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Some thoughts on Dunning and Weems

Looking at the two pitchers that the Rangers got for Lance Lynn

Wild Card Round - Chicago White Sox v Oakland Athletics - Game Three Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Dane Dunning and Avery Weems are about to be pitchers for the Texas Rangers. Lance Lynn is about to be a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. Yes, everything is pending medical review, and the move isn’t official yet, but it looks like it will be announced in the very near future.

Lance Lynn was legitimately great for the Texas Rangers while he was here, and I will ruminate about him later this week. For now, let’s look at the two guys the Rangers received.

Dane Dunning is the primary prize for Texas in this deal. The righthander, who turns 26 in twelve days, was a well-regarded high school pitcher who slid to the 34th round in 2013 due to signability concerns, and attended the University of Florida. He went in the first round — 29th overall — in 2016 to the Washington Nationals, who traded him to the Chicago White Sox in the Adam Eaton deal after the 2016 season.

Dunning was a back of the top 100 prospect list guy heading into 2018 and 2019, but missed all of 2019 due to a torn UCL that necessitated Tommy John surgery during spring training of 2019. He obviously didn’t pitch in the minors in 2020, but he did have 7 major league starts in the 2020 regular season, as well as facing 4 batters as the starting pitcher in Chicago’s Game 3 Wild Card Game against the Oakland A’s (he allowed 0 runs on a single and a double, retiring two batters).

The scouting reports on Dunning out of college and early in his pro career were that he was a strike-throwing sinker/slider guy, but he’s now a five pitch pitcher (per scouting reports and the Statcast data), throwing a four seamer, a sinker, a curve, a slider and a changeup. None of them are generally viewed as dominant, which limits his ceiling, but he can throw them all for strikes and mix them well.

Per Statcast, in 2020, Dunning used his sinker/slider combo about 60% of the time, throwing the sinker twice as often as the slider, with the four seamer being thrown 21% of the time, the changeup 11%, and the curve 6.8%. His slider was his putaway pitch, generating a 43.5% whiff rate per Statcast.

The Rangers have prioritized pitchers who have high spin rates in recent years; Dunning is not a high spin rate guy. His average four seam spin rate in 2020 was 2194 RPM, compared to a league average of 2306 RPM. Dunning with 370th out of 548 pitchers in four seam spin rate in 2020 — Nick Goody, Trevor Cahill, Jose Berrios and Cal Quantrill are some of the pitchers who are within a few ticks of that rate in 2020.

Looking at some of the expected data for 2020, Dunning had a wOBA allowed of .264, compared to a xwOBA of .287. He had an ERA of 3.97, compared to an xERA of 3.73, a FIP of 3.99 and an xFIP of 4.16. The data doesn’t suggest he was particularly lucky or unlucky in 2020.

Dunning profiles as a league average innings eater, though that assumes that he’s actually going to eat innings, something Dunning didn’t do in 2020. He topped out at 102 pitches in a 7 inning outing in his fifth start of the year, then struggled in his final two starts, and averaged just under 5 innings per start in the regular season. With 2020 being his first season back from Tommy John surgery, and the unusual nature of the season, I don’t know that it makes sense to be that concerned about the fact he wasn’t working deep into games, and I don’t think there’s much reason to be concerned about that going forward.

Dunning isn’t a future ace or an exciting guy with a ton of upside. What he is is a guy with six years of team control who appears ready to be in an Opening Day rotation in 2021 and be a decent to solid back end starting pitcher. He is still prospect-eligible, and I suspect he’ll end up being ranked in the 50-75 range in most top 100 lists.

When I first saw Avery Weems mentioned, I looked him up, saw he was a $10,000 senior sign, saw he had bad numbers in college, and dismissed him as an organizational depth guy. That appears to be short-changing him.

The 23 year old lefthander was in the back part of the Baseball America top 500 draft prospect list in 2017, when he was draft-eligible as a JuCo sophomore, but was not selected. He wasn’t good at the University of Arizona, and was selected in the sixth round in 2019 by the ChiSox as a senior sign guy who would allow them to save slot money there to apply to other picks. He had four appearances that summer in the AZL and ten appearances in the Pioneer League and put up good numbers, but still, he didn’t seem to be anyone on the prospect map.

The reports since then have improved significantly. Baseball Prospect has Weems as their #10 prospect in the ChiSox system in their offseason rankings, and Josh Norris of Baseball America said he was going to be in the top 30 on their ChiSox prospect rankings. His velocity was apparently improved when he threw in the Instructional League, and he’s now on the radar with a fastball/curveball combination that makes him a potential reliever prospect.