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What's Going On With Orioles RHP Dylan Bundy?

April 30, 2019
It wasn't supposed to be like this for Dylan Bundy. On one hand, a few years ago there was the question of whether Bundy would ever be able to avoid injuries enough to keep pitching, period. But on the other hand, Bundy has been able to stay healthy and has shown some promise -- and yet, he's 26 years old and things are moving in the wrong direction.

In his start against the Minnesota Twins April 28, Bundy's first pitch of the afternoon was deposited into the stands in right-center field by Max Kepler. It was a "here we go again" moment for Bundy, who has struggled mightily to begin the season. During the loss, in which he allowed four earned runs in just five innings, there was a mix of good and bad. The good was that Bundy struck out eight batters and at least made it through five innings. The bad included two homers allowed and three walks, though he was also not helped by some shaky defense behind him.

After the game, Bundy's ERA and FIP increased to 6.67 and 6.56, respectively, and he has now managed to toss just 28.1 innings combined in six starts. He's not pitching well, not lasting long in games and is somehow allowing even more home runs per nine innings (2.86) than his MLB-worst 2.15 last season. In 2018, the next closest qualified pitcher was right-hander Mike Fiers at 1.67.

By all accounts, Bundy is not dealing with any health issues. But since 2017, his first full year in the Orioles' rotation, things have steadily gotten worse: 

2017: 4.24 ERA, 4.38 FIP, 21.8 K%, 7.3 BB%, 11.5% HR/FB
2018: 5.45 ERA, 5.17 FIP, 24.5 K%, 7.2 BB%, 17.8% HR/FB 
2019: 6.67 ERA, 6.56 FIP, 26.4 K%, 10.1 BB%, 22.0% HR/FB

The jump in strikeouts from 2017 to 2018 as Bundy leaned more on his slider was nice to see, but that's about it in terms of positives. Looking at the Statcast numbers, Bundy's average exit velocity allowed has mostly stayed the same (between 88-89 mph). But opposing batters have been barreling the ball up more than ever (7.8 Barrel% in 2017, to 8.5% in 2018, to 10.3% so far in 2019). Bundy can register some swings and misses, but batters are all too often able to send his pitches a long way when they make contact.

On top of these issues, there's the ever-present concern of Bundy's declining fastball velocity. In Bundy's first full year in the majors in 2016, when he began the season in the O's bullpen and finished it in the rotation, he averaged 95 mph on his four-seam fastball, a pitch he throws about half the time. Since then, his fastball velocity has decreased every season: 

Orioles 2019: Dylan Bundy chart
Courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net

Bundy is currently averaging a tick more than 91 mph on his fastball. Among the 124 starting pitchers who have thrown at least 20 innings this season, Bundy is tied for 97th in average fastball velocity. 

Now, that doesn't mean Bundy still can't find success. Elite velocity is a good starting point, but it isn't everything. But a lack of it must be paired with strong secondary offerings and command. Bundy's slider was by far his best pitch last season, though he admitted that he probably went to it too often and needed to improve his changeup. It's still early, but while Bundy's changeup has been better, his four-seamer and his slider have been worse. 

In particular, one of Bundy's consistent problems is fastball command. In 2017, he worked the fastball in and out and avoided the middle of the plate. The next season, it would have been tough for his four-seam fastball location to have been worse, and it's not much better in 2019. There's also the curiosity of why he's moved so far to the third-base side of the pitching rubber, and why he's still having issues with his delivery.

This current version of Bundy doesn't really deserve a spot in any starting rotation. Unfortunately, the Orioles are still dealing with the health issues of right-hander Alex Cobb, who just returned to the injured list with a lingering back injury, and there's no one really knocking down the door at Triple-A. That may not still be the case in the next few weeks and months, but there's no urgent reason to do anything drastic with Bundy (especially in a rebuilding season).

And yet, it's worth wondering if a bullpen move could be right for him soon. He excelled in that role in 2016, and as a two- or three-inning guy, he could indeed benefit from not having to face batters multiple times through the order. He could also see an uptick in velocity since he wouldn't be needed for 90-plus pitches. That summer, Bundy was averaging up to 96 mph on his fastball before the switch to the rotation.

Bundy was surely hoping for a bounce-back season. The Orioles were hoping for one, too, so they'd have another trade chip to work with. Instead, Bundy could find himself in the bullpen before too long, and there's no quick fix within sight.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox