(Originally written before last Sunday)
It was announced that Orioles pitcher Dylan Bundy will start this Sunday on the road against the Rays. The move makes sense — the Orioles need good starting pitching and Bundy could become a good starter. I think Bundy will do very well as a starter, and in this article I’ll talk about why.
Dylan Bundy’s career started with incredible promise. Drafted fourth overall, his first eight starts in the minors were punctuated by a 0.00 ERA and a 20/1 K/BB ratio. By the end of the year, he was considered the top prospect in all of baseball. The next few years were rife with injuries — first Tommy John surgery in 2013, followed by complications in his shoulder which caused him to miss almost the entire year in 2014. Bundy hasn’t looked like the same pitcher since. His fastball velocity this season started at 92 MPH, much lower than the high 90s we saw in the minors. But since the beginning of June, Bundy has made a remarkable turnaround. Since June 9, the numbers are beyond outstanding, with 14.1 IP, 19 SO, only 4 BBs, and 0 earned runs. But the peripheral stats are even better.
I am currently in the process of writing an article about how I think the most important skill of a starting pitcher is getting to two strikes quickly. Since June 9, Bundy has done this better than any pitcher in baseball. In the top 10: Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg, arguably three of the best pitchers in baseball. This obviously is not to say that Bundy is one of the best pitchers in baseball; his track record is far, far too short to proclaim that. But it bodes well for Bundy that over the past month he is controlling the ball as well as baseball’s top pitchers.
Bundy’s fastball velocity is also encouraging. Bundy throws a rising four-seam fastball, which bodes well for his ability to miss bats. But at the low 90s, he wasn’t able to generate a lot of swings and misses, and as a fly-ball pitcher was susceptible to home runs. Last appearance, Bundy threw his fastball harder than he’s ever thrown it.
The chart may not look like much, but there’s a clear trend here: Up. His fastball velocity has increased over 4 MPH since the beginning of the season, which is a gigantic leap.
The Orioles desperately need starting pitching, and Bundy could be that answer. The Orioles do not have the worst starting pitching in the league. In terms of WAR, that is currently the Reds. But the Orioles’ staff is really bad, even if they look worse pitching in a hitter’s park. Chris Tillman is their only competent starter, while the rest of their rotation contain some of the worst pitchers in the league. So stretching Bundy into a starter seems appealing.
There is a risk that Bundy will be much worse as a starter. Pitchers are notorious for throwing harder in the bullpen than they would as a starter, and given that the majority of Bundy’s success has come at a higher velocity, it would be reasonable to assume Bundy will not be nearly as effective as a starter as he is as a long reliever. I think this is correct thinking; we should not expect Bundy to start and still average 11 K/9. But his numbers as a reliever have been elite, so there is a lot of room for Bundy to come down and still be a quality starting pitcher. Starting pitcher is where Bundy has the most upside, and the sooner he gains experience, the sooner we can expect him to improve.
Bundy will probably do well this Sunday, especially against a Rays team that strikes out the second-most in the league. Don’t think this is a mirage. Bundy has the stuff and command to succeed, and I think we will see that as a starter.