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The Twins conclude their week in Chicago with a Sunday night game against the Cubs. The Twins have won two of the first six games against...
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Gardy announces retirement

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This is an AP article lifted from the StarTribune web site.DETROIT — Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire announced his immediate retirement bar...
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The Defense And Reality of Dobnak

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I almost posted this in a front page thread but decided it needed it's own. I know we are in a playoff push with mixtures of optimism and...
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LT contracts for current star position players

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I see that Yelich is still effected by a broken kneecap from last year and has a longterm contract now through 2028. It always raised an...
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How does this scoring get the win?

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Here is the pitching box Grateral 1.1 innings one run Kolarek 0.2 innings no runs Dodgers take lead May 5.1 innings 3 runs Gonzalez 1 inn...
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Recent Blogs


The Unexpected Lyft In Randy Dobnak’s Game

Okay, now that I've got the obligatory ride-sharing joke out of the way, let's proceed.

Strikeouts have been the rage for a while now. K-rates are on the rise once again, as pitchers are sending hitters from the batter's box back to the dugout 23.8% of the time (up from last year’s 23.0%), made even more impressive when considering that pitchers aren't even hitting anymore.
Image courtesy of © Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Meanwhile, 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.

Attached Image: DobnakTable.png

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.

Attached Image: DobnakChart1.png

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.

Attached Image: DobnakArm.png

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.

Attached Image: DobnakChart2.png
Attached Image: HildyArm.png

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.

Attached Image: DobnakChart3.png
Attached Image: StromanArm.png

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.

Attached Image: Dobnak1.gif
Attached Image: Stroman1.gif

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.

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10 Comments

Wow, great article! I loved the graphics, the stat comps, and the analysis!

 

I'm assuming the ones hitters pound into the ground are the sinker, slider, and changeup, and the ones they pop up are the four seam fastball? Judging by that graphic, his four seamer has a really dramatic "rise" to it, especially in contrast to the other pitches, which all sink. So it would make sense they'd get under the four-seamer, and hit the top of the sinking ones.  

 

This analysis makes me even more encouraged that Dobnak has a solid future. We have yet to see any sign that his success so far is a mirage and the bubble will burst. So I'm going to enjoy this while I can, and hoping it continues indefinitely. After watching his first games, I was so impressed I picked him up as a free agent on my fantasy team -- and that was before reading this article. Not suggesting anyone should care about my fantasy baseball team! I'm just saying, even going by the eye test alone, the Keuchel comp does not seem totally crazy. Every team could use a Marcus Stroman, on a rookie contract.He keeps the ball out of dangerous spots, and keeps hitters off balance. He's fun to watch, and this was fun to read -- thanks again!

    • DocBauer, Andrew Bryzgornia, JoshDungan1 and 3 others like this
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VivaBomboRivera!
Aug 05 2020 09:00 PM

The Unexpected Lyft In Randy Dobnak’s Game

 

He's here all week, folks. Try the veal!

    • DocBauer, Andrew Bryzgornia, JoshDungan1 and 2 others like this
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Andrew Bryzgornia
Aug 05 2020 11:27 PM

If you don't reference Uber/Lyft and Randy Dobnak at the same time, are you even a baseball fan? 

 

The Unexpected Lyft In Randy Dobnak’s Game

 

He's here all week, folks. Try the veal!

 

    • ashbury likes this
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VivaBomboRivera!
Aug 06 2020 03:43 AM

Once my eyes got done rolling I went back to read the article carefully.Very nice use of statistics and location data to identify why Dobnak is what he is now and forecast what he could become.Would be nice to see what he makes of another crack and the Yankees in the postseason this year.

    • Weave likes this
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VivaBomboRivera!
Aug 06 2020 03:44 AM

If you don't reference Uber/Lyft and Randy Dobnak at the same time, are you even a baseball fan? 

Take my baseball writer, please!

    • ashbury likes this
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ToddlerHarmon
Aug 06 2020 08:27 AM

It looks like the secret sauce is that Dobnak's four seamer and two seamer have similar horizontal movement, and maybe hitters can't really recognize the pitch and guess the late vertical "movement". So they are always just high (grounders) or just low (popups).

 

Whereas other pitchers with more movement may generate whiffs from such trickery, Dobnak gets the (preferred?) result of bad contact.

 

Analytics has definitely revived vertical differentiation of pitches as a tactic for pitchers. Is this a case of "tunneling" two fastballs, rather than a fastball/breaking ball combo?

    • Jacks02 likes this

My (long-running) #FunWithNumbers stat is since the last time he gave up more than 4 runs in any appearance (May 16th of 2018), from Cedar Rapids to the majors, Randy Dobnak has, in 54 games:

 

a 23-9 record

277.2 IP

1.95 ERA

1.07 WHIP

nearly 4:1 K to BB ratio

Sub .600 OPS allowed

 

The man aint just a myth anymore, he's a legend. You won't find consistency like that among anyone's rise to the majors. 

    • DocBauer, Nine of twelve and Weave like this

Thank You Steve for doing the research, and showing what Randy really could be like as a starting Pitcher.  The Wild thing is, is that he is still in the initial learning stages as a MLB Pitcher.  I don't know if you saw the interview with him while he was talking about what the hitters brain see's when you throw them a Pitch?  WHO talks about stuff like that???  lol We haven't see the Best of Randy yet.

 

    • SQUIRREL, Steve Lein and Nine of twelve like this
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Nine of twelve
Aug 08 2020 04:56 PM

 

My (long-running) #FunWithNumbers stat is since the last time he gave up more than 4 runs in any appearance (May 16th of 2018), from Cedar Rapids to the majors, Randy Dobnak has, in 54 games:

 

a 23-9 record

277.2 IP

1.95 ERA

1.07 WHIP

nearly 4:1 K to BB ratio

Sub .600 OPS allowed

 

The man aint just a myth anymore, he's a legend. You won't find consistency like that among anyone's rise to the majors. 

If he had these stats with a 98 MPH fastball and a wipe-out slider he would be heralded as the second coming of Nolan Ryan. But having these stats with no overwhelming pitches somehow makes it less significant in the eyes of many. As the old saying (correctly) goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If he continues to get outs with few runs allowed he deserves recognition no matter how he does it.

    • Steve Lein, Major League Ready and DocBauer like this
In an era of power arms, HR swings, high SO totals, it would make perfect sense that a bulldog with heavy stuff would/could succeed by being different.

Dobnak just seems to know how to pitch. He's got good control, decent velocity, and his stuff is heavy and low...generally...creating that weak contact. He seems to be the type who will be durable and be able to consistently hit 90-100 pitches per start. He doesn't have to have high SO numbers to be successful as long as the BB and HR numbers stay low. What is key for him though, IMO, is refining his stuff just enough to avoid those long AB where the batter just fouls off pitch after pitch. The ability to put those guys away quicker will determine just how successful he can be.
    • Steve Lein and Nine of twelve like this