It wasn’t too long ago where Dylan Bundy was as much of a can’t miss prospect as you find (as far as pitching prospects go, if you believe in their existence). Featuring a mid to high 90s fastball with both a strong slider and curveball, although the organization scrapped his cutter that may have been his best pitch when he was drafted, due to concerns about arm health. All in all, the Orioles’ fourth overall pick was shaping up to be a beauty.
Well, there’s a reason for the phrase “there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect.” Bundy was an easy top 3 prospect after his 2012 season, but his 2013 season never took off, having Tommy John surgery despite the organization’s efforts to keep his arm healthy (although this is often due to overuse in high school, and may have been an inevitability). He came back in 2014 with what were essentially conditioning stints in low and high A ball, preparing him to go back to Double A in 2015, where he had already spent time in 2012. However he suffered shoulder troubles after the surgery, likely a cause of changed mechanics and mentality after his initial injury, and still only threw 22 innings in 8 games in 2015.
By 2016 the Orioles put him in the majors to sink or swim, switching him between bullpen and starter to manage his innings effectively. It wasn’t a great year for a 23-year-old rookie, a 4.02 ERA, 4.70 FIP, but some discipline numbers to build on at 21.9% and 8.9%. He saw some minor improvements the next year in 2017, with a FIP down to 4.38, the same strikeout rate, but a walk rate cut to 7.3%. He was trending in the right direction, although it was a slow movement and not necessarily a certainty that he was going to live up to the hype, in any shape.
So far this year we’ve seen Bundy cut his walk rate once again, down to just 6.5%. In addition, his strikeout rate has jumped way up to 32.5%, one of the best marks in the league at this point. While it’s important to remember how small this sample size is, just three starts, it should also be mentioned that discipline rates tend to stabilize very early, and while outlier numbers will gravitate back towards their true value, this is more or less what we can expect from him.
Bundy is late to the party, but he added a sinker this year that’s giving him much better results. He’s throwing it 12% of the time, taking away solely from the four seamer which has gone from touching upper 90s to sitting in the lower 90s. Now his four seamer comes in just 43%, as opposed to the 54% we saw from it last season. This is a scenario where neither the four seamer nor the sinker are tremendous pitches in their own rights, but thanks to a little game theory, they work off of each other to help make each other better, and maximize the value of his breaking pitches.
His four seamer dropped from 0.7 runs below average to 5.7 runs below average from 2016 to 2017, and this year it’s up to 0.6 runs above average while the sinker is at 1.2 runs above. This has helped him work on all of his off-speed pitches, but has had the most effect on his slider, which has turned into a true out pitch, worth 3.9 runs above average in just his three starts so far.
But let’s not expect Bundy to keep up the numbers simply because of his prospect pedigree and early season optimism. He’s made good adjustments, but they are more of the quick fix variety than the overhaul to turn himself to the ace we expect. Projection systems are still not sold, although they are notoriously cautious with breakouts. We should also note something extremely important written at length by Craig Edwards (it’s a fantastic read that goes even further in-depth on the subject) where Bundy is getting his performance thanks to extra rest. The Orioles’ playoff status is certainly unknown at this point in the year, but if they are contenders Bundy won’t have the luxury of waiting for his starts, they’re going to need him on regular rotation. He has definitely improved, and if available, worth a pickup, but maintaining ace level status the rest of the way is very optimistic.
Dylan Bundy is most definitely creeping closer to the player we were all hoping for earlier in his career. He’s beginning to look like a true ace, but his peripheral hint more at his progression being linear instead of exponential: essentially he has a couple of years to reach that high ceiling. If you own him, he’s a huge sell high candidate if you can get someone to bite on his prospect status. If you can pick him up on waivers still, he’s still useful for this year or even to hang on and see if his value even increases. Bundy is on the way, but not quite there yet.
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