06 December 2017

With No Limitations, Can Dylan Bundy Be Even Better In 2018?

Dylan Bundy's performance in 2017 was a welcome sight. It's indisputable that the Orioles, for an extended period of time, have not done a competent job of developing starting pitchers. But this past season, while Bundy was not great, he was pretty good. It just so happened that much of the rotation surrounding him fell apart.

Considering Bundy's injury history and the uncertainty of what his right arm could handle, about 170 innings of pretty good was more than acceptable. Going in, the O's apparently had an innings limit of around 180 in mind. It never seemed like they drew a line in the sand with that number, and that maybe it was more of a target to reach.

Bundy fell about 10 innings short of 180, but how well did the Orioles handle him? They gave him extra days off. They seemed to be on the same page with him. An early September report indicated the O's would remove Ubaldo Jimenez from the rotation and potentially keep Bundy on regular rest, but that didn't happen. Bundy was even held out of what was supposed to be his last start of the season with a (fortunate?) hamstring strain. Oddly enough, Buck Showalter said that he "had some apprehension quite frankly about pitching him" that day. So, uh, it worked out.

That doesn't mean there were no eyebrow-raising moments. Again, the O's gave Bundy more space in between some starts, but he did throw a lot of pitches during those starts. He threw 101 pitches per start, tied for 10th most in the majors. He also threw between 110-119 pitches 16 times, which tied for 21st most. That might not seem too bad, but it's maybe a little surprising since it was his first full year as a major league starter.

Bundy's excellent outing on August 29 against the Mariners also became a topic of discussion. That night, he allowed one hit (a bunt single), struck out 12, and walked two in a 116-pitch, complete game shutout. It was a masterful performance. It even led to this Jeff Sullivan post at FanGraphs.

I was surprised and conflicted to see Bundy pitch that final inning, but I admit it was still cool to see (and he surely appreciated the moment, if you care about such things). Some, like Keith Law, noted that Bundy was still in the game in a questioning way. In a reply to a follower's tweet, Law mentioned that Bundy "hasn't been the same since he was worked hard at the end of last year." That's a weird thing to talk about after someone throws a one-hitter!

Anyway, is it true? Bundy didn't start a game last year until after the all-star break. He began the year with an average fastball velocity of 94+ mph, and that ramped up to 96 in June and July. In the last two months of the season, when he was exclusively a starter, his velocity dipped back down to 94.

If you were expecting Bundy to remain in the mid-90s with his fastball in 2017, you were probably disappointed. Bundy averaged 92.5 mph on his fastball this past season. Maybe that's what Law is referring to.

Even still, without that extra velocity, Bundy was better in his starts in 2017 vs. 2016. Take a look:

2016: 71.2 IP, 4.52 ERA, 5.24 FIP, 9.04 K/9, 3.77 BB/9
2017: 169.2 IP, 4.24 ERA, 4.38 FIP, 8.06 K/9, 2.71 BB/9

Bundy's ERA and FIP were both team bests for the Orioles. He lost a strikeout per nine innings, but he cut down one walk, too. He broke out his vaunted slider (or cutter), and it was easily his best swing-and-miss pitch. His fastball, curveball, and changeup all generated fewer whiffs, though.
Did the reintroduction of the slider to his pitch repertoire lead to lower velocity? (Dan Duquette might tell you that, though there doesn't appear to be much proof.) Is this what fans can expect from the Bundy who's a full-time starter, let alone one who (hopefully) approaches 200 innings in 2018?

If that's the case, that's perfectly fine. Even though he's shown flashes, maybe Bundy won't be a true ace. But it's still worth being hopeful that he was good in his first full year as a starter, and he didn't break down. There were signs of fatigue, yet worrying about Bundy's health is something that won't go away anytime soon.

At the moment, he's the one starting pitcher O's fans can count on the most, and there likely won't be much talk of an innings limit on him next season. Considering everything that's happened with Bundy in his O's career, he has to feel pretty good about where things are for him. Fans should feel the same way.


Anonymous said...

Let's hope Hunter Harvey can duplicate Bundy's path.

Pip said...

And soon. This year would be great. And the company writers sure seem to think that's more probable than not.

Unknown said...

Given that the Orioles aren't likely to pull the trigger on a rebuild and all signs point to making one last attempt to contend this season, the goal would be to build a team that looks like a serious postseason contender. As I said below another article recently, I think the best chance for that is if Gausman is the Orioles best pitcher this year. I think he has a higher ceiling, at least for 2018. He still has the better pitch repertoire - his fastball hangs around the top 10 among qualified starters in velocity and the top 5 in horizontal movement, and his splitter seems very hard for hitters to pick up when he's throwing well - and his command is solid for 5- to 6-start stretches. The problem is that for him to succeed 2 criteria have to be met: he has to keep his delivery from getting too closed to maintain command, especially to the outside corner, and he can't think he's being relied upon to lead the rotation. As I said then, his performance seems to often be inversely related to expectations. If the team actually goes out and signs two guys who show up ahead of Gausman on the early-season depth chart, he'll have his best chance to go out and pitch well.

Almost all of the serious contenders have at least one guy at the top of the rotation who can be dominant. I don't see Bundy being that guy, at least not yet. I think it has to be the Gas Man if it's going to happen at all. Bundy may take a step forward, but I think that would look more like improved consistency over 2017 rather than substantially greater dominance (although admittedly he was pretty dominant in August).

Matt Kremnitzer said...

It scares me that the Orioles are going to push Harvey, but I wouldn't be surprised by it.

Pip said...

Everyone outside the organization who comments on the Harvey situation is taking aback by the apparent disregard for the need to bring him along carefully.
It would be interesting for you guys at the depot to consider the pros and cons of such a move.
I have said before that I strongly believe that Dan does not know how to adequately evaluate pitching, and he seems to discount the opinions of those who do, so whether or not the Harvey is in the rotation next year may have nothing to do with whether it is good for him.

Jon Shepherd said...

Buck has pushed almost every decision on Bundy, so it is not exactly one guy orchestrating it all.

Unknown said...

You don't go from low A to majors in one season.

Jon Shepherd said...

That happens for a few players each year. An extreme would be someone like Chris Sale who went to MLB after only 11 MiL appearances.