If you can say anything about how the Atlanta Braves treat their minor league prospects, it's that they aren't afraid to give them a chance if they feel like they're ready. That was the case with Dylan Dodd in 2023, as his impressive performance in Spring Training ended up earning him an opportunity to make the Opening Day roster as part of Atlanta's rotation. Unfortunately, that may have been the peak of Dodd's season, as not a lot went well for him after that.
The Braves drafted Dodd with the 96th overall pick (third round, 25th pick) in the 2021 MLB draft. He finished 2021 in High-A, and then 2022 saw him end the season in Double-A. His performance in Spring Training (along with a couple of injury concerns for the originally-planned starters) led to him earning a spot in the big league rotation alongside Jared Shuster, a move that was surprising because it came with the demotion of Ian Anderson and Bryce Elder to Triple-A to begin the year.
What were the expectations?
Dodd had always been collectively tabbed as a fourth or fifth starter, and sure enough, that was his role upon his initial arrival to the majors. The hope was that Dodd would serve as a feasible option to fill out the end of the rotation with the idea that he was bridging the gap between the start of the season and the return of Kyle Wright to the rotation. He wasn’t really blowing anybody away with his stuff, as his fastball sat in the low 90s and he didn’t have a history of inducing a bunch of whiffs, so it was clear that Dodd was going to be that type of pitcher where Brian Snitker was just asking for five innings where the Braves lineup still had an opportunity to win the game by the time he was done.
Right around the time of his Spring Training breakout, Dodd started getting 45 FV valuations put upon him, on the back of his command. That suggested something far more than replacement level... but it didn’t really work out that way.
Dylan Dodd was called up in the first week of April and went on to throw five innings of one-run ball against the Cardinals on April 4 in his first start of the season, with a 3/0 K/BB ratio and the run not coming on a homer. It was very encouraging to see, especially since, at the time, no one knew the Cardinals were going to have a dreadful, disaster-caliber season! Unfortunately, this was also as good as it got for him!
In his very next start five days later, the Padres lit up Dodd for 10 hits and seven runs over just 4 1⁄3 innings of work. That start was so bad, given that he allowed two homers amid a walk and just three more strikeouts in 23 batters faced that he wouldn’t be seen again at the big league level until May, which is when he got a pair of starts in that month. The first came against the Marlins in early May, and then he also started another outing in late May against the Phillies. They were similar in that the lefty hurler gave up a few runs, ate a handful of innings and essentially did his job by keeping the Braves in the game while he was out there, but was providing some awful-tier pitching in the process. In those two games, he gave up three homers and had a combined 4/4 K/BB ratio... but the Braves won both of them anyway.
Still, this wasn’t enough to stick around and Dodd went back down until mid-June, when he got a start against the Tigers. The good news is that, again, the Braves won this game 6-5, but it was only after Dodd gave up all five runs and three homers while he was out there for four innings. It was a new low for him, which is somewhat impressive given how badly he’d struggled already.
He only got a couple starts after that, coming in early September and during the final series of the season, and it was more of the same in those games. Dodd just muddled along for the most part. The fact that I was able to go start-by-start for Dylan Dodd’s major league season is an indication of how things went for him at the big league level this season. He was unable to really stick around for an extended period of time and it’s pretty easy to see why — having a 171 ERA- and a 160 FIP- for the season won’t exactly do the trick, and a 148 xFIP- doesn’t offer much hope, either.
Overall, Dodd finished the year with -0.5 fWAR in 34 1⁄3 innings spanning seven starts. That put him squarely in the bottom 30 in terms of pitcher value in 2023, and all but five of the guys below him pitched more innings than he managed at the MLB level over the course of the season.
What went right?
Ah, uh, okay, let’s see. He didn’t walk a lot of people! Some pitchers would kill for a walk percentage of 7.3 percent, so there’s that. Also, this aforementioned start from the infancy of the season where he pitched a very good game against the Cardinals is worthy of being remembered. This was good! Ah, memories!
He was also on the mound for this weird play, which was pretty fun, even if he was already Bad-Dodd by then (and had given up a homer to Alec Bohm earlier in the game):
If you’re really scrouging for positives, Dodd’s slider is somewhat interesting and he has pretty good command of it. However, he wasn’t able to keep its shape consistent at all, and thus it was only effective some of the time. Against the Cardinals, he wafted it into the corner repeatedly, getting stunned looks time and again. But, the Padres and the league seemed to catch on fairly quickly after that start, and he didn’t have the consistency to get it past batters afterwards, anyway.
What went wrong?
Well, it’s easy to find something that went wrong when you finish the season in the negative when it comes to fWAR. Let’s try to be as concise as possible here, though: Whenever he got hit, he got hit hard (46.3 percent of the contact he gave up qualified as Hard Hit), he was unable to use any of his pitches to consistently get outs (his highest Put-Away percentage on any of his pitches was 11.4 percent with his changeup), he couldn’t miss bats consistently either, and despite having a low walk percentage, his strikeout percentage (9.1 percent) wasn’t much higher. It was extremely tough for Dodd to get a real foothold on things during this season.
Both the Padres starts and Tigers starts were absolute nightmares for him, with the Tigers start being far more frustrating because the game could’ve been a fairly easy win with some decent pitching. Here’s him giving up a homer to Jake Rogers on a slider that didn’t dip:
Assuming that the Braves don’t make a move for another starting pitcher to round out their rotation, the fifth spot figures to be wide open once again. Instead of being a relative unknown, we now have an idea of what Dodd can do at the major league level, so a strong showing in Spring Training may not be enough on its own to get him back onto another Opening Day roster. His 80th percentile ZiPS projection for 2024 has him at 1.6 WAR while his 20th percentile projection has him at 0.4 WAR. Those might actually be pretty generous, when it’s all said and done! Steamer has him at 0.1 WAR in a swing capacity across 37 innings, which again, given what we saw in 2023, well... we’ll see.
He’s definitely an outside candidate for grabbing a spot in the rotation and if that doesn’t happen then you can probably expect Dodd to be busy in Gwinnett while occasionally making big league spot starts if the rotation runs into injury woes, which it tends to pretty much every year, leaguewide.