The Angels are moving right-hander Dylan Bundy to the bullpen, manager Joe Maddon told reporters (including Sam Blum of the Athletic). Southpaw José Suarez will assume a permanent spot in the starting rotation.
It’s the continuation of what has proven to be a difficult year for Bundy. He seemed to have turned a corner upon being traded from the Orioles to Los Angeles entering 2020, spinning 65 2/3 innings of 3.29 ERA ball during his debut season with the Angels. Things have gone completely south in 2021, though. The 28-year-old has been tagged for a 6.58 ERA in 67 frames this season. Bundy actually got off to a good start with three consecutive quality starts to begin the campaign, but he’s managed just a 7.88 ERA in twelve appearances since, with opposing hitters teeing off for a .297/.360/.568 slash line in that time.
In fairness to Bundy, the underlying numbers suggest he’s pitched a bit better than his bottom line run prevention would suggest. His 21.5% strikeout rate is disappointing, a below-average mark that’s nearly six percentage points below his 27% clip from last season. But it’s not disastrously low, and Bundy’s 10.8% swinging strike rate is serviceable. He’s always been a quality strike-thrower, and that hasn’t gone away either. Bundy’s only walking 7.2% of opponents, right in line with his career pace and better than league-average. Those strikeout and walk numbers contribute to a more respectable 4.30 SIERA.
The biggest issue for Bundy this season, as it was during his time in Baltimore, has been the long ball. He’s allowed a staggering fifteen home runs (2.01 HR/9). Among pitchers with 50-plus innings, only Matt Shoemaker (2.14 HR/9) has coughed up homers at a higher rate. Unsurprisingly, a glance at Bundy’s Statcast page confirms he’s given up plenty of hard contact.
That all makes for an interesting decision for teams this winter. Bundy’s slated to hit free agency for the first time this offseason. Obviously, this isn’t the platform year he’d desired, but his arsenal hasn’t evaporated. His four-seam fastball and slider velocity are actually up a tick relative to last season, as are Bundy’s spin rates. (His spin has dropped over the past month, coinciding with the league’s foreign substance crackdown, but Bundy’s slump predated reports of imminent enforcement of the ban on sticky stuff). The results simply haven’t been there this season, but we’re only a year removed from Bundy finding plenty of success with this level of raw stuff.
The Angels already bumped José Quintana to the bullpen a couple weeks ago, so Bundy’s the second member of the season-opening rotation to move into relief. That mostly reflects Quintana’s and Bundy’s down years, but it’s also a testament to the strong work of their eventual replacements, Patrick Sandoval and Suarez.
Sandoval has a 3.44 ERA/4.00 FIP across seven starts this year. Suarez was knocked around as a starter back in 2019, but he’s earned his way back into the rotation with quality work as a multi-inning reliever this year. The 23-year-old has tossed 27 1/3 innings over nine relief appearances, pitching to a 1.98 ERA with solid strikeout and walk rates (23.9% and 8.3%, respectively).