long-awaited MLB debut, Atlanta’s number 10 prospect (according to MLB Pipeline), Dylan Dodd, took on the Cardinals in St. Louis last night. It wasn’t guaranteed that he’d make his debut this early in the 2023 campaign, especially considering how loaded the Atlanta rotation was.
Dodd took a similar path to an Opening Week debut as fellow rookie starter Jared Shuster. A spot opened up when Mike Soroka wasn’t ready to return to the Bigs, Kyle Wright began the season on the IL, and Max Fried left his first start with an injury. He wasn’t even the first option because Shuster was the number one prospect in the organization.
However, a Spring Training during which the left-hander allowed just four runs across 18 IP with 20 strikeouts guaranteed him the opportunity to build a name for himself on the big stage. Prior to that Spring showing, Dodd had a quiet, short, and successful minor league career, starting from A-Ball in 2021 and reaching Triple-A by the end of 2022.
He never quite stood out, with his best stint being a 46.1 IP sample at Double-A in 2022 during which he pitched to a 3.11 ERA with a 28.4% strikeout rate. But despite his lack of overwhelming success, Dodd was notable thanks to his feel for pitching, advanced approach, and impeccable command, all of which earned him a top-100 selection in the 2021 draft out of Southeast Missouri State.
None of his pitches stand out as particularly dominant offerings, with his fastball sitting in the low-90s and his secondaries (slider and changeup) in the low-80s. His best grade via MLB Pipeline is his 60-grade control, and Fangraphs is even more bullish, awarding him a 70-grade command. Having three pitches to turn to with the ability to put them where he wants them inherently gives the 24-year-old a high floor and it should pay dividends early on in his career. His being touted as more of a finesse pitcher made me excited to witness his debut and break it down in depth.
Let’s get started with the first pitch!
It’s incredibly common for a pitcher making his debut to turn to his fastball as his introductory pitch. That’s exactly what Dodd did here, yanking one inside to Tommy Edman at 91 mph. Not exactly the command we hoped to see and the pitch definitely didn’t blow anyone away. The next fastball was located much better.
He puts the pitch right on the black on the inside edge, but Edman, a lefty killer, punches it into left field. Jamming righties with fastballs is the way to combat the platoon advantage. It’s not great to start your career off on a negative note, but it will give us a chance to see what he looks like out of the stretch. Dodd is now immediately at a disadvantage and it will be interesting to see how he deals with adversity.
His first pitch to Dylan Carlson is a fastball that misses inside again. He follows it up with our first look at one of his secondary pitches.
A perfectly executed slider down and in gets Carlson swinging out of his shoes. The pitch doesn’t have a crazy amount of movement, but the velocity differential and location of the pitch make it effective. If he can consistently locate his slider down and arm side, he will have continuous success with it.
After fouling off a slider that Dodd kept down but didn’t get inside, the left-hander sits in his first two-strike count. We’ll now get to see what his putaway pitch is – at least versus right-handed hitters.
Here you can see the catcher, Sean Murphy, set up high and inside but Dodd misses in the opposite location low and away. It’s not exactly a testament to his command of the pitch, but he gets away with it and we can pin it on first-inning jitters.
Dodd misses his spot again, spotting the heater on the outside edge, but it is once again fouled off by Carlson. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, he finally gets the first out of his career.
It’s another slider, but he failed to locate it where the catcher set up. Carlson hit it pretty well and Dodd was lucky that it went right to the outfielder. With intent, that pitch could be good earlier in the count, but it’s clearly not the putaway pitch Dodd was shooting for. With the first out gone, he now has to stare down the barrel of the middle of the lineup with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado due up.
His first pitch to Goldy is a slider that starts off the outside edge but ends up splitting the middle of the plate. He won’t get away with that next time. A fastball up and off the plate outside coaxes a foul ball and sets up an 0-2 count. Here’s what happened next:
It’s the same fastball up and off the plate and it somehow results in a ground ball and a double play. He can now say he retired a former MVP Award winner. It was good to see Dodd display his ability to hit 94 mph, but I don’t think a pitch located there will get a lot of ground balls in the future. Still, it’s a 1-2-3 first and the young southpaw survives to see a second frame.
