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Parker Dunshee: Wake’s Ace

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Wake’s Friday starter Parker Dunshee is unquestionably the team’s ace, but what can fans of the Diamond Deacs make of his 5.05 ERA so far this season?

Parker Dunshee throws a pitch against USC

When the nationally ranked Wake Forest baseball team, sitting at 19-7 (6-3 ACC) takes the field tonight against Miami, who is 11-14 (4-5 ACC), in a critical conference tilt, the Diamond Deacs will give the ball to senior ace Parker Dunshee to kick the series off in style. As the Friday starter for the last season and a half, Dunshee has played an important role in Wake’s return to national relevance on the baseball diamond. So far this season, Dunshee is 4-1 with a 5.05 ERA and has rattled off four wins since dropping his first start on the road against a tough Houston team in the second game of the season.

Introduction

While he has been consistent again this year for Wake, the 5.05 ERA is a bit alarming for a pitcher selected by several publications as a preseason All-American. Similarly, the numbers may come as a bit of a shock for Demon Deacon fans who recall Parker’s absolutely dominant stretch at the end of last season including wins over Duke in the ACC Tournament and Minnesota in the NCAA Regional where he was almost unhittable at times. However, with smaller sample sizes in baseball and the inherent variance in the sport, it is difficult to look only at ERA and draw any meaningful conclusions about how a pitcher, in particular, is faring.

With that in mind, this article attempts to do a “deep dive” into Dunshee’s numbers so far this season compared to last year, keeping in mind the strength of competition faced while also identifying any variables which could explain where Parker currently stands at this stage of the season.

The Data

As provided above, Dunshee is 4-1 so far this season and has made six overall starts. After giving up six runs on nine hits in the opener against Houston, as well as four runs over 5.2 innings in his second start against USC, he has settled down a bit over the previous four starts – giving up only ten total earned runs. In total, Dunshee has allowed 20 earned runs on 37 hits through six starts, totaling 35.2 innings so far on the season. His six starts were: at Houston, USC, Kent State, N.C. State, at Duke, and Georgia Tech.

Here is an easy table to consult comparing the first 6 starts of last year to this year:

Although he began his sophomore year as a starter in the early season, including his first career start in ACC play in the first game of a double header against Virginia Tech, Dunshee was moved largely to a relief role for conference play. Last year he entered the season with eyes on grabbing a full-time role as a starter. He got his chance to do so and has not relinquished the opportunity, becoming the go-to Friday starter for the Diamond Deacs.

Through his first six starts of last season, Dunshee was 4-2 and allowed 14 runs on 38 hits in a total of 38 innings. This produced an ERA of 3.32, well below his current ERA of 5.05. He struck out 37 total batters on only nine walks through this period, an impressive total, and threw two shutouts – against Georgetown and Duke. His six starts were: Georgetown, at USC, Towson, Clemson, at Virginia, and Duke.

While Dunshee’s strikeout numbers last year were impressive, so far this season he has already struck out 45 batters against 11 walks despite throwing just under three innings less than he had in 2016. In games against Duke and Georgia Tech the last two weekends, Dunshee has struck out a total of 24 batters (12 in each game, tying a career high) and allowed only five total walks. While his earned run total has increased this season he is pounding the strike zone with at least the same amount of vigor he was last season. On the flip side, he’s already hit a total of 8 batters through six starts, two more than he hit over the course of 16 starts all of last season.

Possible Explanations

At this point you’re likely wondering “so what exactly are we supposed to draw from this comparison?” and that’s a perfectly legitimate question – one which I do not necessarily have a comprehensive answer for.

One downfall of college baseball is the relative dearth of statistics that fans of the major leagues have become accustomed to looking for. I’d love to look at how Dunshee’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) or how his home run percentage on fly balls compare from last year to this year. With this information not readily available, it’s up to us to attempt to draw conclusions from the data that we do have and identify potential variables that impact the analysis.

After the first six starts last season, Dunshee went on to start nine more games, all against ACC competition with the exception of the regional performance against Minnesota. It was over this period that he really appeared to hit his stride, beginning with his sixth start of the year – a shutout against Duke, and allowed more than three earned runs in only one more game (four runs allowed over eight innings in a no decision against Notre Dame).

