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Twins Blogosphere


Will Randy Dobnak or Lewis Thorpe Give Minnesota More in 2020?

Short of the Twins acquiring another starter, Randy Dobnak and Lewis Thorpe will be battling alongside Devin Smeltzer for the final two slots in the rotation. How long those spots will be held remains to be seen, but today we will take a dive into the numbers of Dobnak and Thorpe and predict who will have the bigger impact in 2020.
Image courtesy of © Brad Penner - USA TODAY Sports
The two young hurlers provide an interesting juxtaposition. Thorpe is an international signing from Australia that has graced Twins prospects lists as he’s worked his way through the system. Dobnak on the other hand was an undrafted Uber driver who seemed to come out of nowhere. Thorpe is a swing and miss FIP-god who is easy to dream on, while Dobnak’s rather stunning 1.59 MLB ERA screams for regression. They don’t even throw with the same arm (Thorpe is a southpaw). However, both will be looking to make their way into Minnesota’s rotation due to Michael Pineda’s suspension and Rich Hill’s experimental arm surgery. Let’s take a look at who we should expect more from this year.

We’ll start by looking at some traditional stats and then dive into MLB Statcast numbers.

Attached Image: Dobnak Thorpe FIP table pic.png

Before we get too far, it must be said that both pitchers' MLB numbers are based on a small sample size, but they’re all we’ve got, and they do trend pretty well with how both pitchers performed in the minors in 2019.

Although Dobnak’s FIP doesn’t quite match his sterling ERA, it’s still excellent at 2.90. While Dobnak doesn’t get a ton of strikeouts (RDLARK has a great blogpost explaining how that may change), he also doesn’t walk anyone and gets a ton of ground balls (52.9%). Since joining the Twins organization in 2017 his numbers have been consistently solid across all levels and he may be one of those guys who out- performs his FIP. It’s also worth noting that ZiPs projects Dobnak to be the team’s fourth-best starter based on ERA and FIP, trailing just Rich Hill, Jose Berrios, and Jake Odorizzi, and ahead of Michael Pineda and Homer Bailey.

Thorpe was basically the anti-Dobnak in 2019. Thorpe gets a ton of strikeouts but he was also hurt by giving out a lot of free passes. Absurdly, Dobnak gave up only one home run between AAA and MLB (though he did give up six in AA), while Thorpe surrendered 16 dingers in less innings. Thorpe’s FIP greatly outperformed his ERA at both levels and he allowed a .438 BABIP with the Twins, so there is reason to believe his numbers will improve.

Let’s dig a little deeper and get into the pitch mixes:

Dobnak:

Attached Image: Dobnak Statcast table pic.png

Thorpe:

Attached Image: Thorpe Statcast Table pic.png

Both Thorpe and Dobnak throw a four-seam fastball with less than stellar spin rates (Thorpe’s is in just the seventh percentile). Dobnak’s heater beats Thorpe’s by a few ticks, but neither pitcher is going to blow anyone away. Dobnak’s results were really good, although his xwOBA suggests some regression, while Thorpe’s heater didn’t fare well, but he did get more swings and misses. The main difference is that Dobnak doesn’t need to rely on his four seamer as much as Thorpe because he throws his highly-effective sinker more frequently, leading to his high ground ball rate.

With an underwhelming four seamer, Thorpe is going to need to rely on his secondary pitches if he hopes to succeed as a starter. Thorpe features three secondary pitches (slider, curve, and changeup), but his slider was his only above average pitch. Fortunately, Thorpe’s slider is really good and it gives him a solid floor as a lefty reliever. But to succeed as a starter, Thorpe must find a way to get better results from his other secondary pitches. In an admittedly small sample size, both his curve and changeup (which he mixes in against righties) were crushed. His xwOBA on the curve suggests it might not have been quite so bad and he did get a fair number of whiffs on his changeup, but there’s no denying the numbers were ugly.

Dobnak’s secondary pitches fared much better than Thorpe’s. His slider is unlike Thorpe’s, as it is more 12 to 6 than sweeping (Statcast identifies it as a curve), but like his teammate, he gets great results (Dobnak’s whiff % is even higher than Thorpe’s). Dobnak’s other secondary pitch is his changeup, which he mostly mixes in against left-handed hitting. Again, it’s a small sample size, but hitters did next to nothing against it. Dobnak also had the 10th-lowest barrels/plate appearance rate of all MLB pitchers at just 1.7% (all pitches).

It’s obviously too early to give up on Thorpe and also too early to declare Dobnak a success, but Dobnak has given us more reason to believe thus far. Although Dobnak doesn’t have the prospect pedigree of Thorpe, he’s succeeded at every level and looked anything but overwhelmed in his first big league stint. If things go as planned, both could eventually be pushed out of the rotation by Pineda and Hill, but they should get every chance to show what they can do in 2020. Finding a way to mix two more quality starters into the rotation is a problem Minnesota would count itself fortunate to have.

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15 Comments

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LylesCrocodiles
Jan 28 2020 11:27 PM
I will take Dobnak. I think he’s the safer bet to be a 4/5 SP. And he has a track record of throwing strikes. If he were a top draft pick or a highly compensated international prospect more people would believe in him. The numbers from the piece make me think of a Kyle Gibson with a better slider. Whoever wins the 4/5 starter job should get 10-15 starts to prove they belong and I think Dobnak will be earn more starts. I see Thorpe as a multi inning reliever or opener.

