As the Orioles' season wound down in September, one of the few players who endured the entire thing kept putting off any kind of reflection until he was back home.
Now that the season is over, Dylan Bundy has plenty to examine.
The Orioles' Opening Day starter had a season defined by its peaks and valleys, the totality of which made for a frustrating one for him and the club that has spent years waiting for him to be the 30-start, top-of-the-rotation starter many expect.
"I came into this year and my goal was 30 starts, and it looks like I'm going to get 31 — 32 if you count the rainout — but that's my goal coming into the year, 30 starts," Bundy said in the final week of the season. "I made it, and I'm going to get one more, so I'm really excited about that. Numbers-wise, there are some numbers that aren't good. There are some numbers that are better, but overall, obviously, it was a down year, and I'll look at it more in the offseason in what I can do to get better from here."
Depending on which part of the season is considered, Bundy certainly has plenty to draw from. He had a 1.42 ERA in his first five starts and struck out 11.4 batters per nine innings in that span, but he allowed nine home runs in his next three starts — including four without recording an out May 8 against the Kansas City Royals.
That spell coincided with a groin injury that prevented him from getting down over his landing leg as well, meaning he'd miss high more often because he couldn't get through his delivery. Once he corrected it, he put together an eight-start spell of more success.
Bundy's eight starts after that Kansas City debacle featured six quality starts and a 2.60 ERA, with home runs still a relative problem but not a crippling one. However, in the final start of that run, June 23 at the Atlanta Braves, Bundy rolled his ankle running the bases and went on the disabled list. That was the last time his ERA was under 4.00 the entire season.
He had just two quality starts in the 10 after his DL trip, allowing at least five runs in six during that stretch. In his 15 starts after the ankle injury, he only held opponents without a home run once.
So even with his quality start on the penultimate day of the season against the Houston Astros, Bundy finished with a 5.45 ERA — second highest among qualified major league starters. It's clear it was inflated by home runs, with his xFielding Independent Pitching, which calculates ERA based on factors in a pitchers' control (walks and strikeouts) with the league-average home-run rate, coming in at 4.28.
It takes a historic home-run rate to get there. According to FanGraphs, Bundy allowed home runs at a rate that's only been reached once this century. Bundy's 2.15 home runs allowed per nine innings were the most since José Lima allowed 2.2 HR/9 for the Astros in 2000.
Only one other pitcher allowed more than two home runs per nine innings since — Bronson Arroyo's 2.08 HR/9 in 2011 for the Cincinnati Reds. Sid Fernandez gave up 2.11 home runs per nine innings for the Orioles in 1994. Those four and Minnesota Twins pitcher Jim Deshaies, also in 1994, are the only qualified pitchers in baseball history to allow more than two home runs per nine innings.
When Bundy, 25, was in the worst throes of the home-run-allowing phase, he was able to diagnose his problems in between starts and improve. Nothing was as glaring as his lack of finish in those early-May starts down the stretch, but the season as a whole taught him how to diagnose those problems in the morning.
"There's times of that, just knowing your delivery," Bundy said. "As a starting pitcher, the biggest thing is knowing your delivery and being able to adjust one pitch at a time, or one pitch to another in-game, trying to correct something that's not working and giving your team five, six, seven, eight, nine innings every time you take the mound."
If nothing else, Bundy took pride in that. Twenty-three of his 31 starts were at least five innings, and 15 were quality starts. And though his struggles came down the stretch, the fact that he was on regular rest late in the season and learning to pitch in September after two years of having his schedule adjusted for more rest in the season's final month was a big step for Bundy, who hopes to learn about his body and much more from his workload this coming spring.
"For the most part, it was a healthy year, and my body felt good," Bundy said. "That just shows what you're doing in the offseason, what you're doing in the spring and what you're doing in the course of the year to maintain your body and what you're doing, it's huge. Everyone learns that over time and it took me a while with all the injuries, but I think getting smarter and knowing how to treat my body, and what I'll need for a six or seven-month season."