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Non Roster Taijuan Walker

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Bremer’s FSN Sidekick 2020

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Randy Dobnak Is Better Than You Think

Among the group of Twins internal starters without a firm place for 2020, but with a clear chance to assert themselves, one name stands out: Randy Dobnak. No other in-season reinforcement had the kind of impact Dobnak had, and none of them have as much potential to be a valuable starter throughout 2020.
Image courtesy of © Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Dobnak isn’t just a good story and a quirky look; he’s a legitimate starter. After all, 2019 was just his second full season as a professional, and he scaled four levels to reach the big leagues. He pitched 163 innings, and at all four stops he was above-average according to both of Baseball Prospectus’s key pitching metrics, cFIP and DRA-.

Some of what he did in the big leagues in 2019 is undeniably unsustainable. Of the 514 pitchers who threw at least 400 pitches, only one induced a higher percentage of swings on pitches outside the strike zone than did Dobnak—Ryan Pressly. Twins fans know well what Pressly can do with the ball; Dobnak isn’t quite on that level. Inevitably, batters will force Dobnak to throw more strikes going forward, and that means he’s unlikely to keep his walk or home-run rates as low as they’ve been thus far.

Even once the league adjusts to him, though, Dobnak will have some things going for him that can’t be ignored. Let’s break down his four-pitch arsenal, piece by piece, to see why the Twins could reasonably project their diamond in the rough to be a solid starter at the back end of their rotation in 2020.

Sinker

Dobnak comes at hitters from the first-base side of the rubber, with a pretty simple delivery and a pretty low arm slot. His posture is excellent, which has helped him repeat that delivery and demonstrate good command.

It’s also the perfect mechanical signature to support his sinker, which is a heavy, low-spin thing batters couldn’t figure out in 2019. Of the 263 pitchers who threw at least 100 sinkers this year, Dobnak had the 12th-most sink, and because he located it so consistently at the bottom of the zone, that heavy action led to a ground-ball rate just under 70 percent on the pitch.

Sinkers are going out of vogue, league-wide, as batters find ways to square up and elevate the pitch and pitchers look for offerings with more unconventional movement, chasing swings and misses. As well as Dobnak executes his particular sinker, though, he should stick with it, at least as a complementary offering.

Slider

In some quarters, it’s controversial even to call Dobnak’s slider a slider. It’s read as a curveball by Statcast, and that’s understandable. The pitch has a very vertical shape, and 90th-percentile vertical depth. It doesn’t sweep like a conventional slider, especially one typically thrown from an arm slot like Dobnak’s.

That, in fact, is what makes it so dastardly. When Dobnak served as an opener in Boston just after Labor Day, he got a couple of swings and misses on the slider. The reactions of the Red Sox broadcast team (that night, Dennis Eckersley was in the booth) tells the story of the Dobnak breaking ball succinctly. Eckersley was flabbergasted by the action of the pitch.

A replay showed the team how Dobnak releases the ball very much like a slider, getting around the ball as opposed to creating topspin the way a curve does. It also showed the lack of any hump out of the hand, disguising the breaking ball better than curves do. As Eckersley explained, a pitch thrown that way, from that slot, should have more sweep and less plunge to it.

Hitters did no better at solving the Dobnak slider than did Eckersley. He induced whiffs on over 46 percent of swings on the pitch. He got swings on over 56 percent of the sliders he threw, despite rarely throwing the pitch for a strike. When he did land it in the zone, he froze opponents and got called strikes with a regularity usually reserved for curveballs.

The sample is, admittedly, tiny, but Dobnak’s slider had all the markers of an extremely effective pitch. The list of guys with comparable results on the pitch, based on whiffs, pop-ups, and called strikes, starts with elite relievers Will Smith and Felipe Vázquez. Batters will adjust, but they can’t solve the pitch, because it’s genuinely special.

Four-Seamer

Though not his least-used offering, the four-seamer is the weakest pitch in Dobnak’s arsenal, and the one he needs to hone if he wants to thrive and push his ceiling higher. He doesn’t spin it especially well, and it’s a low-rise fastball, which is a tough pitch for which to find a role in this day and age. Hitters see it less as heavy than as flat, and therefore hittable.

The best comparison point for Dobnak’s fastball might be that of Mike Leake, who is also a sinker-first guy who relies on athleticism and has a relatively low slot, but Leake has a cutter that keeps hitters honest. If Dobnak can just learn to locate the four-seamer up in the zone, he can get away with it as a changer of eye levels. If he can develop a pitch with a bit more armside movement, he can really start to use the four-seamer as a weapon, but for now, it’s a pitch he throws purely to burn hitters sitting on sinker or slider, and he’s not likely to succeed in that endeavor for long.

