With the 2021 season having come to a close, we are looking back at the year that was for members of the Texas Rangers.
Today we are looking at pitcher Dane Dunning — the last player left in this series.
All things considered, it was a pretty good year for Dane Dunning. A first round pick of the Washington Nationals out of the University of Florida in 2016 who was dealt that very offseason, along with Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez to the Chicago White Sox for Adam Eaton, Dunning appeared ready for the majors before Tommy John surgery derailed things at the start of 2019. Dunning made seven starts for the ChiSox in the COVID season of 2020 before being dealt to the Rangers, along with pitcher Avery Weems (who is part of the 2022 Frisco rotation), in the Lance Lynn deal.
2021 was a year when teams were cautious with pitchers in general — only 39 pitchers qualified for the ERA title, including just 15 in the American League — and the Rangers were particularly cautious with Dunning, given he had under 100 minor league innings in 2018, missed all of 2019, and then only had 34 innings in 2020. The result was occasional frustration over Dunning not getting to work as deep into games as we may have liked, particularly given his overall solid performance.
Dunning was somewhat up and down in 2021 — he was terrific to start the year, allowing just one run in 15 innings in his first three starts of the year, with 16 Ks against just two walks, before a couple of more difficult outings brought him back to earth. He was up and down the rest of the season, with his innings also being limited somewhat by a brief stint on the injured list around the All Star Break, and a trip to the COVID i.l. towards the end of the year.
Dunning finished the 2021 season with a 4.51 ERA in 117.2 IP, good for a 0.7 bWAR and a 97 ERA+, a 3.94 FIP, and a 4.76 xERA. As someone who studied Dane Dunning’s starts and heat maps closely during the 2021 season, he was generally as good as his command — when his command was off, he gave up loud contact and lots of hits. When his command was on, he had success.
I would like to think that some of Dunning’s inconsistency of command last year were a by-product of having barely pitched the previous few years, as well as just wearing down due to pitching for a full season for the first time in a while. Command is generally a matter of repeating your delivery consistently, and that’s going to be impacted by having missed time, as well as by fatigue. Improved consistency of command is going to be key for Dunning to take a step forward in 2022.
Something else to keep an eye on in 2022 for Dunning is his adopting a different slider — the “sweeper,” which has much more horizontal movement, and which Dunning and Jon Gray having been working on this spring. Dunning tweaking his slider is somewhat surprising, given that his slider has been his best pitch by far — he had a .239 xwOBA allowed on his slider in 2021, compared to a .324 xwOBA with his changeup and over .350 with every other pitch. That said, he’s apparently planning on having both sliders in his repertoire in 2022, which will allow him to provide hitters with different looks.