A Bad Day at Work

Many of us have jobs. All of us have lives. And one thing that’s true about any job, or about any life, is that sometimes you wake up in the morning and you just don’t have it. Maybe you’re groggy, maybe you’re irritable, maybe you’ve got brain fog, maybe you have a headache. For whatever reason, there are simply bad days, and they can happen at random. They can come right after normal days, and they can come right after great ones. It’s all part of the experience of existence. You learn not to let the bad days define you.

Many of us have jobs, and all of us have lives, but few of us are performers. The average employee, when necessary, can hide herself or put forth a reduced effort. You can make yourself scarce, or even call in sick. If you’re just having a regular weekend day in the dumps, you can choose to stay in, to not engage with the world. Everyone has the right to bad days, and most people have the flexibility to more or less live their bad days in private. Other people don’t have to know when you’re off.

Performers, entertainers, have no such luxury. The responsibility is to perform for an audience, an audience that will quickly realize if something’s not right. The pressure to do well is ever-present, because, one way or another, you’re going to have to do something, and the people will judge you if what you do isn’t good. The stakes can be frightening, even paralyzing, because there’s no option to hide when you’re a performer. A performer like Dylan Bundy.

There’s no easy way to identify the worst start of all time. You’d think it would be simple, but it turns out that “worst” is subjective. Allan Travers once allowed 24 runs in a start, but he also lasted eight innings. Is that better or worse than Howard Ehmke, who once allowed 17 runs in six innings? The lowest game score on record is -56, for George LeClair, who allowed 21 runs in an eight-inning complete game. Johnny Miljus had a game with a higher score, yet he recorded only nine outs. I don’t know where the balance is. It’s one of those things that might be impossible to define.

Here’s what I can tell you: Dylan Bundy started against the Royals, and he didn’t record an out. He faced seven batters, and all of them reached. All of them also scored, and they all scored against Bundy himself, because he allowed four home runs, including three in a row. There have been five starts in history in which a starter allowed eight runs without recording an out. Improbably, Paul Wilson did that twice. On the other hand, Bundy is now the first starter to allow four homers without recording an out. Bundy probably didn’t have the single worst start of all time. But he’s somewhere in the conversation.

It all started with an infield single.

Bundy’s first pitch of the year was delivered to an ovation. An enormous crowd was on hand at Camden Yards to see the Orioles take on the Twins. Part of it was just the fact that baseball was back at all. But the Orioles, also, opened with a glimmer of hope. No one has had any doubt as to where the Orioles are headed as a franchise, but they were hoping to give it one last run before probably losing Manny Machado. The starting rotation was rebuilt, the lineup looked powerful, and it was possible to squint and see the Orioles winning a wild card. Bundy, for his part, had finally tapped into his promise. After years of being a top prospect, Bundy developed into a top starter. On opening day, he spun seven shutout innings. Although Brad Brach blew a save in the ninth, the Orioles walked it off two innings later. 1-and-0. Another in a long line of Orioles one-run wins.

The Orioles lost their next five games. They pulled themselves up to 4-6, but since then they have four wins and 21 losses. It’s not just that the Orioles are bad. There was always a chance that the Orioles would be bad. It’s that the Orioles are this bad, this early. There was talk of trading Machado even before the first day of May. The point of a baseball season is to give any fan base at least a few months of hope. The Orioles wasted little time in destroying it. One game. That’s pretty much what the fans got. Now it’s about looking ahead to trades for prospects. It’s also about monitoring player development. Development of talented young players like Dylan Bundy.

It’s important to understand how much worse it is that this happened to Bundy, of all people. If it happened to Andrew Cashner, that would be bad, but it wouldn’t hurt so deep. Cashner is just some veteran on a Baltimore layover. Bundy is a homegrown talent, and he’s one of precious few bright spots. Machado is great, but he’s in his contract year. Adam Jones has been great, but he’s also in his contract year, and he’s declining. Zach Britton, contract year. Jonathan Schoop has two years left. Kevin Gausman has three years left. Dylan Bundy has four years left. Four remaining years of team control, for a highly-talented 25-year-old. Bundy is one of the only Orioles on the roster who stands a chance of still being around and still being good the next time the Orioles are competitive. He’s a potential core piece on a team without core pieces. If the Orioles were stronger, they wouldn’t be in this position. They’re in this position, and Bundy holds the burden of hope almost entirely upon his own shoulders.

Dylan Bundy is so important to the Orioles. Buck Showalter left the dugout to remove him before Alex Gordon had even reached home plate.

