 2017, should we expect the dominant performance that he provided in his first six starts or the poor performance in his next eight?

For starters, Bundy had a very strong six game stretch in his first six starts. He had a 29% K-rate, a 6.5% BB-rate, while opposing batters had only a .264 wOBA against him and a .189 BABIP. They did, however, have a 4.8 HR% against him. Out of all starting pitchers that threw at least 100 innings, a 4.8 HR% would have tied for fourth worst out of 137. It’s a bad sign that he was prone to giving up homers, even in the middle of a successful stretch.

Left handed batters had a tough time when putting the ball in play against him, as they only had a .294 wOBA to go with a .159 BABIP despite an astoundingly high 6.4 HR%. Right handed batters had more luck with a .407 wOBA to go with a .233 BABIP and a 9.1% HR-rate.

According to the ESPN TruMedia Data Portal, Bundy primarily threw a fastball, changeup and curveball. During his six game stretch of success, his best pitch was easily his changeup. But his fastball was surprisingly effective at getting swinging strikes while he was able to locate a number of his curveballs in the strike zone.

Against left-handed batters, his changeup had a higher swinging strike rate (20.22%) than a called ball rate (17.87%) although batters had an extremely high in play percentage (28.56%).  Aside from that, left-handed batters struggled to make contact against his fastball as they had a 16.2% swinging strike rate. His curveball was largely ineffective against left handed hitters, but they only put it into play 5.9% of the time. Basically, he was able to throw his fastball and the changeup in the strike zone, thereby limiting the number of balls he threw while receiving swinging strikes. As a result, he had a high strikeout rate and a low walk rate.

It’s highly implausible for a pitcher with these stats against right-handed batters to have a 29.6% K-rate. His changeup was a decent out pitch, but not great and wasn’t thrown often. His curve and fastball got a lot of called strikes but fewer swinging strikes. According to Brooks Baseball, despite his fastball not being a great pitch to get swinging strikes, batters just had a terrible job making contact against it with two strikes. While this may happen over a small sample size, it isn’t something that should be expected to continue. Spoiler alert, it didn’t continue over the last eight games.

In his last eight starts, things fell apart for Bundy. His strikeout rate dropped from 29% to 20% while his walk rate went from 6.5% to 12%. His BABIP jumped from .189 to .301 while his HR% stayed stable at nearly 5%. Left handed batters had a 1.077 OPS against him while putting the ball into play with a 7.7% HR rate and a .333 BABIP. Right handed batters had a .895 OPS against him with a 7% HR rate and a .264 BABIP. His ERA was 6.00 and batters were pretty much taking him apart.

His changeup remained extremely effective as batters swung and missed at 22.5% of all changeups thrown during that period, but his fastball and curve lost some of their effectiveness.

Against lefties, his changeup was still dangerous, but his fastball and curve were rarely thrown for swinging strikes. His fastball significantly regressed and that was one reason why he struggled. He did get a lot of swinging strikes against left handed batters when he had two strikes against them, which is why his strikeout rate was so high. With such a small sample size, I question whether it was skill or random chance.

Against righties, his changeup was still dangerous while his fastball and curve improved in effectiveness. But he wasn’t as lucky as he was in his first eight starts so his numbers looked worse even if these are more maintainable. It is interesting to note that while Bundy’s stuff over the last eight games got worse against lefties, they got better against righties. This probably means that getting tired didn’t hurt him as much as one may have thought. This should encourage the Orioles because it means he may be able to throw more innings than one may have expected next year, but that we probably shouldn’t use his first six games as an example of anything.

Max Scherzer had a 31.5% K-rate and 6.2% BB-rate last year. It is possible to compare his stats to Bundy’s to see how an ace performs over an entire season and how Bundy compared.

Scherzer’s stuff was good against left-handed batters, but not elite. His fastball picked up a strong number of swinging strikes, but also nearly as high of a called and swinging strike rate as a called ball rate. In addition, his changeup and slider served as good out pitches. But even if his numbers against lefties were very good, they weren’t elite. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that he had a 25.5% K-rate, a 9.1% walk rate while opposing batters had a .757 OPS against him. These numbers aren’t as dominant as Bundy’s against left-handers during his six game stretch of success and I think it’s fair to say that Bundy outperformed him in those situations.

Scherzer’s stuff was absolutely absurd against right-handed batters though. He did an excellent job locating his fastball in the strike zone, but it still generated a large percentage of whiffs. And his slider generated more swinging strikes than called balls and was nearly a called or swinging strike half of the time. Unsurprisingly, Scherzer had a 37.8% K-rate, a 3.2% walk rate and opposing right-handed batters had a .477 OPS against him. Those are Zach Britton like results and are what I’d expect given the quality of his fastball/slider combo. Bundy isn’t anywhere near as effective.

Based on that comparison, I’d probably expect Bundy to have had a K-rate in the 23 to 24% range during his hot streak. That’s above average, but given his homeritis issues suggests he’d have below average performance.

Bundy faces a number of challenges if he wants to be a successful starter in 2017. The major problem is that he gives up way too many home runs. If he gives up that many home runs, he’ll need to have strong strikeout and walk results or hold batters to a very low BABIP. It’s likely that neither of those are possible. If he is unable to fix this problem, then the Orioles won’t need to worry about whether he can throw 160 innings a season because he’ll be in the bullpen.

Bundy’s most effective pitch is his changeup. It gets a high percentage of strikes, especially swinging strikes. But batters put the pitch into play often and have a .984 OPS against the pitch. Of the 62 changeups put into play, 6 were hit out of the park. If batters can crush this pitch, then Bundy is going to be in trouble.

It seems that Bundy had a limited repertoire when starting this year perhaps because of his injury issues. A full offseason healthy and preparing to be a starter should yield significant dividends. In addition, it will be interesting to see whether he adds a new pitch this offseason. If not, he may need to work on using his fastball better. He stated at one point that he’s better off pitching 94 mph and locating properly than throwing at 97. The problem is that if he’s primarily using two pitches against lefties (fastball and changeup) and righties (fastball and curveball) then he may need to be able to throw at 97 and be able to locate. Using the changeup more against right handed batters should also improve his results.

Orioles’ fans should be encouraged by Bundy’s performance last year because he was able to stay healthy and was somewhat effective. But they shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking that he’s going to save the rotation. He may turn into a strong starter, but he is still very much a work in progress.


mark brandenburg said...

Will he be throwing his cutter next year? I heard that was his best pitch.

Matt Perez said...

It was his best pitch five years ago. But yeah, that's something I'm wondering about also.

Joshua Josephs said...

I wonder if anyone has ever looked at whether power pitchers like Bundy benefit from pitching what I call forward in counts meaning establishing fastball and then using curve or change to get strike outs vs pitching backwards meaning surprising the hitter with curve or change early and then challenging with heat.
I feel like Bundy often seemed predictable in the pattern in which he attacked hitters. but dont have a way to quantify this idea.