On the other hand, Leake throws in the upper 80s with his heat. Dobnak’s four-seamer can find a gear his sinker can’t, and sometimes touches 95 or 96 miles per hour. Again, then, it comes down to whether he can get comfortable firing that heat toward the top of the zone, despite his mechanical signature, and without radically altering his release point.

Changeup

Because of the unique movement on his slider and his sinker-first fastball profile, Dobnak doesn’t need his changeup as much as most right-handed starters do. When he brought it out in 2019, however, it seemed a viable offering. He commands it well enough to the first-base side of the rubber to use it against righties, which is relatively rare.

He can also fool lefties really effectively with it because of the velocity gap between the change and his fastballs. Movement-wise, however, there’s very little difference between his change and sinker, so once more, some of his effectiveness will be dictated by his ability or inability to start using the four-seamer above the belt.



There’s no chance Dobnak explodes into some new strata from here. He’s not going to give the team the upside it needs in its rotation, which is why they still need to aggressively explore options to add a new ace or co-ace at the front end.

However, whereas it would be easy to view him as an extra option or a swingman, the team should view Dobnak as a credible fourth or fifth starter, someone they can count on enough not to spend free-agent dollars on a marginal option like Rick Porcello or Homer Bailey. Dobnak can do anything those guys can do. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine should be out there selling someone who can genuinely change the equation on being a Twin, and spend whatever money they might otherwise throw at a lesser second option at that primary target as a sweetener.

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39 Comments

Dobnak is undeniably the Michael Pineda suspension fill in for me. His stuff is more than good enough to take the bat out of the hands of free swinging bad teams and he doesn't do a lot in the way of hurting himself. 

 

You could see what Matthew was talking about here in his start in Yankee Stadium. He lived an inch off the plate for most of a game where the Yankees seemed locked in on not swinging at anything that couldn't be hit. Dobnak was forced to throw the ball over the plate, and now his start is used by some people to say he shouldn't be trusted as a starting pitcher which I think is unfair. He should be a guy people should be excited about in 2020.

 

Also, don't be that guy that refers to him as "the Uber driver" as an insult to his ability. That's not very nice.

    • birdwatcher, Blake, raindog and 6 others like this

Doubtful he's better than I think. Not everything should be judged by the Yankees who are probably the most patient team around. There are free swinging teams that make the playoffs.Besides his stuff, I really like his attitude. Think Jack Morris rather than Mike Pelfrey.For this reason I was disappointed that he was taken out of the playoff game when the Yankees loaded the bases.This wasn't just hindsight based on Duffey giving up all three of the runs plus more. It was based on the fact that Dobnak seemed to bare down well when in trouble during the season but was not given the chance in the playoffs. In my book he earned his spot by having a great year in the minors and being great down the stretch.We should be looking for one spot to fill rather than two.Give Ryu 60-70 mil for two years and call it a great off season.Ryu, Odorizzi, Pineda, Berrios and Dobnak with Graterol and/or Smeltzer filling in for Pineda to start the season.

    • 70charger and MN_ExPat like this
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MMMordabito
Dec 11 2019 11:49 AM

Great article!

 

I'm as excited about Dobnak as any of the current younger players that debuted this past season or may this next season.Along with a mid-90s fastball and some very nice complementary pitches, he also has a mound presence and pace that makes him fun to watch.

 

With all that said, I'm not sure I agree with the part about not bringing in another back end guy with experience to sweeten the deal for a top end guy. Dobnak surely has some seasoning ahead of him, and then you have the quarter of the season with no Pineda.IL stints will certainly come into play at some point as well.A one year deal or one year with an option on said vet to cover the possibilities that Dobnak busts or Odorizzi walks would probably be the best type of deal.Finding the right pitcher to sign that deal would be where the work needs to and hopefully is being done.

    • Dman, MN_ExPat, wabene and 1 other like this

How much better? If he were a free agent, where would he be on the list?

(NOTE: this was a copy paste, and is obviously missing some signings)

 