Through Bundy’s first five starts of the season, he looked like one of the best starters in baseball. He had an ERA of 1.42. Over 31.2 innings, he allowed just eight runs, with nine walks and 40 strikeouts. Among starters, he had the fifth-lowest ERA, and he had the fourth-lowest FIP. He had the tenth-best K-BB%. There just wasn’t anything to worry about. Sure, the Orioles themselves appeared dreadful, but at least Bundy was there. He’s maybe the most important one anyway. Maybe, most of the time, the Orioles would be nearly unwatchable. But 20% of the time, there’d be Bundy on the mound. A good starter can make any game worthwhile.

Bundy has started three games since, totaling nine innings. He’s allowed 22 runs, with an ERA of an even 19.00. His release point has gone up, and his velocity has gone down. I don’t know where to begin. I don’t think anyone does. Things have gotten so bad you’re almost inclined to just ignore them and try to flush it all away. If Bundy were just regular bad, the Orioles might attempt some kind of mechanical tweak. As is, all parties might be frozen by disbelief.

In a way, Bundy took no time at all to arrive, since he was drafted fourth overall in 2011, and then he debuted in the majors in 2012. But of course, in another way, Bundy took a very long time to arrive, since he had Tommy John surgery, which was followed by unusual calcification in the shoulder. Bundy didn’t pitch in 2013. He appeared in nine games in 2014. He appeared in eight games in 2015. At times it wasn’t clear whether Bundy would ever put the injury bug behind him. Fans and organizations are loath to give up on prospects as talented as Bundy clearly was, but there was a great amount of worry. Sometimes pitchers just go the way of Danny Hultzen. Some pitchers’ bodies don’t want to let the pitcher pitch.

Bundy worked through it all, everything, from start to finish. He completed a grueling rehab, and then he completed another, motivated the entire time by the prospect of eventually reaching the majors and becoming successful. In the lowest, darkest moments of physical therapy, Bundy would’ve been able to imagine himself on a major-league mound, throwing major-league pitches to strike out major-league batters. No one ever imagines the bad starts. No one ever imagines that, on the other side of all the rehab, there could be an opportunity to stand on a major-league mound and feel completely, utterly embarrassed before some many thousands of people.

A few weeks ago, Eric Lauer made his major-league debut in Coors Field, and he gave up seven runs in three innings. In the bottom of the second inning, he yielded his first career home run, a grand slam off the bat of Trevor Story. As Story rounded the bases, the camera caught Lauer standing on the back of the mound, looking vaguely toward the outfield with a smile on his face. Lauer couldn’t help but appreciate the moment. “My first big-league home run is a grand slam. That’s perfect.”

Dylan Bundy allowed five batted balls, and four of them left the yard. They came off the bat at 90, 106, 107, 107, and 97 miles per hour. The other two batters, Bundy walked, and that was that. Bundy trudged off, having experienced one of the very worst starts imaginable. In the immediate aftermath, Bundy would’ve felt half mad and half humiliated. Time, however, has already passed. Bundy got to fall asleep, and Bundy got to wake up. It’s a new day, now, a new Wednesday, and Bundy of all players can appreciate that it’s the lowest moments that make the good ones so good.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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6 years ago

Jeff, you’re a national treasure.

Aaron Judge's Gavel
6 years ago
Reply to  Snerd

A stark contrast coming over from the Jay Jaffe piece on Paxton’s no-hitter. I was surprised Jeff wasn’t writing about his boy J-Pax. But Jay did a fantastic job detailing Paxton’s no-no, and Jeff did only what Jeff can do with this.

6 years ago

I wonder if MLB has ever seen a day on which there were two more divergent performances than Paxton’s no-hitter and Bundy’s dumpster fire. I’m admittedly not sure how exactly to measure how “divergent” two performances are, but Bundy’s ERA yesterday was undefined, so his ineffectiveness was quite literally beyond definition. I’m thinking that makes yesterday pretty unique, as far as contrasts go.

6 years ago
Reply to  Roger21

Game score would be a pretty easy way to measure SP game divergence, and you are correct probably in that I believe I ready somewhere that Bundy’s game score was one of the worst of all time.

Alex Trebek
6 years ago
Reply to  Slappytheclown

In defense of Travers et al… I imagine that if I were to pitch an MLB game, I would not do worse (results wise) than Bundy did. Not sure I could even physically throw 8 innings.

6 years ago
Reply to  Alex Trebek

“I wonder if MLB has ever seen a day on which there were two more divergent performances than Paxton’s no-hitter and Bundy’s dumpster fire.”

I wonder as well, if anyone else who started Paxton and Bundy in Fantasy. Surely I can’t be the only one. But I COULD be the only one who did it in Ottoneu, that harshest critic of the allowed dinger. The net result was about 9 points for the 9 innings pitched.