Dylan Bundy Made the Blue Jays Look Silly

About a month ago, Travis Sawchik and I posted back-to-back articles about Dylan Bundy and how he could make or break the Orioles’ season. I didn’t exactly say that he was the most important player on the roster not named Machado or Britton, but I heavily implied it in a wink-wink nudge-nudge manner. In Bundy, the Orioles have a former prodigy who could realize his potential in 2017.

He took the first step towards that on Wednesday night.

The Blue Jays don’t have Edwin Encarnacion anymore, but they’re still a hell of ballclub and they’ve still got a potent lineup. It’s not a task to be taken lightly, facing this Toronto lineup — especially when playing at Camden Yards. Bundy had his work cut out for him last night, and he cut his work into fine ribbons. He went seven innings and yielded just one run on four hits while striking out eight and not allowing a single walk. That’s a good line on paper. Let’s see what it really looked like, though.

That doesn’t even get to all of the good stuff. Bundy had the Jays off balance all night and was getting wild-looking swings from them. Nor is it surprising that those swings would be wild: it’s quite possible that Bundy was throwing a pitch he’s rarely, if ever, thrown in a major-league game — his slider.

Though GameDay picked up a lot of changeups last night, and those pitches were the ones with which Bundy did the most damage, Bundy told reporters after the game that he only threw about five of them. That makes a bit more sense, because that supposed changeup was diving like a breaking ball, and it was making hitters look foolish. The Gameday algorithm recorded 37 of his pitches as change-ups, 27 of which generated swings, and 14 of those were whiffs, which would be a pretty spectacular number for a righty throwing a change-up to a right-handed heavy line-up.

But when you look at the movement plot of what he was throwing, it’s pretty clear that these were sliders.

Until now, the Orioles hadn’t allowed Bundy to throw his slider. It’s back now, and goodness gracious it’s nasty. For instance, there was this.

And this.

And he was able to throw his curve into the upper half of the zone for called strikes, like this.

After the game, Bundy said this:

“That was a little surprising,” Bundy said. “The slider was working a little bit better than I thought.”

Yeah.

This wasn’t just him getting lucky. Bundy was in total control last night, and he looked for all the world like the kid we heard so much about for so long. One good start isn’t nearly enough to canonize him as a True Ace. We’re going to need a lot more starts like this, over an extended period of time, before we can start considering that. We’ll probably need more than a full season of it. Just look at how Dallas Keuchel backed up last year after breaking out hard in 2015.

But this is what aces look like when they’re on. Bundy threw 69 of his 99 pitches for strikes, and he was using all of his pitches with incredible effectiveness. He threw only one bad pitch — a changeup that didn’t do a whole lot of changing — to Devon Travis, and that resulted in the one run against him. Bundy poured in strikes, but they were well-placed fastballs and breaking balls that parachuted in from above.

That pattern of usage shows that Bundy knows just how good his slider is, and that he’s not afraid to use it at a liberal rate. That’s not to say that the curve is bad, of course. It’s a good pitch in its own right, and it’s one he can throw for a strike. That’s a very, very dangerous combination for hitters. If Bundy can keep doing that, especially with this slider, he’s going to be a stud.

Is this a sign of things to come? It certainly could be. Bundy’s secondary stuff looked virtually unhittable, and he was locating it. The Orioles didn’t allow Bundy to throw his slider until now, even though it’s very likely his best pitch. With it back in his arsenal, he’s incredibly dangerous now. He’s certainly got the pedigree that says he can reel off a bunch of starts like this against offensive teams like Toronto. If can do this, then the Orioles and their fans, and baseball fans in general, are in for a treat.

There’s also the chance, however, that this was a fluke. This was Bundy’s first outing of the year, and there’s a whole lot of baseball left. Teams are going to put together a scouting report, and once their hitters dissect that and employ their findings in-game, it’s anyone’s guess as to what happens. Bundy is talented enough to work through that.

His arm could break down again. His shoulder could bother him. He could settle in as a good mid-rotation starter who shows flashes of more. There are many possible outcomes here, and only some of them are sexy.

We’re always going to care a little bit more about these sorts of games because it’s Dylan Bundy we’re dealing with here. We were promised an ace, and we want one. Badly. Baltimore badly needs an ace.  By game score, the 79 he posted last night was the second-best start of his young career, behind only the 85 he put up last August agains the rangers. We’re going to take notice when he pitches well, especially when his stuff looks this damn good. We’re enchanted by the idea of a blue-chip prospect breaking through, especially after they’ve gone through the medical maladies that Bundy’s experienced. We like a good story. We like a nasty slider and a total lack of walks even more.

We don’t know what the future holds. There are too many possible outcomes to nail something down after just one start, as wonderful a start as it was. But it’s a promising sign, a statement that Bundy may yet morph into a man who shoves every fifth day. If you’re a Jays fan, or perhaps a Rays, Red Sox or Yankees fan, you might rather that not happen. That’s an understandable sentiment.

Aces are good for baseball, though. Not even just aces, but frontline starters of any sort are good for baseball. They’re good viewing, they’re the catalysts of arguments over who has nastier stuff and who you’d leas want to step into the box against. They’re the guys players mark on their calendars to see whether the games they’ll be in town line up with those pitchers’ starts.

Dylan Bundy could still become that. Last night’s game was an excellent first step. He’ll likely pitch next against the Red Sox, another strong offensive team. He’ll have his work cut out for him again. It’s a game to mark on your calendar.

We hoped you liked reading Dylan Bundy Made the Blue Jays Look Silly by Nicolas Stellini!

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Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.

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trmahoney01
Member
trmahoney01

It’s **early,** but that slider / cutter looks like a difference maker. Also, he started out the first 13 batters with strike one. That was a lot of fun to watch, here’s hoping he can keep this up over ~ 30 starts.