02 May 2017

Curse of the Moose: Can Dylan Bundy break the cycle of disappointment?

In the waning days of November, 2000, Mike Mussina left the Orioles and signed a six-year, $88.5 million dollar contract with the New York Yankees.  Tucked under his arm were his 147 wins and his metaphorical placard adorned with the word “ace.”   

Mussina continued to be a steady anchor in Yankees’ rotation.  123 wins later, he retired, having pitched in two World Series (though never capturing a ring).  As for his former employers, the Baltimore Orioles, they would struggle to find a true replacement for the man they called “Moose.”

Enter Dylan Bundy. 

The 24-year-old righty from Oklahoma is the latest reason for O’s fans’ optimism.  He has the pedigree (fourth-overall pick in 2011), the stuff (11% swinging strike percentage in 2017) and the results (the club is 5-1 in his starts after last night’s win over the Red Sox) to back it up. 

Fans have been waiting forever and a day for Bundy to arrive.  For those who have been eagerly anticipating that moment, the early successes have to be encouraging.

If the Orioles have arrived at their ace, they’ve certainly taken the scenic route to get there.  From investing high draft picks to mining the international market, the O’s searched far and wide for quality arms.  Whether the culprit was injuries and/or general ineffectiveness, their pan has never yielded more than the occasional glitter of gold.  

For grins (or grimaces), here is every season’s starter leader in pitching WAR, since Mussina’s departure.  You could definitely win some bar bets with this list, which is not intended for those with weak stomachs:

2001: Josh Towers: 1.5 WAR
2002: Rodrigo Lopez: 3.8
2003: Pat Hentgen: 3.5
2004: Rodrigo Lopez: 4.9
2005: Bruce Chen: 3.0
2006: Erik Bedard: 3.9
2007: Erik Bedard: 5.7
2008: Jeremy Guthrie: 4.0
2009: Brad Bergesen: 3.1
2010: Jeremy Guthrie: 4.8
2011: Jeremy Guthrie: 1.8
2012: Miguel Gonzalez: 3.1
2013: Chris Tillman: 4.4
2014: Chris Tillman: 2.4
2015: Wei-Yin Chen: 3.8
2016: Kevin Gausman: 4.2

This is not to suggest that these pitchers are similar to each other, or to Bundy, or that WAR is the end-all-be-all stat for pitching.  It’s meant to illustrate the revolving door atop the Orioles’ rotation.   

Now, contrast that list to that of the seven seasons BEFORE that:

1994: Mussina: 5.4
1995: Mussina: 6.1
1996: Mussina: 3.6
1997: Mussina: 5.5
1998: Mussina: 5.0
1999: Mussina: 4.4
2000: Mussina: 5.6

That’s a nice little run there.  Consistency is the ultimate definition of an ace pitcher.  He’s your stopper, the guy who puts losing streaks and opposing hitters to bed. 

Bundy certainly has the potential to get to that point, but he has his work cut out for him.  Fortunately, he has youth on his side.  And, due to time missed with injuries, he has less mileage on his arm (less than 315 innings, majors and minors combined). 

Then again, his injuries (elbow, shoulder) have been in the worst locations you could think of, for a pitcher.  The team finally released its leash on his cutter, but now that he is throwing it again, will his arm hold up?

This is the first time that Bundy has started the season in the big league rotation.  The team is not considering an innings limit, but they may monitor his workload if he starts showing signs of fatigue.

In fact, once Tillman returns, it might not be the worst idea to skip a start here or there completely, to keep Bundy fresh for the stretch run.  They’ll need him at his best, then.  Long – not short – term success will dictate whether he gets to start working on a placard of his own.    


Roger said...

If last night was any indication, Buck has no intention of keeping him fresh. I was appalled to see him come out for the eighth after he had thrown 99 pitches, 7 shutout innings, and had a 5-0 lead. First thing that happened was three straight baserunners, zero outs, 111 piches, 2 runs, a tighter ballgame, and much more stress on Bundy's arm. Horrible managing. O'Day still had to get three outs but with runners on base.

Jon Shepherd said...

I agree. Added to that...he trotted out in the 8th with no one warmin up. Crazy.

Unknown said...

I question if a guy who is hovering in the 90-91 mph range can be an ace in today's game.

Mr. Diggz said...

Pitchers in their young 20's who miss time to Tommy John surgery is better in the long run, I believe. Not only does the arm potentially come back stronger, it gives the Pitcher a nice long rest period, which is needed considering pitchers start throwing at such a young age. Let's see if the same path will be followed by Hunter Harvey. Or is it Harvey Hunter?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but a little guy, 6' 1", 185 is no "Moose" Never won a big game in his life!

Jon Shepherd said...

No, the arm does not come back stronger. That is demonstrably false. Early studies suggesting young pitchers benefit did not consider survivor effect bias.

Joe Carola said...

@Roger...as a Yankees fan and someone who has Bundy on his fantasy team, I share your frustration with Buck. I guess the issue is, what did the bullpen look like last night? 99 pitches isn't the issue, the issue would be where they a "hard" 99...was he working out of jams all night or was he coasting? With all that being said, I would not have let him start the 8th. Then again, as we know, Buck is from that LaRussa/Valentine/Maddon mold where they are the smartest guys in the room.