The last time we checked in with Dylan Bundy, he wasn’t doing so hot. My, how a month-and-a-half can change things.
Almost from the moment that piece was published, Bundy began turning things around, pitching 36 innings of 2.00 ERA baseball for the month of August and throwing the best game of his career, a complete-game shutout of the Seattle Mariners. He’s been less fortunate in September — he started the month with a stinker against the Yankees, who have annihilated Oriole pitching all season, before rebounding with a quality start against the Blue Jays with no offensive help — but Bundy has definitively put to rest any lingering questions about innings limits or outing length.
Even more important than the shiny August ERA was the fact that after not having a single start all season in which he pitched past the seventh inning, Bundy managed two last month. He’ll likely end the year between 175 and 180 innings and an ERA in the 4.00-4.10 range, barring any more blowups in what should be his final three starts.
What do we know about Bundy now that we didn’t know in August? Beyond the workload question, not terribly much. He’s been incredibly consistent so far as a major league pitcher, with his current 4.03 ERA nearly matching last year’s 4.02 ERA. However, a 107 ERA+ as Bundy’s baseline, normal performance — as he ages into his prime — would be frustrating for a pitcher with as much potential as Bundy had when he was drafted into the league. He still sometimes flashes that potential when his offspeed pitches are working properly and he can command his fastball.
Pitch command and pitch control remain an organizational blight for the Orioles; Bundy has improved in this department from the previous season, but still has games where he’ll lose the zone — he’s had four four-walk starts this year, one of which came in that Yankee game to start September, which is the same as the number of 0-walk starts he’s thrown. Reasonably speaking, there’s probably not much more that can be improved here; Bundy throws a decent amount of strikes as it is. But his control over his pitches — the precise place the ball ends up as it crosses through the hitting zone, not whether it’s a ball or a strike — is still too mercurial. Some games he can bury his offspeed pitches so they’re diving out of the zone by the time the hitter has committed to his swing; other times they remain very reachable, and major league batters are good enough to take advantage of all but the nastiest reachable pitches. Ask Aroldis Chapman about his location problems this year.
In a larger sense, this is good but not great news for Baltimore. The wish-fulfillment dreamland outcome for the rotation in 2017 was that Kevin Gausman would take another step forward after his progress in 2016 to become the clear staff ace, that Bundy would break out into a clear No. 2 starter, and that Chris Tillman would hold down the middle of the rotation while Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez wreaked their trademark havoc on the rotation’s ERA every fourth or fifth day.
No one except Jimenez and Miley came close to achieving their place in that fairy-tale land, and even among those with more reasonable expectations, Bundy’s ERA is still too high for a top-two rotation starter — let alone the guy who is anchoring it. Gausman, of course, has needed nearly two months of solid pitching to bring his ERA down under five, and there are serious questions about Tillman’s future as a major leaguer following last year’s recurring shoulder injuries and this year’s dismal performance.
Given that the best starting pitching prospect the O’s have in the high minors is Hunter Harvey, who has thrown just over 30 combined innings over the past two years, and the team’s organizational pitcher of the year is a kid from Australia named Alex Wells — who is a 20-year-old at Single A Delmarva with a high-80s fastball who made his bones this year exploiting the poor plate discipline of hitters at that level — it’s more than reasonable to believe that reinforcements aren’t exactly on the way. Both of the most recent big pitcher signings by the current Baltimore front office have been disastrous.
None of that is Dylan Bundy’s fault, of course; he just needs to go out and play his game. But while his game this year has been pretty good, and it’s all anyone could have reasonably expected from him in his first full season as a starter, by itself it’s not enough. No one pitcher, no matter how good, will fix what plagues Oriole pitching.