Thursday, August 20, 2020

Dane Dunning Makes MLB Debut

Earlier tonight on August, 19th, 2020, Dane Dunning made his MLB debut for the Chicago White Sox. He threw 4.1 innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits while striking out seven and walking one in a 5-3 win over the Detroit Tigers. Dane's solid debut was spoiled when he gave up a three-run home run with one out in the top of fifth inning, prompting manager Rick Renteria to pull him from the game on just 73 pitches. However, the White Sox offense responded with two runs in the bottom of the frame to at least ensure that Dane would do no worse than a no decision in his first major league contest.

Dane's Journey

Born in Fleming Island, Florida, Dane played ball at Clay High School in Green Cove Springs, Florida, before committing to stay in-state and play at the University of Florida. From 2014 through 2016, Dane was a force to be reckoned with for the Gators. Primarily as a relief pitcher, Dane posted a 12-6 record with a 3.32 ERA in 160 innings pitched. He struck out 170 batters, walked 46, and notched two saves.

Dane earned two collegiate honors that both came during his junior season. He was named a member of the 2016 SEC Community Service/Good Works Team as well as a member of the 2016 NCAA All-Regional Tournament Team. He also helped Florida reach back-to-back College World Series appearances in 2015 and 2016.

After a successful junior year where he posted a 2.29 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 33 appearances, Dane was selected 29th overall in the first round by the Washington Nationals in the 2016 MLB Draft. Dane would not be a National for long, however, as he was one of three players sent to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for outfielder Adam Eaton on December 7, 2016.

As a highly touted prospect in the White Sox farm system, Dane thrived in the minor leagues and was called up to AA by 2018. Maintaining a 2.76 ERA in 62 innings pitched with 69 strikeouts at the AA level, Dane looked on track to keep climbing the minor league ladder.  However, Dane would not finish out the 2018 season due to a right elbow sprain. To make matters worse, he would not get to pitch at all in 2019 as he had to undergo Tommy John surgery right after the conclusion of spring training. Fortunately, the surgery was a success and Dane fully recovered. 


A rough fifth inning might have knocked him out of the game, but overall I would say Dane had a fine major league debut. His seven strikeouts of 19 batters faced is encouraging. I have no idea if the White Sox will keep him in the rotation or if they just needed a guy to throw a game in the middle of the week. Regardless, Dane made a whole lot of us proud tonight. It was great to see a guy I watched for three years at UF finally get his opportunity in the MLB.  That being said, Dane becomes the fourth member of the 2016 Gator draft class to reach the big leagues along side A.J. Puk (Oakland Athletics), Peter Alonso (New York Mets), and Shaun Anderson (San Francisco Giants).

Friday, February 28, 2020

Houston, We Have A Problem

These last few months have been a whirlwind for Major League Baseball and, in particular, the Houston Astros. Until this past offseason, the Astros were seen as an incredible success story. Having lost 324 games between 2011 and 2013, this organization was able to build an absolute powerhouse around the All-Star core of Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa. Throw in some key pitching acquisitions, free agent signings, a top-notch manager in A.J. Hinch, and suddenly the Astros found themselves with their first world championship in 2017 and 311 wins over these past three seasons.

On an individual basis, Houston’s players were thriving. Jose Altuve won the American League MVP in 2017 and five Silver Slugger Awards for the second baseman position from 2014-2018. Alex Bregman finished second in MVP voting this past season, but still won a Silver Slugger for the third baseman position this year. George Springer was the World Series MVP in 2017 and won a Silver Slugger for the outfield position this past year. Justin Verlander won the AL Cy Young Award this past season. Finally, star rookie Yordan Alvarez cemented a fantastic 2019 campaign as he took home the Rookie of the Year Award.

Having assembled such a touted and lauded roster, the Astros looked poised to remain a perennial contender for years to come. After their championship run, they lost in five games in the 2018 American League Championship Series and returned to the World Series in 2019 before falling in seven games. Even after a tough loss to the Washington Nationals in this year’s Fall’s Classic, there was still no doubt that Houston could easily make it back to the World Series in 2020 and many more seasons to come.

Then, reports started to come out. After all this success, the Astros were accused of cheating. In particular, the Astros were accused of stealing signs. Here’s what’s interesting though. As part of the “unwritten rules of baseball”, it’s completely fine and legitimate to steal signs from the opposing catcher, third base coach, manager, or whoever is the source of the signs. What makes Houston’s situation interesting though is how elaborate this scheme was. To put it simply, the Astros utilized video, trash cans, and buzzers (supposedly) among other things to get a leg up on what pitches were being thrown.

These allegations obviously created a firestorm across the MLB and the entire sports world with Houston ultimately being punished for their actions. However, many saw a measly $5 million fine, the firing of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, and draft pick forfeitures as a slap on the wrist. Many are calling for Houston to vacate the 2017 World Series championship, the players involved to be suspended (maybe even banned), any awards those players won to be vacated, and for some pitchers’ statistics to be readjusted to account for this advantage Houston had when facing these pitchers.

So with all this in mind, here’s my two cents on the matter. What the Houston Astros did was wrong. Plain and simple. Sign stealing in itself is fine, but the lengths that the Astros went to were unacceptable. The 2017 World Series should NOT be vacated. I do agree that is unfair to the Los Angeles Dodgers that the Astros were using these tactics against them on baseball’s biggest stage.

As a Marlins/Cubs fan, I would be livid if either of my two teams lost the World Series because of an elaborate sign stealing scheme from the opposing team. However, the Astros still had to hit those pitches. Knowing what pitch is coming is helpful, but that by no means guarantees a base hit. It increases the likelihood, yes, but baseball is a weird game where hard hit balls can be lineouts and soft hit balls can be doubles. Also consider this. If we ask the Astros to forfeit their World Series title, let’s also ask the Cincinnati Reds to relinquish their claim to the 1919 World Series championship as the Chicago White Sox blatantly fixed that series to spite their cheapskate owner Charles Comiskey.

Back on point. The firings of both Alex Cora (Red Sox) and Carlos Beltran (Mets) were warranted and the right move to make for both of the organizations who employed them. Especially if it is true that these two individuals played pivotal roles in the implementation of this elaborate sign stealing schematic. Whether Cora should be banned permanently or if this scandal affects Beltran’s Hall of Fame chances are not for me to say. What I will say is that Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader who was banned from baseball for his role in gambling as a manager, has a much stronger case for reinstatement if no harsher action is taken on the key individuals involved in this scandal.

As for the awards, it’s absurd to say they should be vacated. We had players using steroids who were breaking records and winning awards! It makes no sense at all to make Altuve give his MVP award back because he had a leg up on what pitches were being thrown. Barry Bonds hit a record 73 home runs in 2001 and nobody complained about him giving back the National League MVP for that season amid the steroid allegations that cloud his career. I could go on forever, but the point is that there are many past examples of players who used performance enhancing substances and won accolades as a result.

My final point is as follows. Does Houston deserve the criticism it has been getting? Yes. Should an asterisk be put on this World Series? Absolutely. Was the punishment appropriate? That’s not for me to say. Suspending everyone involved, fining the organization an insane amount of money, and taking away all the draft picks in the world can’t change the fact that the Houston Astros won the 2017 World Series. Physically taking that title away will not change that fact either.

It’ll be interesting to see what comes of the investigation into the Boston Red Sox for similar allegations. Many people seem to forget that Houston was not the only one accused of stealing signs. This scandal does put a stain on the MLB, but it’s nothing the league can’t overcome and move on from. For all we know, Houston might not be the only team who has done this. They just happen to be the first one who got caught.