Zach Wilt: Opponents have adjusted to Dylan Bundy

Dylan Bundy was one of the Orioles’ best stories over the first two months of the season. In April and May, the 24-year-old righty made 11 starts and the O’s went 7-4 in those games. Bundy pitched 71 2/3 innings, limited opponents to a .240 batting average and recorded a 2.89 ERA over that span. He began the season with eight consecutive quality starts and ten in his first 11. Bundy immediately jumped out as the team’s best starter in his first full season in the rotation. It seemed like everything was going right for him.

It’s been a different story of late, however. Entering last night, the Orioles were 2-4 in Bundy’s six starts in June and July. Over 31 1/3 innings, opponents hit .275 against him and he pitched to a 6.61 ERA. Just two of his previous six starts qualified as the “quality” variety.

When I am looking for answers on a pitcher’s struggles, the first place I start is in the velocity category. If you take a look at Bundy’s fastball velocity throughout the season, not much has changed. In his first start, his fastball averaged 92.1 miles per hour. On July 1, it averaged 92.5 miles per hour. Despite the results, there’s no evidence that Bundy is running out of gas or suffering from any kind of tired or dead arm. Much has been made about the workload for Bundy this season, but I can’t blame it on his recent struggles.

Over the course of the season, we have seen some slight adjustments to Bundy’s pitch selection. We are seeing him go away from off-speed and breaking pitches a bit. He threw his fastball 53.3 percent of the time this season entering Thursday’s start. He used it a bit more on June 19, 24 and July 1 (54, 61, 63.3 percent). This has resulted in the use of his other pitches (the slider, curveball and changeup) to decrease slightly. On July 1, he threw the slider 10.1 percent of the time after using it 20 percent over the course of the season. The curveball was used 8.1 percent compared to 10.7 this year, while he relied a little more on the changeup (18.2 percent, 16 percent this season).

You’ve probably heard a lot about Bundy’s slider this season. In April and May, opponents hit just .179 on that pitch. They hit a little better on it in June and July, .200 to be exact, but it still seems to be fooling the majority of the league. Opponents have whiffed on that pitch 23.91 percent of the time in June and July, 22.59 percent of the time in April and May. It’s still an effective out pitch, so why hasn’t it been used as much as it was at the beginning of the season?

As the old cliché goes, baseball is a game of adjustments. The biggest adjustment that I can see in the PitchF/X data is how opponents have been laying off of Bundy’s pitches. In the first two months of the season, opponents swung at the slider 52.30 percent of the time Bundy threw it. In June and July, they have swung 46.74 percent of the time. There’s tape and scouting reports on Bundy. Opposing lineups know what’s coming and when to expect it. They have a better sense of when to swing, when to take and how they optimize the count to their favor.

Last night, Bundy’s struggles continued with a six-run third inning. His ERA climbed to 4.33 after a five-inning effort. Jim Palmer said during the MASN broadcast that Bundy wasn’t wild, but that the Twins lineup simply took advantage of pitches in the middle of the plate. The data agrees with the Hall of Famer. Opponents have adjusted to Bundy and he is having a difficult time regaining the upper hand. Bundy has the stuff to perform at a high level in the big leagues, he’s just got to change how he attacks hitters. The workload might be blamed, he threw 109 2/3 innings last season and is at 108 this year, but I think his recent decline has been more about adjustments made by his opponents.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_wilt. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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