The Best Reliever You’ve Never Heard Of

Shawn Dubin is a diamond in the rough.

Bear with me here. I realize that probably isn’t the best way to start an article if I’m trying to convince you of something. However, I need you to suspend your disbelief for a bit on this one. Yes, Shawn Dubin, a 28-year-old rookie reliever with an ERA near 7 is the best reliever you’ve never heard of. Sort of. He’s got some flaws that I’ll go over at the end but his potential in the back of the bullpen is limitless.

The Fastball

Dubin’s arsenal is led by his fastball, which he throws ~41% of the time. It’s a solid offering, coming in at 94.8 mph with 17.1” of iVB and 9.3” of iHB. His max velocity this season is 96.9 mph. From a release height of 5.87’, this is slightly above-average movement on both fronts. I understand that this is not the most convincing start. Due to its closeness to the expected movement from his release point, this is probably around a league-average fastball for a reliever. The extra movement is nice but the shape itself leaves a bit to be desired. It’s a fine pitch, probably somewhere between a 50 and 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale.

He’s shown some ability to locate it on the sides of the zone, which is a positive, but he’s yet to throw it above the zone much. The issue with this pitch is if it’s not missing the bat it’s likely to get hammered. Going against what a lot of pitching coaches and pitchers themselves would say, he needs to challenge with that pitch less. It’s arguably the weak link in his arsenal, and he should consider using it less.


The Cutter

Dubin’s cutter is a bit of an odd pitch. He throws it 88.5 mph on average, with a lot of spin at 2787 RPM. The pitch falls in between a cut-fastball and a true gyro cutter though, with 34% of that spin being active. With its direction, it has 5.2” of iVB and 5.9” of glove-side iHB. It’s not so much that the pitch itself is unique, more so how it fits into his arsenal.

Cutters can be many different things for pitchers. His I think would best serve as a bridge pitch between his fastball and his breaking balls, especially the sweeper. If you’re unfamiliar, a “bridge” pitch is one whose movement lies between two other pitches with drastically different movements. Having that in-between pitch makes it harder to pick up the other individual pitches as well as to lay off of them when they’re out of the zone. A typical example would be a pitcher with a sinker and a sweeper throwing a cutter with little horizontal movement to split the difference, like what Tanner Houck has.

Dubin’s cutter being a bridge pitch isn’t all that uncommon. What’s odd is that it’s his second-most used pitch. It would be one thing if he was good at throwing it inside to lefties to tie them up, but he hasn’t shown that ability yet. Instead, his two most common pitches are both in contention as the least good that he has. That isn’t to say they’re bad, they’re both average or a bit better in terms of stuff. They’re just not as good as his other weapons.



The Changeup

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had about enough negativity. This is where we get into the best of what Dubin has to offer. His changeup is awesome. He throws it hard, at 88.1 mph. The velocity separation of 6.8 mph from his fastball isn’t much and this pitch is all about the movement. It falls off the table. It’s been vertically neutral this season, with 0.0” of iVB. That creates exceptional depth for this pitch and truly ridiculous vertical separation from his fastball. It also fades for 14.5” worth of iHB.

This is a devastating pitch. However, due to the way it moves, it potentially lacks elite deception and thus relies on movement alone. That sounds worse than it actually is, I think it’s good enough to do that. The only pitchers with more vertical separation between their fastball and off-speed pitches that I could find were Bryce Miller with his splitter and Trevor Richards with his Airbender. (Also Devin Williams if you include last season)



The Curveball

Another excellent pitch, Dubin’s curveball is also pretty unique. He throws it with above-average velocity at 81.4 mph but, like the changeup, this one is special for its movement. There is not a single curve in the majors right now with more movement than Dubin’s at this velocity or higher. It gets an astonishing -16.1” of iVB and 11.4” of iHB. To put that into perspective, Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s famous curveball breaks for -16.0” and 12.3”, but at 3.3mph slower than Dubin’s.

This pitch has a jaw-dropping combination of movement and power. This might sound silly but I specifically chose away games for the gifs in this article because the Astros’ camera angle simply doesn’t do this pitch justice. It’s a nearly one-of-one type of pitch that he should be throwing more regardless of his ability to locate it. It’s not entirely untouchable and he needs to keep it close enough to entice swings, but that’s all it takes. Don’t throw it directly down the middle and don’t throw it three feet away from the zone. Everything else should be fine. It’s that good.



The Sweeper

It should come as no surprise to you, given the previous section, that Dubin has an excellent sweeper as well. He throws it a bit harder than his curveball, at 82.8 mph. Like the last two entries, this pitch has mind-boggling movement. It flies across the strike zone and TV screens alike with a ridiculous 19.8” of iHB and -1.4” of iVB. Again, similar to the last pitch, there isn’t a single pitch in the majors that sweeps more at this velo or higher. There are only three that sweep more period, and they’re all thrown by sidearmers who average less than 80 mph with them.

This is a gorgeous pitch that just runs away from right-handed hitters. The only flaw with it is that he does drop his arm slot slightly to throw it, which could potentially give it away to hitters that it’s coming. That said, it’s not a huge difference so I’m reasonably confident he can get away with it. Even if they know it’s coming I’m not entirely sure hitters could put the barrel on it unless it was right in their wheelhouse or they get lucky. This pitch has unreal movement and, in the small sample we have of it, he either locates it pretty well or it winds up in the waste zone. Obviously, we want more of the former but as long as he’s not leaving it down the middle it should be fine.



The Outlook

So if he has all these great pitches, why is his ERA so high? Why don’t more people know about him? I’ll get the easy part of the answer out of the way and mention that he has been a bit unlucky in his short MLB career to this point. He’s run a comically high BABIP of .388 compared to his xBABIP of .334. His xwOBAcon of .355 pales in comparison to his actual wOBAcon of .424. This is too simple though. It’s more than just bad luck, he’s not pitching to his potential.

Dubin is a backward pitcher who hasn’t realized he should be a backward pitcher yet. His fastball and cutter are his weakest offerings yet he throws them nearly 60% of the time. This could be a confidence/command thing but I’d argue that he’s better off walking a few more hitters while throwing those nasty breaking balls than giving up line drives on his inferior pitches. I truly believe Dubin could see a Reed Garrett type of breakout if he started throwing his best pitches more often.

Fewer fastballs, period. His fastball is fine but he uses it too much and he doesn’t locate it well enough to justify that usage. The cutter is probably fine as is though he could stand to throw it in more favorable locations. The changeup needs to be thrown more and he could probably get away with using it against right-handed hitters too. The curveball has the same thing going on, he could absolutely be using it against righties. The sweeper is the superior pitch in that matchup but that doesn’t mean he can’t use the curveball at all to keep hitters guessing.

Just imagine what happens when he further refines those pitches though. When his curveball and sweeper are more consistently near the zone. When he can run his changeup in on right-handed hitters, and the fastball is above the zone rather than the middle of it. There are a lot of ifs and projections here, I’m aware, but you have to see it too. The Astros have another great reliever in Dubin, they just have to get him there.

Jack Foley

Jack is a contributor at Pitcher List who enjoys newfangled baseball numbers, coffee, and watching dogs walk by from the window where he works. He has spent far too much time on the nickname page of Baseball-Reference.

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