He threw an absolute gem in a two-hit shutout over seven innings against Florida State, and then turned around the next weekend to allow only one run on six hits over eight innings against North Carolina.

In his next four starts, he allowed either two or three earned runs and then came on in relief against Clemson in the ACC Tournament giving up only one earned run on one hit in three innings.

This indicates that Dunshee is going to have starts where he’s very difficult to hit or score runs off of, but his “norm” is likely somewhere close to allowing 1 to 1.5 walks/hits per innings pitched against typical ACC competition. This is good news for Wake fans.

Furthermore, teams simply don’t “get to” Dunshee very frequently. He’s likely not going to give up ten runs over two innings in an outing and for a team that has no problem scoring runs on offense, this puts opposing offenses and teams in quite a bind in the opener of a three game series.

Barring injury or matchups, Dunshee is going to be the Friday starter for the rest of the season. He has seven starts remaining against ACC competition, including four starts on the road (Miami, Louisville, Clemson, and Florida State) and three starts at home (Boston College, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh).

While his numbers reflect that he may be slightly more erratic this season, walking a couple more batters while hitting more batters, the opponents’ batting average of .268 so far is only slightly above the .260 total from last year. The most likely culprit of the additional runs allowed in the absence of significantly more hits, are the additional runners on base from the walks and hit batters (and the timing of when these hits occur - i.e. are there runners on base or not, are guys stringing together back-to-back hits against him, are offenses hitting well with runners in scoring position against him, etc.)

Watching Dunshee pitch last year compared with this year, there does not appear to be any real difference in either his release or demeanor on the mound. With this in mind, I personally expect that Dunshee is going have a similar second half of the season to the one he had last year. He has three series against teams that are not great and they’re all at home.

On the opposite side, the four road starts all present serious challenges as Louisville, Clemson, and FSU all have serious, serious offensive threats in their lineup. Miami, averaging only 4 runs a game, has struggled at times on offense this year but at home in a series they realistically need to win and with the talent the Hurricanes have it’s simply not going to be an easy task either.

If Wake wants to remain in the chase for the Atlantic Division and ACC regular season title chases – a race in which they are certainly a current participant three series into conference play – these are going to be very important starts where Manager Tom Walter is going to need great performances from his ace.

Conclusion

So what’s the bottom line? I personally think it’s that Wake fans know what they’re going to get from Dunshee and should sit back and enjoy the ride. The senior is a blast to watch and even though he can get a little loose at time, when he’s on he’s one of the most dominant pitchers in not just the ACC but the entire NCAA. Ask FSU, UNC, or Minnesota players from last if they want to see Dunshee on the mound in a must win game. Ask Duke or Tech players from this year if they’re interested in trying to make contact again against Dunshee’s repertoire of pitches that, when on, just pound the strike zone time and time again before inducing poor swings on pitches that Dunshee does throw outside the zone for fear that they’d be sitting down looking anyway.

Another possible explanation is that the current numbers (ERA and Record) don’t really represent how well a pitcher is actually doing. This goes deeper in the Sabermetrics field than I want to go, but there are a lot of advanced statistics that highlight how good a pitcher really is instead of wins and ERA.

This article wasn’t intended to be critical, but instead provide an objective take that Dunshee isn’t deviating much from where he stood at this point last season. He’s given up a few more runs, but he’s the same guy we’ve all watched continue to develop through his four years in Winston-Salem. I’ll have a piece up on Dunshee and his career accomplishments as the season continues to advance (spoiler: he’s going to be one of the best pitchers in Wake history by the numbers) but for now let’s settle in, relax, and watch our guy deal.

The Diamond Deacs are good this year. Really good. And one of the major reasons for that is Dunshee. 5.05 ERA or not. Slight uptick in walk totals or not. He’s going to get strikeouts, he’s going to get out of tight spots in big time situations, and most of all he’s going to get Wake wins in conference play. He’s the real deal. As always, go Deacs.