LA Angels: Looking at Dylan Bundy’s sudden rise to ace status

Dylan Bundy’s sudden emergence to ace-level status in 2020 for the LA Angels has flown under the radar amidst baseball’s chaotic return.

Pencil Dylan Bundy in for Opening Day 2021 folks, as it appears the LA Angels have finally found their staff ace.

If the 27-year-old right-hander’s impressive early season performance hasn’t yet persuaded you of his newfound greatness, it might be time to change your mind.

In his latest start Tuesday against the Oakland A’s, Bundy mowed down a potent lineup, going seven innings with 10 strikeouts while allowing just four hits and a walk.

That showing came five days after he tossed a complete game against the Seattle Mariners, the first of his career, a game in which he allowed one earned run on four hits while striking out 10 and walking none.

And to think, the Angels acquired Bundy from the Baltimore Orioles last offseason for just four minor prospects, at best.

Of course at that time, no one could have imagined the stunning transformation from former draft bust to possible Cy Young award candidate that the former top high school prospect would undergo in 2020.

Taken fourth overall in the 2011 MLB Draft by the Orioles, Bundy was saddled with legitimate expectations from the start.

He never quite met the lofty standards set for him there, finishing his vastly underwhelming tenure in Baltimore with a 4.67 ERA from 2012-2019, with Tommy John surgery in 2013 keeping him out two whole seasons and a shoulder injury sidetracking him even further in 2015.

Once a pitcher with a blazing fastball who could blow by hitters, Bundy has since lost that signature velocity on the pitch, now sitting in the low to mid-90s with it.

The lengthy injury history has certainly been a culprit in sapping his prior arm strength, which likely contributed to his disastrous 2018 season.

That campaign that saw him allow a whopping 41 home runs, a figure that led the American League.

Another poor season in 2019 meant a team like the Angels could swoop in for a potential buy-low trade, and they didn’t miss the chance.

Since arriving in Anaheim to work with manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Mickey Callaway, Bundy has reduced his fastball usage due to its decreasing effectiveness resulting from lower velocity, instead putting more emphasis on his breaking pitches (the curveball, slider and changeup, specifically).

The modified strategy now appears to be paying significant dividends for the veteran right-hander.

In four starts this season, Bundy has a 1.57 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 28 innings pitched against a scant three walks.

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Looking at other metrics, his WHIP is an amazingly low 0.63 and his FIP is 2.13, both indicators of the effectiveness of his revamped four pitch mix and the chance to make this sudden transformation relatively sustainable, which could be a huge boon for the pitching-depleted Angels.

If you’re not convinced of Bundy’s breakout yet, maybe his strikeout per nine innings rate of 11.0 against his walks per nine innings rate of 0.9 will do the trick. That kind of impeccable command is tough to come by in baseball, even among the ace pitchers in the game.

Still not convinced? His 271 ERA+ figure means he has been 171 percent better than the average pitcher in 2020 according to the ERA+ scale, which rates a replacement-level pitcher at exactly 100.

So, now do you believe the Angels have found a potential staff ace in Dylan Bundy?

The reality of the situation is that the Angels haven’t had a starting pitcher this good since Jered Weaver and his luscious blonde locks were taking the mound for the team every fifth day from 2006-2016.

As for the doubts that people may harbor regarding Bundy’s ability to pitch at this high of a level going forward, look no further than manager Joe Maddon to help quell those concerns.

Maddon was the skipper of the Chicago Cubs from 2015-2019, during which another Orioles reject with promise named Jake Arrieta emerged as a breakout pitching star, taking home a Cy Young award in 2015, winning a World Series in 2016, and pitching two no-hitters for the Cubs.

With that in mind, if 2020 is merely a scratching the surface type of season for Bundy, we can’t even begin to imagine what the future holds for him and the Angels over the long run.