Baltimore Gets Quantity for Bundy

In early June of 2012, my friend Ryan and I drove south on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Wilmington, Delaware for the first half of a Carolina League doubleheader, because Dylan Bundy was matched up against Yordano Ventura. The two were so dominant that the seven-inning game was over in an hour and a half, and we had time to hightail it back to the Lehigh Valley for the second game of a doubleheader there (Mark Prior pitched in relief for Pawtucket). Afterward, a scout who now works for a team in a national capacity told me he thought Bundy, who was 19 at the time, could have pitched in the big leagues right then.

Bundy would reach the majors later that year, however briefly, before a rash of injuries would prevent him from pitching in Baltimore again until 2016. It was an ironic twist in what is perhaps this decade’s greatest baseball “what if?” career, because when the Orioles drafted Bundy in 2011, they asked him to scrap his dominant cutter in order to keep him healthy. This was the equivalent of baseball pseudoscience, an old wives’ tale. We were still in the dark ages of player development, and perhaps no dungeon was more medieval than Baltimore’s.

I’m not here to assign blame to anyone, nor would I call Bundy’s career to this point — 7.2 WAR over four full seasons, basically a No. 4/5 starter — a failure, but in high school, Bundy was throwing 100 mph and had a 70- or 80-grade cutter and curveball which, if you classify his pitches a certain way, is basically what Gerrit Cole works with right now. Through some combination of incompetent player development and sheer bad luck, Bundy went from a dominant, polished high schooler with three elite pitches to an oft-injured, low-90s righty who, for a while, used his changeup most often among secondaries.

There are countless tales like this across all sports, from Len Bias to Marcus Dupree, and in many ways the fact that Bundy still became a viable backend starter despite his trials makes his story more frustrating than tragic. At age 27 and with two arbitration years remaining, Bundy was acquired by the Angels last night in exchange for four minor league pitchers. He is good enough to help reinforce the middle/back of a quite young Angels rotation that has been marred by injuries for each of the last several seasons. Bundy will slot into a group consisting of some combination of Shohei Ohtani, Andrew Heaney, Griffin Canning, Jaime Barria, Jose Suarez, and Patrick Sandoval.

The new Orioles regime, which comes from Houston’s pitching development factory, appears to have bettered Bundy in their one year of oversight. Bundy’s release point was altered last season in a way that created more movement demarcation between his four- and two-seam fastball, which helped the two-seamer’s movement better mimic that shape of Bundy’s changeup.

This is the type of developmental coherence that Baltimore will apply to the bevy of pitching prospects they acquired from Anaheim in exchange for Bundy. We’re perhaps better served to look at these new minor league arms — Isaac Mattson, Zach Peek, Kyle Bradish, and Kyle Brnovich — as a group rather than individually, because they all share similar qualities.

For a few years now, forward-thinking teams have been acquiring pitchers who create vertical movement on their fastballs. There are several variables, visual and measurable, that feed into vertical movement. Pitchers with vertical arm slots or who otherwise find some way to backspin their fastballs are often the ones who create it, so let’s take a look at all four pitchers Baltimore got back in this deal.

Notice a trend? This is the mechanical archetype prevalent in Houston’s farm for the last several years. All of these guys have vertical arm slots or hand positions (Brnovich less so, but he has the best breaking ball of the bunch) that help create fastball movement best suited for the top of the strike zone. Bradish is the most extreme of these, as his slot is in Oliver Drake territory. There are longer reports and some pitch data over on the Angels 2019 Board page. All of these prospects will be in the 35+ or low 40 FV territory on the Orioles list, whenever we happen to post it this offseason.

It makes sense for Baltimore to acquire quantity over quality right now, diversify risk and apply the same player dev concepts that have kept Houston’s system flush with viable big league pitchers for the last several years to hopefully make good relievers out of this group, probably so they can be swapped again later for something more.





Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I will take Dylan Bundy’s life over that of Len Bias one billion times if given the chance. Greg Oden seems like a more reasonable comparison.

Ivan_Grushenko
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Ivan_Grushenko

Yes I thought that was an unfortunate comparison