Randy Dobnak Is More Than a Great Story
Image courtesy of Raj Mehta-USA TODAY SportsIt's always fun to see an underdog rise to the major leagues in a Twins uniform — especially when they experience an unlikely wave of initial success. Willians Astudillo and Ryne Harper come to mind as recent examples. Fans may recall that Andrew Albers reached the big leagues in 2013, a few years after fizzling out of affiliated ball, and fired 17 1/3 scoreless innings in his first two starts. Looking back a little further, there was Australian third baseman Glenn Williams, who reached the majors in 2005 after nearly a decade toiling in the minors and batted .425 in his first (and only) 40 MLB at-bats.
Fun stories, but nothing more. It was fairly evident at the time that these were flash-in-the-pan moments, lacking a sustainable formula to turn them into anything more.
Dobnak's backstory is as good as any before him, if not better. As I wrote in the latest Week in Review column, "In a season full of a good stories, Randy Dobnak might have 'em all beat." Here we have a guy who went undrafted out of Division II Alderson-Broaddus College in West Virginia, but kept chasing his dream in independent ball as pitcher for the Utica Unicorns in Michigan. The Twins, somehow, took notice of the right-hander and signed him.
After a stunning two-year ascent through the minors that saw him post an ERA of 3.14 or better at every stop, the 24-year-old who famously boasted of his 4.99/5.00 rating as an Uber driver was called up the major leagues and made his debut on August 9th, hurling four shutout innings in a critical game against Cleveland.
He has since continued to turn in consistently sterling results, and on Wednesday he added yet another chapter to his inspirational tale, logging his finest start yet as a Twin (6 IP, 1 H, 0 ER) and picking up the win in Minnesota's division-clinching victory. Soon after, he was off to Maryland for a wedding this weekend, which was only planned with such poor timing because when he got engaged two years ago, this was not a conceivable possibility in his (or anyone else's) mind.
Dobnak's journey has been unreal up to this point and it's only gonna get crazier when he all but certainly takes the mound as a starter for one of Minnesota's upcoming playoff games against the Yankees. But unlike so many short-lived sensations before him, there's legitimate reason to believe that Dobnak's story is only beginning.
It's not just his 1.59 ERA through nine appearances with the Twins (seventh-best among AL pitchers with 20+ IP since the start of August) -- it's the way he's achieved it. Consider these secondary numbers:
Dobnak has a 52.9% ground ball rate. That would rank sixth among qualified MLB starters.
Dobnak has a 12.9% swinging strike rate. That would rank 15th among qualified MLB starters.
Dobnak has thrown 68% strikes, and owns a 4.2% walk rate. That would rank fourth among MLB starters.
So, to recap, Dobnak has gotten grounders, missed bats, and attacked the zone at either a borderline elite (or just flat-out elite) rate. That is essentially a failsafe recipe for success as a pitcher. There are zero qualified starters in the league with equal or superior marks in all three categories.
This is not a guy getting fat off crappy opponents. (In fact, five of his nine appearances have come against Cleveland, Washington, or Boston.) Nor is it a guy who's simply taking advantage of scouting reports that have not yet caught up. I mean, that might be the case to an extent, but Dobnak is not floating on a smoke-and-mirrors type fluke. This is real.
That's why he's got a better chance to hold his own against New York in the ALDS than you might expect. And it's why he has rapidly turned into a substantive factor in the team's future rotation planning.
Pretty damn cool to see. Uber-cool, one might say.
- Steve Lein, James, brvama and 12 others like this