Treason: Is Dobnak Lucking Out Against Easy Competition?
Image courtesy of © Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportsRandy Dobnak’s start to the season has not gone unnoticed by Twins twitter and those of us here at Twins Daily ... you can find Dobnak articles here and here. Rightfully so, both of the aforementioned articles focus on the positives that Dobnak has brought to the table thus far, but I’m here to play devil's advocate of sorts. I’m not convinced that Dobnak is someone who can be trusted against the most formidable lineups in baseball such as the Yankees, Astros, Braves, and Dodgers. Afterall, the Twins are a World Series contender and they likely will need to be two of the aforementioned teams to win the World Series.
My first thought was not just to look at who he’s pitched against but, more specifically, how was that lineup performing coming into his start. I went back to each of his starts and looked at the BB/K, OPS, and wRC+ for the previous 10 days of each of his opponents. The two exceptions are when I looked at the 10 days after his start against the White Sox on July 25th (only the second day of the season) and his start against the Indians on July 31st only went back seven days. I then averaged out their results and compared them to the Yankees 10 days leading up to game two of the ALDS.
Dobnak’s game log has some solid teams on it in Cleveland (four times), Washington, and Boston but this table shows that he has regularly been facing lineups that were performing at “below average” levels, per FanGraphs. In fact, the only offense that was “above average” in all three categories coming into their matchup against Dobnak were the Red Sox on August 3rd, 2019 and he was only used as an opener for a single inning. Specifically compared to the Yankees, the lineups he has faced in the regular season just haven’t had the same “umph”, so to speak.
I know it’s only one start but unfortunately that extra “umph” turned out Dobnak’s worst start of his career allowing eight baserunners and four earned runs over just two plus innings. So this leads to the following question: was it just one bad start or will Dobnak struggle against better competition? In my opinion, the answer can be as simple as looking at his Baseball Savant profile and, if you’re not familiar, seeing a lot of blue is typically not encouraging.
To be honest, I’ve been visiting his page throughout the season and all of the batted ball percentile rankings have been slightly increasing as the season has gone on despite still being below in the lower half of the league. To back up these numbers I went back to his FanGraphs page and noticed an 88.9% strand rate, a 0.217 BABIP, and a 66.7% groundball rate. Although Dobnak is a ground ball pitcher, even 66.7% is a significant increase over his career norms and his strand rate and BABIP are further indicators that a combination of luck and poor opponents are skewing his results. What’s even more telling is that it’s more typical for a ground ball pitcher to have a higher than average BABIP...not significantly lower. As much as pitchers norm don’t have to follow the league norms, the next data point that stood out to me was the “fastball spin” ranking.
This sent me looking at Baseball Savants Pitch Arsenal page for Dobnak where I could see how Dobnak’s pitches rank against other pitchers in the league, which is picture below.
This chart displays the movement of each of Dobnak pitches (the circles) compared to the league average (the gear symbols). With Dobnak topping out in the mid to low 90’s, he needs to rely on precision accuracy and movement to experience good results against good teams. He’s shown the precision accuracy living in the bottom of the strike zone, but as seen in the chart above he doesn’t really have a “plus” pitch compared to his peers. Again, more data that tells me Dobnak won’t fare well against the better offensive teams in baseball.
All of this said, Dobnak is a solid pitcher. In my opinion, a back end of the rotation guy or long reliever out of the pen is a realistic long-term role. With the Twins schedule this season, widely considered the easiest in baseball, we may continue to see Cy Young-esque numbers from Dobnak although some regression is almost guaranteed. What’s your confidence level with Dobank making a playoff start?
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