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Dylan Bundy and his odd success

After making his debut in 2012, Bundy has finally broken out after a rash of injuries and development roadblocks.

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

With a great start to 2017, Dylan Bundy may be emerging as the ace the Orioles have been looking for since 2008, when they dealt Erik Bedard for a bunch of nice things. However, Bundy’s early season success has been a bit odd. His profile is rather unique, and filled with things that are going to be hard to sustain in either direction.

Bundy made an abbreviated debut with the Orioles in 2012, after being drafted out of high school in 2011. That short debut was supposed to be a sign of things to come for the righthander, who was seen as a can’t-miss pitching prospect. However, his 2013 was completely shut down due to Tommy John, and he returned in 2014 with mixed results in limited time. Then, in 2015, he hit yet another roadblock as he came down with calcification in his shoulder.

Bundy’s first full season back from his injury woes came in 2016. Due to his lack of minor league options, he was forced to spend the whole season in Baltimore, as an attempted demotion would’ve let another team pick him up via waivers. He essentially spent the first half of the season as a reliever and the second half as a starter. The results were varying, as Bundy struck out 18.3 percent more batters as a starter, but also walked 26.5 percent more. His aggregate statistics also took a bit of a dip as well in the starting role, as both his ERA and FIP rose.

Dylan Bundy’s 2016 by Role

2016 Role Innings Strikeout % Walk % ERA FIP BABIP HR/9
2016 Role Innings Strikeout % Walk % ERA FIP BABIP HR/9
Starter 71.2 23.5% 9.8% 4.52 5.24 .257 1.88
Reliever 38 19.2% 7.2% 3.08 3.67 .368 0.71

All in all, it was a successful season due to the simple fact that he survived it without injury. The development time that had been paused was now restarted.

Through seven starts this season, Bundy is performing exceptionally well. He currently boasts a 2.17 ERA, the product of seven quality starts. That has resulted in him tying for sixth among all pitchers in RA-9 WAR. Bundy’s 1.1 fWAR and 3.44 FIP also slide in at 11th and 23rd, respectively, among all starters. Baseball Prospectus’ metrics are less bullish, placing him 42nd in bWARP. Still, it’s fair to say that Bundy has pitched well to open the season, even if it’s not totally clear how well.

What’s interesting are the underlying numbers behind his start. First off, Bundy isn’t striking out anyone. Bundy’s 15.9 percent K rate sits 81st in the league among starters with his counterpart, Kevin Gausman, at 85th. Throughout his pro career, Bundy had always been able to finish batters with strikeouts. It’s surprising that his second consecutive healthy year in the big leagues has changed that, especially when he finally added his revered out pitch back to his repertoire. On top of that, his swinging strike rate is only down 7 percent, from 10.5 percent to 9.8 percent, yet he’s seen a 37.7 percent drop in his strikeout rate, which was 21.9 percent the year prior.

Second, Bundy is doing a great job of keeping runners on the basepaths. His LOB percentage is 13th at 84.4 percent. Considering his lack of strikeouts, it makes sense. He has to make up outs elsewhere. Generally, you’d expect that number to falter, but if he can sustain it, it could be a huge boon for him in the summer launch pad that is Camden Yards.

Finally, hitters are lifting the ball against him. Bundy’s 31.3 percent ground ball rate is good for fourth-lowest in the big leagues. To expand on that, his HR/FB rate currently sits 11th in the league at 0.59. Bundy has made a living at forcing poor, airborne contact to generate outs. As I said previously, Camden Yards can be home run prone in the summer, so that may be problematic later on.

His LOB rate may be a product of the other two frivolities working in tandem. Looking at his pitch level data, there’s a clear distinction between both his approach and the results when the plate appearance shifts to two strikes.

Dylan Bundy Pitch Level Data 2017

Pitch Type Usage - Early Strike Counts Usage - 2 Strikes Whiffs - Early Strike Counts Whiffs - 2 Stikes GB% - Early Strike Counts GB% - 2 Strikes
Pitch Type Usage - Early Strike Counts Usage - 2 Strikes Whiffs - Early Strike Counts Whiffs - 2 Stikes GB% - Early Strike Counts GB% - 2 Strikes
Fourseam 46.21% 40.83% -11.64% 6.25% 7.63% 22.08% 3.12% 5.93% 90.06%
Sinker 5.23% 4.15% -20.68% 6.90% 0.00% - 10.35% 16.67% 61.06%
Change 17.87% 14.53% -18.67% 14.14% 11.90% -15.84% 8.08% 11.90% 47.28%
Slider 18.23% 26.30% 44.25% 27.72% 17.11% -38.28% 1.98% 7.89% 298.48%
Curve 12.45% 14.19% 13.91% 2.90% 4.88% 68.28% 2.90% 4.88% 68.28%
Brooks Baseball

As Bundy enters two-strike counts, he moves more of his repertoire to his breaking pitches. His slider, which on early counts produces the highest whiff rate by far, interacts with hitters completely differently with two strikes. The near 40 percent drop in whiff rate and the three fold increase in ground ball rate are signs, coupled with the near across the board trends on other pitches, that Bundy may be valuing the strikeout less than generating weak contact.

Bundy taking an abbreviated starter’s load last season prepared him for his full-time role in the rotation this year. In a rotation that still features Ubaldo Jimenez for some reason, Bundy will be relied on steadily, and will need to keep up his performance for the Orioles to be successful this season.