Arenado strides to the plate to lead off the second and is greeted with the same backdoor slider Goldy saw, left a bit too much over the plate. The slugger watches that one and the next pitch as Dodd misses with the slider up and away. We’re starting to see a theme of his inability to command the slider as only one of the six he’s thrown has hit the desired location down and arm side. However, he bounces back on his third pitch to Arenado with a beauty of a breaker.
This one looks exactly like the one he got Carlson swinging on and it gets the same result out of Arenado. The effectiveness of this pitch relies heavily on its location, as evidenced by both of his whiffs thus far resulting from the slider being located down and arm side. With a two-strike count, Dodd sets down the future Hall of Famer.
The slider gets him swinging once again, as Dodd’s first career strikeout victim is in the history books. That’s now three whiffs on eight sliders and it seems to be his go-to pitch. It’s great to see a pitcher of his age relying on his secondary pitch so heavily (greater than 50% usage at this point) and it makes sense for someone without an overwhelming fastball. If he can keep it below the zone, it should continue to induce swings and misses
The next batter, Willson Contreras, fouls off a heater down the middle and takes a slider too far outside and one more too far inside before fouling off a slider on the inside edge. The final pitch of the at-bat is a fastball that catches too much of the plate.
Dodd gets saved by an amazing diving stop by Ozzie Albies. I mostly just put this one in here to show off the defensive gem, but I think the location of his pitch is also worth noting. He once again fails to put the fastball where the catcher calls for it but gets away with it. So far, we have not seen the impeccable command that was touted in his scouting reports and it is guaranteed to bite him in future starts.
The final batter of the frame is Tyler O’Neill. The buff slugger takes a fastball down the pipe before whiffing at another one that catches the middle of the zone. With a two-strike count, Dodd doesn’t mess around.
Another gorgeous slider below the zone has O’Neill looking completely overmatched. Through two innings, that’s two strikeouts and just one hit allowed. Facing all righties, the gameplan has been four-seamers up and in and spinners down below the zone. So far, it’s worked, as Dodd has gotten away with a few mistakes and capitalized on an aggressive lineup.
Taking on the bottom of the order, Dodd puts himself behind in the count with a fastball off the plate before finally giving us a glimpse at his changeup.
It looks like a seam-shifted wake changeup, in that it doesn’t feature a lot of movement but keeps hitters off balance with its speed differential released out of the same tunnel as the fastball. I love that he located it down and glove side as that should be a beneficial location in future iterations of the pitch. Walker stares at that one but swings at the next one located in almost the exact same location, resulting in a ground out to the shortstop. As I said, putting the change in that spot will garner outs.
Juan Yepez was next, taking the first three pitches (two fastballs and a slider) to work the count to two and one. With the 2-1 pitch, Dodd hangs his slider a bit, but still keeps it in the lower half of the zone. Yepez gets under it and pops it up to get Dodd two quick outs to start the third.
The theme of the night has been location, location, location, and with the nine hitter, Taylor Motter, stepping in the box, it’s a good time to see what Dodd does when the pressure is at its lowest – two outs, first time through the order, facing the nine-hole hitter.
I’m not in love with this pitch. Obviously, the location is terrible and the result is good, but I would’ve hoped that with the stakes lowered, he would’ve focused up a bit and shown off his pinpoint control. I don’t know what it is about his fastball, but he’s able to blow it right by Motter in this instance.
I think it has something to do with how he hides the ball for so long before releasing it. Deception is difficult to quantify and it definitely plays a factor in Dodd’s success because, not only have I not been blown away by his stuff or his highly-touted command, but he’s also having a great amount of success thus far, breezing through a tough lineup without any respite (or lefties).
