Do you know who hasn’t been good? Dylan Bundy hasn’t been good. In fact, he’s been quite bad. After something of a breakout year in his first season with the Angels, Bundy currently has an ERA of 6.49 over 10 starts that’s somehow not the worst in MLB. That’s all Matt Shoemaker. But after giving up eight home runs over his past four starts, it sure seems like Bundy is lost right now. He is, but I think he’ll be just fine.
I quite enjoy Bundy. He can do just about everything. When healthy, he can put his pitches where he wants to, and when it comes time to do so, he can put hitters away with his slider. He’s got the curveball and changeup that he can lean on, and his fastball isn’t the albatross it was years ago. But aside from his sinker, he’s seen all of his pitches reduce in efficacy this year.
If you were to just glance at Bundy’s yearly numbers, you might think that his 2020 was just a fluke. In a vacuum, I think it’s a pretty fair statistical argument. It was the one year that he’s been able to suppress home runs at all, and now they’re back and as bad as ever. Home runs are one of the noisest statistics of all in baseball, and if he’s giving up more with a deadened ball, that doesn’t exactly instill confidence. As it turns out, Bundy has been hampered by a foot injury. Per Rhett Bollinger:
He’s also been dealing with a foot injury that could be hampering his ability to locate the ball. His strikeout rate and walk rate are similar to last year, but his home run rate has tripled. So it’ll be about keeping the ball in the park going forward for him to turn it around.
Pitching hurt never goes well. Some say that pitchers are always pitching a little hurt. But this is something else. Bollinger doesn’t go into much detail, but this seems like it goes beyond a minor ailment. You’d think something minor might affect, say, 20% of your performance. But Bundy has dropped from a 65 FIP- to 124 FIP-. That’s hardly 20%. He went from performing 35% better than league average to 24% worse than league average. He’s been nearly as bad as he was good.
Bollinger doesn’t give us a point in time in which Bundy tweaked his ankle, so I had to dig. Here’s the moment in question:
Bundy clearly isn’t comfortable walking around. At least at first. He hobbles around for a second, but looks like he’s ready to grit through it as he walks it off. Manager Joe Maddon and the Angels’ trainer come out to take a look at him, but he was apparently good enough that he was able to throw one last pitch to Dylan Moore.
His leg kick isn’t as high as usual, but that’s not uncommon for him when he’s got a runner on first. If you didn’t know he’d just tweaked his ankle, then you wouldn’t think much of this. Lucky for us, he made it through the entire outing, which means that we should have a clean before and after injury comparison.
Bundy was tracking to post numbers akin to his 2020 campaign. But since he’s been hurt, he’s been a shell of himself across the board. I find the deterioration of his command compelling as a strong explanation for his regression. Before I found out about his injury, I was going to talk about his slider. Even now, with knowledge of his injury, I’m still going to talk about his slider. Aside from location, there aren’t any other red flags. His velocity and pitch movement have held. His pitch mix is mostly intact. Same with his release point. So it makes sense that command is our point at issue here.
Here’s a pertinent tweet, via Justice delos Santos:
Here are the locations on the three home runs that Bundy allowed. All of them were missed spots. pic.twitter.com/mTOIaOZGZU
— Justice delos Santos (@justdelossantos) May 31, 2021
On most home runs, you’ll find that the pitcher missed their spot. Every so often, they’ll make their pitch, but the hitter is just better and hits it out anyways. That’s happened to Bundy just like any other pitcher this year—the Athletics did it to him twice in one day—but now his secondaries are getting touched up more than ever. It’s not the pitches themselves. Look where he’s locating them.
First, his 2020 fastball location versus 2021:
And his curveball:
In 2020, Bundy located all of his pitches as well as he ever had. He kept both of his fastballs and his changeup to his arm-side, and his slider to the bottom corner of the zone or below. Along with a career-low fastball percentage, those things certainly helped him optimize both his whiff numbers and barrel suppression, and Bundy quietly started locating his curveball in the middle of the zone. It was virtually never swung at, and he dropped it in for a strike more than 46% of the time. Even that is getting hit harder now.
What’s interesting is Bundy is throwing strikes about as well as ever. His 32.8% CSW is just short of his 34.2% CSW from 2020, but still significantly up from the 28.9% CSW he posted through 2019. The difference isn’t the percentage of balls that he’s allowing into play, either. It’s that when they are put in play, hitters are really capitalizing.
To bring it full circle, Bundy’s slider has never been so hittable. Bundy’s overall ball in play percentage might be unchanged, but his slider has gone from a pitch with a sub-12% ball in play percentage to a pitch above 20%. That has everything to do with his command and location: His slider has yielded its highest average vertical location since 2017 and its highest zone percentage ever. That’s led to career highs in xwOBA and barrel percentage, and career lows in ground ball percentage and swinging-strike percentage for his slider.
Bundy still doesn’t look quite right. Even though last night against the Royals went fairly well, he still gave up a home run, and he only had two strikeouts. It’s not clear how hurt he still is, nor how much longer he’ll be hamstrung. Derek Rhoads is your point man for that. What is clear is he’s not at 100%. Once he is, we should see him return to form. But in the meantime, he may look more like the Dylan Bundy of old than you’d like.
Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire | Feature Image by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)