AL WestAnalysis

How Dylan Bundy Fixed Himself

Dylan Bundy, for the better part of his amateur and minor league career, was supposed to be an ace. At Owasso High School he was absurd, with an ERA of 1.08 putting him on the map his junior year, and a 0.30 ERA senior year solidifying his place as one of the 2011 draft class’s elite, which as a current high school student makes me want to shoot myself into outer space. Furthermore, Dylan Bundy wasn’t your typical high school pitcher who has only one or two good pitches, Bundy had an electric four pitch mix that included an upper nineties fastball, a cutter, a changeup, and a curve. Bundy would have likely been a top 3 pick in almost any other draft. However, there were big names like current star pitcher Danny Hultzen, and future draft busts like Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer who were even higher ranked than Bundy. This allowed Bundy to fall to the fourth pick in the draft, where the then rebuilding Orioles team was more than happy to draft him. At this point, the Orioles thought they had their future ace, and Bundy was more than happy with his absurd 5 year 6.2 million dollar MAJOR LEAGUE CONTRACT out of High School. The future was bright in Baltimore, and Bundy looked to be a key part of that future.

Dylan Bundy was throwing absolute gas out of high school, with a fastball that touched 100 miles per hour and a cutter in the mid 80s. This velocity initially propelled him through the Orioles minor league system, even getting a September callup in 2012 where he pitched 1.2 scoreless innings. However, in 2013 Bundy suffered a fate common for flamethrowers like himself, Tommy John surgery. While it is worth noting that most pitchers return from Tommy John, guys like Bundy don’t always retain their velocity, the best example of this being fellow flamethrower Stephen Strasburg in 2010. In any event, Bundy went from a fastball that could reach 100 miles per hour to one that rarely touches 95 even today, a huge setback to his promising career. However, Bundy wasn’t done, as he returned in 2014 and 2015 where he would post ERAs under four in both seasons. However, these seasons were also marred by injuries, as he was only healthy from his return from Tommy John in July 2014 to July 2015 due to a shoulder injury. At this point Bundy had fallen hard from the 2nd ranked prospect in the league in 2012 to outside the top 100 going into 2016. Despite this, however, he impressed the Orioles enough in his limited playing time to get a Spring Invite, and that’s all he needed.

Dylan Bundy earned a spot on the Orioles roster in 2016, where he was initially used as a bullpen arm, and later as a starter after the All-Star break. Bundy looked to be just okay in 2016 with a 1.38 WHIP and a 4.70 FIP, however, Bundy was only 23 at the time, and the spin rate on his 4 seam fastball was still elite, so there was reason to be optimistic. However, Bundy had a lot of trouble with line drives, as he allowed the best batted ball out there 28 percent of the time. Bundy would pitch in Baltimore for 3 more seasons after 2016, and the Orioles were unable to get any improvements out of him for the first two years, as he gave up a league leading 41 home runs in 2018 along with a 78 ERA+. However, as bad as Baltimore was in 2019, this was when Bundy started making the improvements that would allow for his 2020 breakout. These improvements included, but were not limited to, an increase in his GB/FB ratio and a decrease in hard hit balls. This progression can best be explained through Bundy’s more effective 2019 pitch location, as he began to lower his curve to be lower and sometimes be out of the zone. This location adjustment allowed for the expected slugging percentage off his curveball to fall to just .334, after being .628 in 2018.

2018 and 2019 Curveball Locations

Additionally, Bundy also improved his changeup in 2019, as the xWOBA off of this pitch dropped from .403 to .303 in 2019. However, Bundy still wasn’t great in 2019, as hitters were still hitting .335 off of his four seam fastball, his most used pitch. Not sensing the potential in Bundy, Baltimore traded him in the offseason for a few pitching prospects. This was great for Bundy, as he got to go from an Orioles team known for their lackluster pitching development to being paired with a great pitching coach in Mickey Callaway.

Partly in thanks to Callaway, Bundy was fantastic with a rock solid 1.04 WHIP and 2.95 FIP, a performance that was good enough to net him 9th place in that year’s Cy Young voting. One of the primary adjustments that Bundy made in 2020 was in the effectiveness of his fastball, as he only threw the pitch 33 percent of the time in 2020, down nearly 10 percent from the year prior. The reason Bundy was able to do this was because of his improved arsenal of off-speed pitches, as both his aforementioned curveball and his slider had expected opponent batting averages under the Mendoza line in 2020. This made it so hitters could no longer sit fastball against Bundy, and thus hitters only hit .241 off the pitch, a far cry from hitters hitting above .300 on the pitch just two years prior. Angels GM Perry Minasian probably didn’t intend on Bundy being in Los Angeles for particularly long, but his 2020 breakout may be good enough to warrant an extension.

2021 has been a lot more of the same for Dylan Bundy even though Callaway has been absent from the team because of off the field reasons. Bundy’s ERA may be somewhat inflated from last year, but his xERA still sits at 2.84, which is even better than his numbers from last year, showing that Bundy may still be improving, and that the Angels would be idiotic not to bring him back considering the state of their pitching staff.

Sam Hicks-Jirkans

I'm a writer focusing mainly on the Cincinnati Reds and any player or set of players I find interesting. You can find me on Twitter at @sam_hicksj

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