Justin Dunn is joining the Cincinnati Reds organization after being traded from the Seattle Mariners in a 6-player deal on Monday afternoon. The 26-year-old right-handed pitcher was drafted 19th overall in the 1st round by the New York Mets in 2016. Two-and-a-half years later he was traded to Seattle in a 7-player deal that also included former Red Jay Bruce.
He made his big league debut in 2019, pitching in four games with the Mariners – all starts – but throwing just 6.2 innings where he allowed just two runs, but walked nine batters. In 2020 he made 10 starts in the 60-game season and posted a 4.34 ERA in 45.2 innings while walking 31 batters. Last season he made 11 starts, posting a 3.75 ERA that covered 50.1 innings that saw him walk 29 batters before a shoulder injury on June 17th cost him the rest of the season. We’ll get back to that in a little bit.
When he was in the minor leagues, Justin Dunn did not have problems with walks. Over 392.1 innings he walked 150 batters – good for a walk rate of 8.9%. He has, however, struggled to throw strikes at anywhere near that same rate against big league hitters. In his 102.2 innings with Seattle he walked 69 batters – good for a walk rate of 15.5%. That rate absolutely must improve, and by quite a bit, if he’s going to continue to be a starting pitcher. And if he’s going to be any kind of useful reliever it’s probably going to have to improve at least a little bit, too.
It’s not just the walks that are a concern within the profile for Justin Dunn. He’s also an extreme fly ball pitcher. While every so often a big time fly ball pitcher has found success in Cincinnati, it usually doesn’t go well. The baseball flies out of Great American Ball Park like cheese coneys go down our gullets – by the dozens.
Remember that shoulder injury we talked about earlier? Well, it happened nine months ago and according to David Bell, via Charlie Goldsmith of The Cincinnati Enquirer, Dunn isn’t ready and “is a bit delayed due to injury”. A shoulder injury that happened nine months ago that is still causing issues is quite concerning.
Not everything in his profile is bad, though. This next piece of information comes with a huge caveat given the previous paragraph, but after watching his velocity dip in 2020, Justin Dunn saw it jump back up as he averaged 93.7 MPH on the pitch after it was at 91.2 the year before. With the shoulder issue still lingering and him not having pitched since June 17th of 2021, well who knows where things are at right now?
Similar things can be said about his spin rates. Across the board he was getting 100-200 more RPM on his pitches when compared to 2020. Generally speaking that’s going to be a good thing. But given the injury we simply don’t know whether that’s still there or not. The harder a pitch is, generally the more spin it’s going to have compared to the same pitch thrown by the same pitcher at a lower velocity – so it’s possible that the increase was merely just him throwing harder rather than anything else that changed (grip, “sticky stuff”, etc).
Like, with another caveat of course due to the injury, his strikeout rate improved from 2020 to 2021 as he went from a 19.2% strikeout rate to a 22.5% strikeout rate while also slightly lowering his walk rate from 15.7% to 13.3%. Both of those moving in the right direction is a good sign. Both could use some more movement in the right directions, but improvements took place last season.
As things sit right now there’s a lot of questions and concerns here, and not much good to look forward on. The shoulder injury clouds just about any and all positive spin right now. The gains he showed in 2021 are just big question marks now because he got hurt and hasn’t pitched in nine months and apparently still isn’t ready to go. While the public knew that Dunn was injured and missed the final three-and-a-half months last season, it wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon that the public knew that he still wasn’t ready to pitch as spring training got started. That changes the perception quite a bit from a public standpoint.
The Reds, however, had to know this information. As a part of all trades teams exchange medical information on players and have their medical staff review it all before a deal is completed. While teams can lie/hide things – and we’ve seen it twice in recent memory, once with the Reds in the ill-fated Washington Nationals trade, and then in a trade that originally involved Luis Castillo between the Marlins and the Padres that led to Castillo being returned to the Marlins after the deal was completed – it’s not something that tends to happen often.
Justin Dunn wasn’t the only player in the deal. The Reds also landed big league outfielder Jake Fraley, Top 100 prospect Brandon Williamson, and a player to be named later. But with the news that broke on Tuesday afternoon that the shoulder injury was still lingering it makes one ask some more questions about the return in a deal that had already felt like a salary dump as it attached the Eugenio Suárez contract to All-Star Jesse Winker in the deal. Perhaps his shoulder will be fine in short order and he’ll continue to improve, but right now there’s just a whole lot of unanswered questions and a ton of risk involved.