When I first started the Top Dynasty Keepers column in the offseason, one of the first things I stated was how I prefer established pitchers over young pitchers.
There is a simple reason for this as I noted with this simple fun fact: Since the introduction of the Rookie of the Year Award in 1947 and it splitting into one for each league in 1949, 111 hitters have been awarded the Rookie of the Year compared to 39 pitchers. In this century alone, 31 hitters have been named ROY to 13 pitchers. And who remembers Jeremy Hellickson, Andrew Bailey or Jason Jennings anchoring anyone’s fantasy team?
Diamonds in the Rough?
But in fantasy baseball, you need pitching in order to win your league, and when it comes to looking for keepers, we are all trying to find that young diamond in the rough as the top pitching prospects and studs are long gone by now.
Right now, many fantasy owners don’t believe in Dane Dunning of the Texas Rangers or Reid Detmers of the Los Angeles Angeles, despite the fact he threw a no-hitter earlier this week. Dunning is owned in only 19% of Yahoo leagues and 12.9% of ESPN leagues. Meanwhile, Detmers is owned in 10.6% of ESPN leagues and 19% of Yahoo leagues.
Are fantasy owners missing something? This week, let’s take a look at Dunning and Detmers and decide if fantasy owners are correct in their assessment of these two pitchers.
The Washington Nationals selected Dunning with the 29th pick in the 2016 draft after a three-year career at Florida in which he was used more as a reliever than a starter. The White Sox were interested in Dunning but bypassed him in order to select Zack Burdi. But the Sox got Dunning into their system six months later along with Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez in the Adam Eaton trade with the Nationals.
The White Sox instantly converted Dunning into a full-time starter to take advantage of four above-average pitches according to his scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Curveball: 55 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 55
Dunning was climbing the prospects charts during his time with the White Sox before missing the final two months of the 2018 season with a strained elbow and then undergoing Tommy John surgery in March of 2019.
Pounding the Strike Zone
After recovering from Tommy John, the right-hander debuted with the White Sox in 2020 and showed what he could do, going 2-0 with a 3.97 ERA and 1.118 WHIP while averaging just over nine SO/9. His number impressed the Rangers enough to trade Lance Lynn to the Sox for Dunning on Dec. 20. 2020. Dunning’s first season with the Rangers did not go well, but the 2022 campaign has been much better for him.
Dunning’s start on Friday night wasn’t his best, allowing five runs in 5.2 innings of work against Boston. But his three previous starts saw him allow only two runs in 5.2 innings of work against Houston, one run in 7.2 innings versus Atlanta, and one run in six innings against the Yankees. That is a 1.86 ERA in games against the two World Series teams from last season and a red-hot New York offense.
Dunning throws a heavy sinker that is hard to lift and he can throw it for strikes on both sides of the plate. Meanwhile, as you can see above, he has been dotting the strike zone with his low and away slider against righties while jamming righties inside with his changeup. He then elevates his cutter that runs from righties and bores into lefties.
How good has this approach been? His slider has a whiff percentage of 32.1% while his changeup is at 27.5% and his cutter is at 29.4% with a put-away percentage of 57.1%.
When it comes to the draft, the Angels have dipped into the college ranks often, taking a college player in four of the previous six drafts prior to the 2020 season. So when Detmers was still available as the Angels selected 10th, the team quickly pounced on the lefty from Louisville.
In three seasons with the Cardinals, Detmers went 20-6 with a 3.20 ERA with a 1.084 WHIP and 13.4 SO/9. Detmers did most of his damage in his sophomore season when he went 13-4 with a 2.78 ERA and a 0.918 WHIP. In 113.1 innings of work, he allowed only 71 hits and 33 walks while striking out 167.
He was off to a great start in 2020 before COVID ended his season. Up to that point, he was 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 22 innings of work.
Detmers features a fastball that averages 92.9 mph and an outstanding curve to go along with a slider and changeup. He used that arsenal to post a 3.19 ERA and 1.145 WHIP while averaging 15.7 strikeouts per innings in Double -A and Triple-A in 2021. With nothing left to prove in the minors, the Angels recalled Detmers to join the staff and make his Major League debut on Aug. 1.
His first test in the majors didn’t go so well, as you can see from his numbers above. But Detmers had a strong spring, posting a 3.18 ERA and a 1.059 WHIP with 11 strikeouts in 5.2 innings of work to solidify his spot in the Angels rotation.
Making an Adjustment
Since last season, Detmers has altered his approach slightly on the mound. While he has increased his fastball usage from 45 to 48 percent of his pitches, he is relying less on his slider (24% to 18%) and more on his sinking changeup, throwing it 9% of the time compared to 4.7% last season. His changeup comes in at 83.8 mph, a good deal slower than his fastball. Then he mixes in his slider at 81.1 mph and his curve at 72.4 mph. He gets a lot of batters to swing and miss his change and curve, used here to strike out Jake Meyers last season, with whiff rates of 34.6% and 25.6% respectively.
What a Difference!
Detmers is commanding his pitches much better and attacking the strikezone, lowering his walk rate from 4.8 walks per game to 2.3 this season. No longer behind in the count all the time, he is forcing batters to swing at his pitches, and they aren’t doing very well.
Obviously throwing a no-hitter helps anyone’s stats this early in the season, but Detmers this season compared to last season is like looking at different pitchers. Last year hitters had a slash line of .295/.386/.534. This season that slash line now sits at .165/.235/.529.
So, as stated above, these two pitchers are readily available in Yahoo and ESPN leagues (though both are owned by more than 71% in Fantrax leagues). If you are in a re-draft league, I understand why players are overlooking Dunning and Detmers. There are tons of pitchers of all ages just like them currently on the waiver wire.
But you want to know if these two pitchers are worthwhile keepers for this season and beyond. My opinion is yes.
Dunning is 27-years-old, which means he is entering his prime. In college, he was used mostly as a reliever thanks to a Florida staff that was stacked with talent. He has learned the craft of pitching since becoming a pro and, while still experiencing a few hiccups like Friday night, is commanding the strike zone better than at any time in his major league career.
As for the 22-year-old Detmers, I like him even more Dunning – and that was before the no-hitter. Detmers was a stud in college and dominated hitters in the minors. He didn’t do that by accident.
His first season was a reminder of how good major league hitters are. Detmers is commanding his fastball better and throwing it more while utilizing his changeup and breaking pitches better to keep hitters off balance.
His strikeout numbers are not close to what they were in college and the minors, but I think it is only a matter of time before they start to rise as he gets more comfortable and makes a few more adjustments.