Gerrit Cole (29 years old, 7.4 WAR) -- signed 9-year deal with NYY (12/10)
Stephen Strasburg (31, 5.7) -- signed 7-year deal with WSH (12/9)
Hyun-Jin Ryu (33, 4.8)
Zack Wheeler (30, 4.7) -- signed 5-year deal with PHI (12/9)
Jake Odorizzi (30, 4.3) -- accepted qualifying offer from MIN (11/14)
Madison Bumgarner (30, 3.2) -- declined qualifying offer from SF (11/14)
Homer Bailey (34, 2.9)
Michael Pineda (30, 2.7)
Kyle Gibson (32, 2.5) -- signed 3-year deal with TEX (12/6)
Cole Hamels (36, 2.5) -- signed 1-year deal with ATL (12/4)
Adam Wainwright (38, 2.2) -- signed 1-year deal with STL (11/12)
Tanner Roark (33, 2.0)
Wade Miley (33, 2.0)
Brett Anderson (32, 2.0)
Iván Nova (33, 2.0)
Martín Pérez (29, 1.9)
Andrew Cashner (33, 1.8)
Jason Vargas (37, 1.8)
Rick Porcello (31, 1.8)
Kevin Gausman (29, 1.6)
Julio Teheran (29, 1.6)
Jordan Lyles (29, 1.6)
Gio Gonzalez (34, 1.4)
Rich Hill (40, 0.9)
Aaron Sanchez (27, 0.8)
Dallas Keuchel (32, 0.8)
Matt Moore (31, 0.5)
Pedro Avila (23, 0.2)
Clay Buchholz (35, 0.1)
Tyson Ross (33, 0.0)
Félix Hernández (34, -0.1)
Jhoulys Chacín (32, -0.1)
Jeremy Hellickson (33, -0.1)
Odrisamer Despaigne (33, -0.1) -- reportedly joining KBO team
Michael Wacha (28, -0.2)
Alex Wood (29, -0.2)
Edinson Vólquez (36, -0.2)
Marco Estrada (36, -0.2)
Shelby Miller (29, -0.2)
Clayton Richard (36, -0.2)
Tyler Anderson (30, -0.3) -- signed 1-year deal with SF (12/3)
Drew Smyly (29, -0.3)
Wade LeBlanc (35, -0.3)
Matt Harvey (31, -0.3)
Héctor Noesi (33, -0.3)
Ervin Santana (37, -0.4)
Ross Detwiler (34, -0.6)
Trevor Cahill (32, -0.8)
Edwin Jackson (36, -1.1)
Josh Lindblom (33, N/A)
Kendall Graveman (29, N/A) -- signed 1-year deal with SEA (11/26)
Shun Yamaguchi (32, N/A) -- posted by NPB team (12/3)
Kwang-Hyun Kim (31, N/A) -- reportedly posted by KBO team (11/22)

    • jrod23 likes this

 

However, whereas it would be easy to view him as an extra option or a swingman, the team should view Dobnak as a credible fourth or fifth starter, someone they can count on enough not to spend free-agent dollars on a marginal option like Rick Porcello or Homer Bailey. Dobnak can do anything those guys can do.

 

100% agree with this statement. Definitely don't want those types and would rather go with Dobnak, and maybe Thorpe and Smeltzer as the #6/7 types.. 

    • glunn, Blake, Dman and 7 others like this

I am good with signing Madbum, Ryu or trading for another starter, and then letting Dobnak fill in for Pineda until he is back. With the others on the plane back and forth when needed.

    • Minfidel likes this
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Alex Schieferdecker
Dec 11 2019 12:03 PM

From the high center field angle we have on broadcasts, Dobnak's sinker looks like an absolutely garbage pitch, just a no-hope offering headed straight for the dirt. Yet hitters constantly swing and miss at it!

    • glunn likes this

Re: "There's no chance Dobnak explodes into some new Strata"

 

I guess it depends on what Strata you have him in currently. For some people him turning into a 4th starter is a new strata. I'm guessing you were talking about a true #1 or #2 starter, which I agree is extremely unlikely, but "no chance" ignores the history of a Randy Dobnak like player doing just that every few years. And with how you very effectively laid out how tough some of his pitches are to face, I think ending the article with a "no chance" closing statement does the rest of the article a disservice. 

    • glunn, ericchri, Wyorev and 3 others like this

Do not dis the Dobnak.

    • Major League Ready, Dave The Dastardly, jrod23 and 2 others like this

I like the comparison to Morris. He's a long way from that right now, but that would be his ceiling. And if he were to reach it, he would be near the top of the Twins' rotation.

Wow is this optimistic.I hope you are right.I will not argue that you are wrong, but I look forward to Dobnak, Smeltzer, Thorpe, Graterol battling it out and hopefully a good pitcher will emerge from the challenge.If it is Dobnak it makes a good story, if it is Graterol we might have a real #1 or #2.

    • glunn, MN_ExPat, wabene and 1 other like this
He may be better than I think. But, it’s still gross roster mismanagement for a legitimate World Series contender to be running a guy like this out there in the ALDS against the Yankees.

It kind of throws the legitimate World Series contender thing out the window.
    • D.C Twins likes this
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diehardtwinsfan
Dec 11 2019 12:41 PM

I have no problem leaving the 5th spot to Dobnak/Smeltzer/Thorpe with Randy getting the 1st shot... 

 

 

I think Graterol might be the Pineda filler. 

 

Flip side is we still need one more pitcher in that world. 

