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Mike Dunn had a brief, terrible 2018 season

A season marred by injuries made it one to forget

You’re reading the 2018 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the season had by every player to play for the Rockies in 2018. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the least amount of rWAR and end up with the player with the most.

★ ★ ★

No. 33, Mike Dunn (-0.5 rWAR)

On December 15, 2016 the Rockies announced the signing of left-handed reliever Mike Dunn. On this year’s July 31 trade deadline, the Rockies did not acquire a left-handed reliever for the bullpen corps.

One might think these two facts were related, but Mike Dunn threw his last pitch of the 2018 season on July 3 against the Giants. In that game he came on in relief for Antonio Senzatela to start the 8th inning. He got a groundout, allowed a walk, and two straight singles to make it 8-1. He was removed for Jake McGee, and his season was over. He finished with a 9.00 ERA and a 2.64 WHIP in 17 innings pitched over 25 appearances.

If your visceral reaction to those numbers similar to that of seeing roadkill, nobody would blame you. Mike Dunn was signed to a three-year contract for the purpose of being a strong lefty in the back of the bullpen. After a roller-coaster year in 2017, the hope was he would bounce back into the reliever they had in the second half (3.27 ERA over 31 appearances). Clearly that’s not what happened.

Part of the reason is his slider absolutely left him. According to FanGraphs’ pitch type linear weights, Dunn’s slider has been his most valuable pitch. Even in his up and down 2017, it was worth 2.1 runs above average, and he used it about 40% of the time. In 2018, it was worth -1.0 runs. He responded accordingly, using his slider less and less: in his nine May appearances he used his slider 33% of the time, and he threw just six sliders in his two July appearances. Granted, it’s an incredibly small sample, but it shows a man who lost confidence in his slider.

We know now that part of Dunn’s struggles can be explained by injury. He tweaked an AC joint in spring training and then sat on the shelf for 23 days through the end of June due to a shoulder strain. Three days after he was activated he had that emblematic outing against the Giants he went back on the DL. He was transferred to the 60-day disabled list on July 27 and then had a brief rehab assignment with Triple-A Albuquerque before being shut down for good. On September 3, two months after he threw his last pitch in the big leagues, he announced his season was over to surgically repair his shoulder. It was an inauspicious end to an abysmal campaign.

It’s possible, even probable, that Dunn’s atrocious 2018 numbers can be explained by never recovering from his injuries properly. In any case, his 2019 status and role seems very much up in the air. That will be the final year of his three-year, $19 million contract. His vesting option for 2020 requires that he appears in 60 games for the Rockies next season. If he is healthy enough to pitch in 60 games, he may very well be worth that $6 million option. Unfortunately for Mike Dunn, that is a lot to hang on one “if.”