After blowing another fastball right by Motter, Dodd wraps up his third frame with his hardest fastball yet.
He really dialed up the heat here, touching 95 for the first time. That at-bat showed his ability to dominate with his fastball as he induced three whiffs on three heaters in the zone for the punchout. After relying on his slider as the putaway pitch, I loved to see Dodd prove his faith in his heater and show the willingness to attack a bottom-of-the-order hitter without hesitation.
The second time through the order, Dodd gets a fortunate call on a slider inside to begin his rematch with Edman. He then misses inside with a fastball and a slider before mislocating a heater down and away that gets called a strike. On a 2-2 count, Dodd gets away with another heater that couldn’t have been more down the middle as Edman pops out in foul territory.
After retiring nine in a row, Dodd’s luck was bound to run out, and it did when Carlson took a fastball in the zone to right field for a base hit. Now it’s time for the lefty to bare down as he faces the middle of the order with a runner on base again. A fastball just missing off the plate outside and a slider that wasn’t close set up a hitter’s count for the reigning NL MVP.
A misplaced slider that wound up as an effective backdoor pitch got him back in the count. If his mistakes continue to land in locations like this, he’ll get away with lapses in command. On 2-1, he goes back to the slider and places it perfectly low and arm side.
This is the type of stick-to-itiveness that you want to see from a young hurler. Often, pitchers will get behind in the count to a dangerous batter and will call it a night, giving up on the at-bat and letting them take first base. Dodd’s persistence allowed him to work the count back even and now has multiple options with which to turn.
Another slider down in the zone forces a swing and a weakly hit ground ball from Goldy. Dodd attempts to make a play on it but just knocks it down, allowing the hitter to reach with an infield single. That’s now back-to-back hits with Arenado striding to the plate.
The first pitch, a fastball, misses up. The second, a backdoor slider (I don’t think it was one purpose), gets hammered to right but lands in the glove of a stationary Ronald Acuña Jr. It looked like Arenado felt like he should’ve done more with the pitch, but for Dodd’s sake, he’s now one out away from escaping the jam.
Dodd somehow gets away with two sliders up in the zone, one on a take and the other on a swing-and-miss. After bouncing a slider, Contreras fouls off three straight pitches before a wild play ensues.
Acuña nearly saved Dodd with the diving catch but then helped him escape the inning by throwing Contreras out at second. In terms of the pitch, it deserved to be hit for extra bases. It was a changeup, just the third he’s thrown all game, and he left it out over the heart of the plate after locating the only other two he threw earlier in the game.
The offspeed pitch is clearly his third offering and I’m unsure how much he trusts it. Given that neither of his two preferred pitches are elite, he’ll have to continue to develop that changeup if he wants to have prolonged success in the Majors.
This is likely the final frame for the rookie starter. He’s at 53 pitches, he’ll be in line for the win if he escapes the inning unscathed, and will avoid seeing the order turn over for the second time if he’s removed before the sixth. Let’s see if he has this in mind (or if his manager told him) and if he leaves everything on the field.
A fortunate strike call on a heater inside begins his frame. It’s followed by a nasty slider that induces a swing and miss, setting up another two-strike count (he’s had a lot of those). A bounced slider and high fastball quickly bring the count even. O’Neill fights off a slider before grounding out to third on an inside fastball.
That brings Jordan Walker to the plate, a player whom he attacked with changeups the first time through. Will he change up the game plan this time? He did not. Two low sliders and a fastball resulted in a ground out to the shortstop. With two quick outs in what is likely his final frame, Dodd should be going all out against Juan Yepez.
He really made Yepez look silly here. His windup and arm action sold a fastball but he located the slider below the zone and got him chasing. Yepez got revenge by lofting the next pitch into left field for a single, bringing up Motter again.
Last time, Dodd was not afraid of him and took him down on three heaters. He keeps the theme going, missing with a four-seamer down and in, but the next pitch is left over the heart of the plate and ripped to the wall for a double.
