The Unexpected Lyft In Randy Dobnak’s Game
Image courtesy of © Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY SportsMeanwhile, Randy Dobnak has been following a recipe that runs counter to the current trend. His career 19.5% strikeout rate doesn't sound that far off from current average, until you realize that he's in the 24th percentile (357th of 467) of all pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched since 2019. Now, strikeouts aren't the only way to succeed as a pitcher, but they make the job much easier. Last year, 37 qualified starting pitchers had an ERA under 4.00. Only eight of them struck out a lower percentage of hitters than Dobnak. Again, not impossible to pitch well without the whiffs, but certainly more difficult.
If you're not going to get the strikeouts, you have to induce plenty of weak contact instead, and the two most beneficial alternate methods for recording outs would be to get pop-ups or grounders. In the table below, I compiled the eight qualified starting pitchers with an ERA below 4.00 and a lower strikeout rate than Randy Dobnak's career strikeout rate (as he has only 37 1/3 IP before tonight) with their groundball and infield fly rates. Also, while working on this table, I assumed someone would point out that this was just a table of pitchers with low 2019 BABIPs (thanks, Jeff Samardzija), so I tossed that in there as well.
If you're like me, you're probably cleaning up the screen of your preferred device for visiting Twins Daily after the spit-take from looking at Dobnak's infield fly rate. I can assure you that this is not a typo, and after perusing his minor league numbers, he's never recorded an infield fly rate below 13% at any stop during his (short) minor league career. We've all watched in awe as Dobnak has carved up major league hitters with ease despite the lack of strikeouts, and now I think I've found the key. After all, if 3 out of every 4 batted balls are either a ground ball or a lazy pop-up, of course you'll rack up a bunch of outs without breaking much of a sweat.
Out of curiosity, I looked for all pitchers in 2019 with at least 50 innings pitched that recorded a combined 74.5% of batted balls as grounders or pop-ups. Only Zack Britton (who bested it with his 77.2% groundball rate alone) and Joe Kelly were more successful last year than Dobnak in his career, though it should be noted that Chad Bettis, Mark Melancon, and Diego Castillo all missed by tenths of a percentage point. Also of note, the list is populated with relievers at the top until you get to swingman Framber Valdez at 11th (67.8% grounders and pop-ups) and Dallas Keuchel at 13th (67.6%), showing that Dobnak would be in a league of his own if he can stick as a starting pitcher.
Now, I’ve gone on a significant tangent when my initial intent was to show you Dobnak’s trademark sinking fastball. Thanks to Scout from Texas Leaguers, we’re able to see the movement on a hurler’s pitches without the effects of gravity. For example, here’s Dobnak’s repertoire and average movement from 2019. The size of each circle corresponds to the frequency of that pitch being thrown.
Since I’ve been using Texas Leaguers’ data for years now, I’m aware that some of these pitches are misclassified. Those curveballs (CU) are most likely sliders (SL) simply because the typical slider stays near the origin and a righthander’s curveball should be further into the 4th (lower-right) quadrant. The 2-seamer (FT) as well is probably a mix of Dobnak’s 4-seamer (FF) and sinker (SI).
What’s important for you to know is the movement of Dobnak’s sinker is absurd, especially for his arm angle.
The lack of “rise” (again, we’re dealing with movement without gravity here) is more typical for a sidearm-throwing pitcher like former Twin Trevor Hildenberger.
But, Dobnak isn’t completely alone here. While going through pitch movement charts for editing pitchers in MLB The Show 20 (a topic for another day), I discovered the prototype for Dobnak: Marcus Stroman.
Admittedly, Stroman’s arm angle is a more typical three-quarters delivery while Dobnak’s is a low three-quarters, but there is a striking similarity in their sinkers. Of course, I can’t tease you this long without giving you some hot gif action, so you can go ahead and compare them yourself.
Stroman has had a successful MLB career thus far, with a career 3.76 ERA over nearly 850 innings. Can Dobnak achieve the same? If you’re like me, a similar career would be an excellent outcome for a pitcher that signed as an undrafted free agent back in 2017. If Dobnak is able to continue generating a plethora of grounders and pop-ups while keeping his above-average command, that result should easily be in sight.
- by jiminy, h2oface, JoshDungan1 and 4 others like this