    • glunn, Dantes929, 70charger and 2 others like this

Loved what Dobnak did last fall and look forward to him producing for the Twins in 2020.As for which of the four young guns becomes the Twins #5 in 2020, not a clue.Should be exciting to see them battle it out in spring training.

 

Still believe, however, that Thorpe may be the winner.Yes, he was more inconsistent last year, but there were spots where he was awesome.

    • DocBauer, MN_ExPat and wabene like this
Well, let's hope so.
    • Mike Sixel likes this
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MMMordabito
Dec 11 2019 01:40 PM

 

Loved what Dobnak did last fall and look forward to him producing for the Twins in 2020.As for which of the four young guns becomes the Twins #5 in 2020, not a clue.Should be exciting to see them battle it out in spring training.

 

Still believe, however, that Thorpe may be the winner.Yes, he was more inconsistent last year, but there were spots where he was awesome.

 

There were definitely some Thorpe moments, but Graterol disposing of Rendon and making him look silly doing it in one of those late season Nationals game was my favorite let's-hope-this-young-guy-becomes-all-he-can-be moments.

    • mikelink45 and MN_ExPat like this

Does he have ANY chance of being the next Derek Lowe/Brandon Webb? Any comparisons to those 2 at all? 

 

How much better? If he were a free agent, where would he be on the list?

It would be impossible to slot him in on that list just because he's only a rookie, but he put up .9 fWAR in 28 innings which is unsustainable but incredible. I think he's easily a 2 win pitcher if he threw an entire season's worth of innings which is great for a back end starter.

    • glunn and Mike Sixel like this

Loved what Dobnak did last fall and look forward to him producing for the Twins in 2020. As for which of the four young guns becomes the Twins #5 in 2020, not a clue. Should be exciting to see them battle it out in spring training.

Still believe, however, that Thorpe may be the winner. Yes, he was more inconsistent last year, but there were spots where he was awesome.


Between the 5th spot, filling in for Pineda, double headers, rest periods and hopefully LIMITED IR stints, I am hoping that by this time next year we feel we legitimately have TWO of these talented young guys penciled in to the 2021 rotation.
    • diehardtwinsfan, mikelink45 and MN_ExPat like this

Fact:Berrios, Dobnak, Odorizzi all lost games last postseason against the Yankees who now added Cole.

 

The Twins need much better if they want to be relevant and not go belly up again in the postseason

    • scottz and D.C Twins like this

I know I already commented, but suddenly I realized what the title of this post is and it came to me - how do you know what I expect?

    • scottz and Wyorev like this
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diehardtwinsfan
Dec 11 2019 05:04 PM

 

Fact:Berrios, Dobnak, Odorizzi all lost games last postseason against the Yankees who now added Cole.

 

The Twins need much better if they want to be relevant and not go belly up again in the postseason

 

I don't think anyone disagrees with you on us needing to get better. 

 

I do think, however, that Dobnak could improve on his own. Admittedly, I doubt Berrios and Odorizzi can get much better (perhaps Jose doesn't have a second half swoon this year?), but I don't really think it's fair to lump Dobnak into this just yet. 

    • glunn likes this

Diamond was "better than you think".

Hildenberger was "better than you think". 

Harper?

Dobnak had a welcome 28.1 innings in the regular season. A surprise and a story. His 2 innings in game 3 of the ALDS is exactly what I think

If someone gets hurt and he can fill in and still fool people who haven't seen him before or much, great. He could be very valuable for a spell.

    • D.C Twins likes this

It's going to be interesting to see how a sinker-slider pitcher like Dobnak does in MLB going forward. It is true that sinkerball pitchers are going out of vogue right now, and part of the reason is they don't tend to generate a lot of Ks, and guys with a high K-rate are lower risk because of the lower numbers of baserunners they're generating.

 

The question is, with fewer of those types of pitcher in MLB, will the remaining ones be more effective as they run out a pitch mix and style they isn't seen as often? Or will it not matter and maybe the best hitters just have an approach at the plate that can handle that arsenal too well?

 

It's interesting, but Kyle Gibson was one of those guys who threw a heavy sinker and generated groundballs in 2014 & 2015 and was fairly effective overall on the season...but was horribly inconsistent from start to start. Look at this run of Game , Scores in 2014 from June 18 - July 29: 81, 19, 61, 21, 60, 31, 78. Results like that are why Gibson changed his pitch mix and approach (and had his best year as a pro in 2018). 

 

Now, if Dobnak becomes 2014-2015 Kyle Gibson that's still a huge win for a 5th starter, but if he's 2016-2017 Gibson then he's just another guy out there. Dobnak has talent, but I have concerns about his ability to become a consistent guy.

May as well have 3 3rd starters, and pitch them 3, 4 and 5. Better than a 5th starter being the 5th starter.


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