Last year, Orioles right-hander Dylan Bundy produced the worst season of his major league career, as he recorded a 5.45 ERA and 5.17 FIP over 171 2/3 innings while giving up a big-league leading 41 home runs. White Sox starter James Shields was next on the list with 34 long balls surrendered.
There’s no way he could be worse in 2019, right? He’s a clear bounce-back candidate.
Well, things didn’t look that way to start this season. In Bundy’s first six starts of this year’s campaign, he pitched to a 6.67 ERA and 6.57 FIP over 28 1/3 innings, averaging less than five innings each time he took the ball. His home runs per nine innings was at 2.86, even higher than his mark of 2.15 in 2018. The 26-year-old was once regarded as the best pitching prospect in all of baseball, but questions began to surface of whether or not he belonged in a major league starting rotation.
Since the start of May, however, he has seemed to find his groove. Over his last seven outings, Bundy has compiled a 3.02 ERA and 4.23 FIP over 41 2/3 innings, averaging nearly six (5.95) innings per start. He has struck out 36 batters, walked 11 and given up six home runs in this span.
Is Bundy just gradually getting warmer to parallel the temperature outside this season, or is there a method to the turnaround?
In his first six starts of the year, Bundy relied heavily on his fastball, which has noticeably dropped in velocity over the years.
Since the end of April, though, the right-hander has decreased his fastball frequency, while increasing the use of all his off-speed offerings.
So far in 2019, opposing batters have been hammering Bundy’s fastballs, batting .316 off his four-seam fastball and .333 off his two-seamer. Opponents are also slugging .632 and .500 off the two types of fastballs, respectively.
The numbers are much lower for his secondary offerings, however.
With hitters doing a tremendous job jumping on Bundy’s fastball – which is averaging 91.5 mph this season – it is refreshing to see the young right-hander make the necessary adjustments to get back on track. He doesn’t have the high velocity he once had as a prospect. Some have assumed there’s an injury concern that isn’t being revealed, but Bundy has insisted he feels fine physically. At this point he has to live with the fact that his fastball isn’t going to blow hitters away anymore, thus forcing him to find new ways to attack hitters.
In fact, he continued to make another adjustment into Sunday’s start in Houston. In each of his last six starts prior to Sunday, he threw his fastballs no more than 44.9 percent of the time. The Astros may have kept an eye on that heading into the matchup, so Bundy cranked some of his fastball usage back up.
He threw 48.4 percent four-seam fastballs and 7.7 percent two-seamers, his second-highest usage mark of the season on the latter. If Houston came into the game prepared for a heavy dose of Bundy’s off-speed offerings, he countered them with more fastballs to keep them off balance. The Astros batted .111, .333 and .333 off Bundy’s four-seam, two-seam and change-up, respectively, while not getting a hit off his slider or curve. He only threw three curveballs Sunday for a 3.30 percent usage rate, his second lowest of the season on the pitch.
Maybe he’ll make another adjustment in his next outing at home against the Boston Red Sox. Perhaps he’ll use the bender a bit more to continue to keep hitters off balance. The days of Bundy being a young flamethrower are in the past, but his ability to mix in his change-up and two breaking balls could save his starting pitching career.