The Baltimore Orioles Need to Get Dylan Bundy Back on Track
If there's one area of the Baltimore Orioles roster that could really use some help, it's their starting rotation.
The O's starting staff is "anchored" by guys like Wade Miley, Chris Tillman, and Ubaldo Jimenez -- they've combined to throw 247 innings so far this season and have accounted for an fWAR of -0.4. If you're keeping track, that number is worse than each of the 69 qualified starting pitchers in 2017. Nice.
The twin rays of hope are Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, who are the only two Oriole pitchers with an fWAR of 1.0 or higher. Gausman hasn't exactly been wonderful this year either, but has seemingly started turning the corner a bit. On the other end of the spectrum, Bundy was exactly what Baltimore needed when the season got underway in April.
Was April That Good?
By just about every metric, he had a terrific first month. He went 3-1 through 32.2 innings of work while pairing that with a shiny 1.65 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. Opposing hitters managed just a .578 OPS against the young right-hander, which also led to a .251 wOBA against.
This performance was indeed solid, but the warning signs for regression were there. His .264 BABIP allowed and 89.0% strand rate had to stabilize, and there was a huge discrepancy between his ERA and SIERA (4.53).
May wasn't nearly as good as April, but it wasn't all that bad. It's just continued to get progressively worse, though.
The Discouraging Trend
Bundy's SIERA hasn't steadily risen, but it's never actually settled in at a good mark. However, his ERA and wOBA allowed have each taken a hit as the calendar continues flipping to a new page. Check out his month-by-month progression in the below table.
For a hurler that dealt with arm troubles (he compiled just 63.1 innings between 2013-15), he still hasn't stretched out very much in a single season. The only time he's thrown more than 100 innings prior to 2017 came last year in the majors when he tossed 109.2 frames.
Now that he's already thrown 119.1 this year, it's not crazy to think that he's worn down a bit. What's been some of the main reasons behind his struggles, though (especially since the start of June)?
Way Too Many Homers
There has been plenty of talk surrounding this season's increase in home runs, along with the actual ball itself potentially being juiced. Whether that's true or not, pitchers have to find a way to adjust and remain effective, and Bundy hasn't exactly done himself any favors.
Not much of a ground-ball pitcher in recent years, he produced just a 35.9% ground-ball rate with the Orioles in 2016 before his current 31.4% mark. His homers allowed per nine innings (HR/9) in April was just 0.55, but that's also gotten worse each month, with the current 2.66 number on pace to be his worst month in 2017.
As one might imagine, the young hurler's batted-ball profile can illustrate where the issue is. The following table details how his line-drive rate (LD%), ground-ball rate (GB%), fly-ball rate (FB%), homer-to-fly-ball ratio (HR/FB%), and hard-hit rate (Hard%) have changed each month this season.
Those homer numbers absolutely appear to be inflated, but a quick glance at some other stats show it's not necessarily an aberration, either -- pairing a fly-ball rate around 50.0% with a hard-hit rate close to 40.0% isn't exactly a recipe for success.
Not Enough Strikeouts
When Bundy enjoyed a cup of coffee in the majors back during the 2012 season (just 1.2 innings), he flashed a fastball that had an average velocity of 93.7 miles per hour. Nearly five years later and a lot of physical setbacks, that number has fallen to 92.1 mph. He's also throwing ol' number one just 53.4% of the time, which is a significant change from 2016 (61.5%).
It seems rather apparent that Bundy is aware he can't pump his fastball in the mid- to upper-90s anymore and needs to use his secondary offerings to keep hitters on their toes. But based off the rise in hard contact and drop in chase rate (32.2% in '16, 29.7% so far in '17), it shouldn't be surprising to see his strikeout rate go from 21.9% last season to his current rate of just 18.6%.
His changeup has technically gotten better compared to 2016 according to Pitchf/x, and while the overall results are there (88 wRC+ allowed), there are some concerning things worth pointing out. The chase rate on this particular offering has dropped (47.9% in '16, 38.3% so far in '17), which can at least partially be responsible for why his strikeout rate has also dropped 11 percentage points in this situation.
Incorporating his slider has yielded solid results (38.9% strikeout rate and 22.3% swinging-strike rate), but that can only help so much when his strikeout rate and swinging-strike rate has decreased in virtually every other pitch compared to last year.
There have been quite a few occasions where Bundy has shown he's capable of leading Baltimore's staff, but like Gausman, there hasn't been a whole lot of consistency. And with the way the rotation is currently constructed, they're the only two Baltimore has any real long-term investment in moving forward.
So, it'll be important to get both of them back on track, with an eye toward building up their confidence for 2018.