You can tell he’s getting tired as he’s missing with his pitches more and becoming more hittable in the process. Now is where Dodd’s mettle will really be tested. Facing lefty-killing Edman a third time with two men on and at the end of his line, he’s going to need to execute for one last at-bat to put himself in line for a win in his debut.
A bounced slider and a fastball way inside get him off on the wrong foot, but we once again see the persistence that got Dodd to the Majors. He locates a slider on the inside edge to induce a foul ball. After unleashing a fastball out of the zone, Dodd breathes a sigh of relief as Edman smashes a slider down the line that is just foul, setting up a full count. If I had to guess, I’d say he turns to the slide piece – he’s trusted it all night and it’s been the pitch he uses to get outs.
However, he dials the fastball up to 94, watches as it’s fouled off, and turns to the fastball again. The second one coaxes a fly out to right, getting him out of the jam and ending his Major League debut on a positive note.
Final Line: (W) 5 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K – 12 Whiffs, 32% CSW, 73 Pitches
|Pitch Type||Count||%||Called Strikes||Whiffs||CSW%||Zone%||Max Velo||Min Velo||Avg Velo|
|Slider||36||49%||6||8||39%||42%||85.5 mph||80.7 mph||82.8 mph|
|4-Seam Fastball||34||47%||4||4||24%||71%||94.9 mph||90.4 mph||92.2 mph|
|Changeup||3||4%||1||0||33%||100%||85.3 mph||84 mph||84.8 mph|
|All||73||100%||11||12||32%||58%||94.9 mph||80.7 mph||87.3 mph|
Dodd had a very successful debut and will hopefully be able to build off of this performance. Getting a win versus a legit MLB lineup is not an easy task, and Dodd never made it look like he was laboring.
On the positive side, his fastball-slider combination worked wonders. Pumping the heater in the zone earned him strikes and got him ahead in counts, while burying the slider beneath the zone resulted in whiffs and easy outs. The breaker is clearly his bread-and-butter as it earned eight whiffs on its own and produced a 39% CSW.
I loved that he wasn’t afraid to turn to it time and time again. It’s also promising to see that he can touch the mid-90s when he reaches back for a little something extra and that the fastball isn’t just used when he gets behind in the count.
He’s a deceptive lefty that works fast and throws strikes without suffering in the K department. He will go deeper into games as he progresses and with fewer debut jitters in future starts, his development may come sooner than expected.
On the negative side, none of his pitches felt overwhelming. Yeah, the slider earned whiffs, but only when it was located below the zone. The fastball really only blew away one batter and was left over the heart of the plate constantly. The changeup is basically nonexistent. On a bad day or against a hot lineup, his lack of a third pitch and inability to dominate hitters could result in blowups.
It also seems as though his high command grade isn’t rooted in his ability to locate pitches where he wants them, but rather in his lack of fear of throwing the ball in the zone. He avoided any walks today because he missed over the plate a lot and didn’t back down when he got behind in the count.
The latter is a good trait, but the former will get him into trouble when facing a lineup that has a better scouting report. We also didn’t get to see what his plan is versus lefties and if his stuff plays the same, worse, or better with the platoon advantage.
Overall, Dodd looks like a Toby with the potential to become more if he can develop a legitimate third offering. He won’t rack up a ton of strikeouts, but his ability to go deep into games without dolling out free passes will result in more than a few beneficial outings. With an elite lineup and solid defense backing him up, he should nab himself a few more wins along the way as well.
Unfortunately, this may be his last turn through the rotation, as Wright is expected to return from the IL shortly and Fried’s stay on the IL may be minimal. We already saw Shuster get optioned, and the same could be happening to Dodd. This start earned him another shot at some point in the year, so this won’t be the last we’ve heard of him.
And in the end, isn’t everyone’s goal in life to be GIFed by Pitcher List and Pitching Ninja?
Dylan Dodd's 2Ks in the 2nd. pic.twitter.com/vODW156FBz
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 5, 2023