Name: Ryan Dull
Height/Weight: 5’10’’, 175
How Acquired: Drafted in the 32nd round of the 2012 amateur draft
One could forgive Ryan Dull if in late July he was starting to wonder if he would ever get out of Midland, Texas. The right-hander had been a member of the RockHounds since late 2013 and was still looking for his first taste of Triple-A despite a Double-A career ERA just a little more than 2.00. Dull’s perseverance paid off in a big way, however, as he parlayed a July 28th promotion to Triple-A into a call-up to the big leagues a little more than a month later. Now Dull enters the 2016 season with a chance to establish himself as a major league fixture.
Dull’s odds of making that jump to the big leagues were long at the outset of his career. A diminutive right-handed senior from a low-profile college (UNC-Asheville), Dull was selected in the 32nd round by the A’s in 2012. It didn’t take him long to show that he was underrated, however. After four outings in Rookie ball, Dull moved up to short-season Vermont. He struck-out 34 in 25.1 innings for the Lake Monsters and converted all four of his save opportunities.
Ryan Dull Stats
In 2013, Dull went from being a little-known late-round pick to a player who appeared to be on the fast-track. He began the season with Low-A Beloit, but moved up to High-A Stockton mid-season after converting all 12 of his save chances and posting a 2.10 ERA and a 35:3 K:BB in 25.2 innings. Dull’s success continued in the Cal League, as he struck-out 31, walked just three and put up a 1.59 ERA in 22. 2 innings. That earned Dull a spot in Double-A for the final month of the season and a place in the prospect showcase Arizona Fall League.
Dull’s career trajectory stalled after that 2013 season, however. He spent the entire 2014 campaign with Midland. After a slow start, Dull put up impressive numbers for the RockHounds. He had a 2.88 ERA and a 61:15 K:BB in 56.1 innings. Despite that success, Dull never received the call to Triple-A in 2014 and found himself back on the Midland roster at the start of 2015.
Despite that disappointment, Dull put together the best year of his career in 2015. He was the best reliever in the Texas League, posting a ridiculous 0.60 ERA in 45 innings. Dull converted all 12 save chances and struck-out 52. Texas League batters hit only .182 against him. The A’s finally gave Dull an opportunity in Triple-A on July 28th. He quickly proved that he belonged. In 16 innings for the Nashville Sounds, Dull allowed just two runs (1.13 ERA) and he struck-out 21 while walking just three.
When big league rosters expanded on September 1, Dull got the call to Oakland despite not being on the 40-man roster. In a few short months, Dull went from being a forgotten man to a big leaguer.
The biggest question about Dull has always been whether his stuff would play against advanced hitters. Unlike many minor league relievers with big strike-out numbers, Dull doesn’t have a mid-90s fastball and a high-80s slider. What he does have is a low-90s fastball that he can spot on either side of the plate and a slider that looks like a fastball coming out of his hand but breaks significantly right at the plate. There isn’t much subtly about Dull’s repertoire, but he has always made hitters look foolish thanks to the movement on his pitches.
“Dully, you know exactly what you are getting,” former A’s minor league coordinator Garvin Alston said. “You get a fastball down-and-away for strike one. Once he gets you behind in the count, he’s going to come at you with the slider. The batter knows it but he can’t do anything about it.”
Dull used that formula to find early success in the big leagues, as well. He struck-out a batter in a scoreless debut against the Angels on September 1. That was the start of a run of eight consecutive scoreless outings to begin his MLB career. Dull ran into trouble over his last few outings, allowing runs in three consecutive appearances on September 25, 26 and 30. However, he still had a respectable first month in the big leagues, posting a 4.24 ERA and a 16:6 K:BB in 17 innings. In the off-season, Dull was named the A's (and OaklandClubhouse's) 2015 A's Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Although Dull has had remarkably consistent success throughout his career, A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens said that Dull improved his overall pitch sequencing and his ability to spot his pitches in 2015.
“What he has done really for the three years that he has been in the organization has been remarkable,” Owens said. “What he can do with the baseball is amazing, and I think he actually improved his repertoire this year and his efficiency has always been stellar.”
Fatigue may have played a role in Dull’s late season issues in the big leagues. The 78 innings pitched between the minor leagues and the major leagues were a career-high for Dull. Big league hitters batted just .203 against Dull overall, although he did allow four homeruns (two coming off of the bat of Giants’ outfielder Jarrett Parker). Three of the four homeruns hit off of Dull were off the bat of left-handed hitters. All six of Dull’s walks were also to left-handed batters, although they hit just .167 against him. Historically, Dull has fared much better versus right-handed hitters in the minor leagues, as well. He has always been a flyball pitcher.
While his slider averaged just 82 MPH, Dull dominated big league hitters with the pitch. He got 10 strike-outs on his slider and allowed only five hits in 88 sliders thrown. He didn’t throw his change-up that often (23 pitches out of 250), but it was also effective for him. He didn’t allow a hit and he got one strike-out off of the pitch. Dull could go to that weapon more often in 2016.
The A’s have added four veteran major leaguers to their bullpen this off-season (Ryan Madson, John Axford, Marc Rzepczynski and Liam Hendriks). Given how poorly the A’s bullpen performed as a unit last season, the only returning member of that group guaranteed a spot (if healthy) is closer Sean Doolittle. That should leave two open spots up for competition this spring. Dull figures to be one of the strongest contenders for one of those two spots this spring.