I like Thorpe better than Dobnak. All of Dobnak's stuff moves in the horizontal plane. Hitters don't have to adjust the vertical plane of their swing, just their timing. I think they figure him out. Thorpe has more variation in his repetoire.

 

I like Dobnak and I could be wrong. But if I have to pick, it's Thorpe. 

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Richard Swerdlick
Jan 29 2020 05:04 AM

Given what the article says about Thorpe's pitch mix, I suspect the Twins will try to get him to change the mix such as by throwing more sliders.

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Doctor Gast
Jan 29 2020 06:39 AM

I pick Dobnak because he has a lower floor. That said I hope all ML ready minor leaguers get plenty of exposure

Expect Thorpe to be a starting pitcher for the Twins for a long time, beginning in 2020.After all the analysis there is one thing we must remember.This kid is young and missed two entire years of development to injury/illness.Really, we should be shocked that he was with the Twins last year.Given another year or two to gain experience, this kid is going to be good, very good.

 

As for Dobnak.No reason he should be anything better than a AAAA pitcher, except for the results he keeps putting up.I see him as a bulldog and those type of guys can surprise everyone with their success.

 

Don't know which, but I expect one of the two will be pitching so well that they won't be able to take him out of the rotation when Hill returns.

    • DocBauer likes this

I hope they gone beyond these two.I wanted Graterol, but that isn't going to happen.However, I am all for pushing prospects and would love to see Balazovic in the ST mix. 

 

Are we done with Littell as a starter?I am not a believer in Smeltzer and like him better in the BP. Duran?

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diehardtwinsfan
Jan 29 2020 08:27 AM

yeah, I hope for the purpose of building up innings that Graterol is in the mix this spring. All 4 will likely need to pitch at some point, so I'm not going to get too worked up... I think Thorpe and Dobnak have a lot of promise and I hope that they are getting innings because they run with the opportunities given to them. 

 

I wouldn't count out Romero either... I like that we have options... I don't like the amount of innings that will likely be given to said options b/c we didnt' do enough to fix the rotation. 

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LylesCrocodiles
Jan 29 2020 08:30 AM
According to the story Dobnaks slider has 12-6 break. If he can continue to get swings and misses with the slider and continue to throw his 4 pitch mix he seems like a solid bet. Not anti-Thorpe. The command of his change was troubling last year. He could improve that in year 2 but I think FB/Slider combo from the left side is something that could play up in the pen. Could fill a big need as the teams second LH option.

I'm hoping they both do amazing but for a selfish reason I'm going with Dobnak. The selfish reason? I want that mustache pitching every 5 days. FEAR THE 'STACHE!!!

    • Blake and MN_ExPat like this

I would consider his success as SSS if he was just so so in the minors but Dobnak threw over 160 innings last year with a sub 2 ERA over 4 levels mostly AA and AAA.163 innings isn't real small anymore.That's 26 starts at over 6 innings a game giving up 1.3 runs.Comes down to whether you like strikeouts or run prevention. I prefer run prevention. Not saying Thorpe can't develop into that.

    • MN_ExPat and DannySD like this
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drivlikejehu
Jan 29 2020 03:11 PM

All 30 clubs would take Thorpe.

    • DocBauer likes this

Thorpe is an athletic young arm with good upside, but he lacks consistent command of the strike zone. Right now, he's mostly a thrower. 

 

Dobnak already has good command of the peripheral strike zone, and he is working to refine it further. Dobnak also has a game to get hitters out. Dobnak is a pitcher. 

 

Which of them will contribute more innings? Dobnak will pitch more innings than Thorpe and Smeltzer combined. 

    • DocBauer, MN_ExPat and dex8425 like this

 

I hope they gone beyond these two.I wanted Graterol, but that isn't going to happen.However, I am all for pushing prospects and would love to see Balazovic in the ST mix. 

 

Are we done with Littell as a starter?I am not a believer in Smeltzer and like him better in the BP. Duran?

Smeltzer has outstanding control over multiple pitches and elite spin rate. I think he is more MLB ready to start than Thorpe. Littel will not start. 

    • howieramone2 likes this

 

Thorpe is an athletic young arm with good upside, but he lacks consistent command of the strike zone. Right now, he's mostly a thrower. 

 

Dobnak already has good command of the peripheral strike zone, and he is working to refine it further. Dobnak also has a game to get hitters out. Dobnak is a pitcher. 

 

Which of them will contribute more innings? Dobnak will pitch more innings than Thorpe and Smeltzer combined. 

Exactly what I was going to say, except Smeltzer also seems to understand his plan and pitch mix. He also has good control. I just don't think Smeltzer's ceiling is that high. He's got that high spin rate FB, but below average velo and average secondary stuff. 

I like Dobnak a lot. There is nothing electric about him, but his stuff is decent, he seems to really have the knack for pitching...which a lot of guys never really learn...and I agree he seems to have that "bulldog" demeanor.

I think he's more ready and polished than Thorpe is...today.

Not sure I want to make a prediction, but if I was going to, I'd say Thorpe will be the better of the two by season end and in 2021 and beyond.

As was stated earlier, when you think about the time he missed, and how aggressive the Twins have been promoting him, he almost shouldn't have been up last year. Once his control gets a little better, he settles down a little more, I just have a really good feeling about him.
    • Sconnie likes this