Dylan Bundy has a prospect pedigree as good as anyone in baseball. He was previously Baseball America’s and MLB.com’s number two prospect.
In 2012, his first year out of high school, he made it to the majors. In my March 2014 Orioles’ prospect rankings, I had Bundy as a 9.5/10 talent; I would not lower that evaluation one bit.
The purpose of this article is to show the reader what Bundy’s stat line alone cannot, as Bundy had quite an abnormal 2016.
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Bundy’s 2016 was odd because he signed a MLB contract out of the draft (which MLB no longer allows). Because of this, he was out of options last year and had to spend all of 2016 on the MLB roster. Yet, Bundy had only pitched 65.1 innings in the prior three years, and 170 total in his four-year career due to Tommy John surgery and subsequent injuries. In the 2015 Arizona Fall League, Bundy was shut down after two innings.
Buck Showalter was in a tough spot. The initial plan was to use Bundy as a typical middle reliever for 70ish innings and get him extra innings in the winter. Bundy did not succeed as a typical middle reliever. Over the first two months, he pitched 21 innings, allowing 30 hits and 8 walks, while only striking out 10; even the outs were loud outs.
By the time the calendar flipped to June, Showalter realized that Bundy’s stuff was much crisper when he pitched on a starter’s rest. Used as a reliever on a starter’s rest in June, Bundy posted a 15:2 k:bb ratio in 14.2 innings and a 1.23 ERA and earned a spot in the rotation after the All-Star Break.
In his first start (at Tampa), he threw mainly fastballs, presumably to ease the stress on his arm. He got ahead of hitters, but with just the fastball, was unable to put them away. Tampa poked two just over the fence, and the stat line appeared much worse than his actual performance.
As Bundy continued starting, he mixed in his breaking pitches, and he was electric. He was spotting his mid-90s fastball, his mid-80s change with late movement, and his mid-70s spectacular curve. In addition to the great movement, the large disparity in speeds between the pitches had hitters off balance. Bundy was so unhittable that he carried no-hitters into the sixth inning in back-to-back starts. He was doing all this on a pitch/innings limit, but pitching efficiently.
In his second through fifth starts (Cleveland, Colorado, Texas, White Sox), he went 23.2 innings with 29 strikeouts to only three walks, allowing just 12 hits. That is, he had 11 k/9 and a 0.65 WHIP during that stretch. Yes, this is a small sample, but there was a very small window between when Bundy joined the rotation and when he wore down. Bundy lost 1.5mph on his fastball after July and his control suffered (with his walks increasing). While a possible explanation for the downturn in his performance is that hitters watched tape and adjusted, him wearing down looked to be the largest factor to me.
Bundy did all this without his best pitch: a cutter/slider rated by scouts as an 80/80. Bundy will test this strikeout pitch in the spring, and if it does not bother his arm, he will throw it in 2017. Thinking of Bundy’s arsenal with that pitch is downright frightening, but it is necessary to watch as spring approaches to see if he will use it.
So, what are we to expect for next year? Bundy is always an injury risk, so that needs to be factored into his value. While the Orioles have suggested he has no innings limit (and supported that rhetoric by dealing Gallardo), it is a bit of a moot point, as Bundy will likely wear down near the end of the year if he does not have one. I (optimistically) expect Bundy to be a front line fantasy starter in the first half of the year, possibly striking out a batter or more per inning with a 3.00-ish ERA. However, when he wears down, the control leaves him, velocity goes, and everything falls apart. Thus, his value is highest if you are aware of these signs and react accordingly by trading or benching him. In dynasty leagues his value should be through the roof.
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