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Starting Pitcher Analysis: Randy Dobnak


RDLARK

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I’m going to dive into blogging here and see where it goes. Sometimes, as a writer, the hardest thing is to come up with an idea that’s worth writing about and that people will actually be interested to read. I expect that to be my struggle, but I’ve got what I think will be an interesting series to kick things off, and maybe that will be the extent of my contributions. Time will tell.

 

In any case, nobody wants to read about me. You want to see what information you can glean about our Twins. Given the rampant discussions on Twitter and on various blogs regarding the state of the Twins’ pitching staff, I thought it would be interesting to do a series on the numbers underlying the starters currently projected to be in the mix for the Twins.

 

While I’m sure others will make starts this season, here are the guys I’m hoping to work my way through for this series:

Jose Berrios

Jake Odorizzi

Michael Pineda

Rich Hill

Homer Bailey

Devin Smeltzer

Lewis Thorpe

Randy Dobnak

 

By way of framing the series, I think there are pretty clearly three different groups. The known (but in some cases misunderstood) quantities, the new veterans, and the prospects.

 

When the season starts, we know Pineda and Hill will not be in the rotation, and we know Berrios, Odorizzi, and Bailey will be (barring injury, of course). That being the case, I decided to start off by diving into the three prospects (a term I’m using loosely, given the MLB experience they got last year), starting with Dobnak.

 

A common question we hear, read, and think to ourselves as we are trying to fall asleep: “Can Randy Dobnak be a key piece of a successful playoff run?” I can cut to the chase and just say the answer is yes, but if you want to know why, go ahead and keep reading the words.

 

Let’s start by looking at Dobnak’s surface-level stats:

  • 28.1 IP – lots and lots of caveats about the small sample
  • 7.31 K/9 – not inspiring, but we will need to take a look at his swinging strike rates
  • 1.59 BB/9 – elite, but let’s see how often he’s really in the strike zone
  • 1.59 ERA – wow, but a lot of this depends on the above
  • 2.90 FIP – also wow
  • 3.77 xFIP – still wow, but we will need to look into his batted ball tendencies because 0.32 HR/9 is the reason for the jump from his FIP to his xFIP.

Okay, so we have a few things to dive into:

  • Swinging Strike Rates, which are generally highly correlated to K/9
  • Zone Percentage, which is highly correlated to BB/9
  • Batted Ball Tendencies, which are going to be a bit more difficult to use to extrapolate, given the small sample.

Getting hitters to swing and miss, and throwing strikes are generally skills the pitcher possesses (or does not), while the results – K/9, BB/9, HR/9, etc. Fluctuate due to randomness, umpire tendencies, opponents’ skill, etc. (esp in small samples).

 

Here’s what we see for Dobnak on those plate discipline skills:

  • 43.8% of his pitches were in the strike zone
  • 12.9% of his pitches resulted in a swinging strike

Putting those numbers into context, 61 pitchers qualified for the ERA title last season, so the median pitcher would be the one whose result was 31st among qualified starters. For swinging strike, it turns out that is a couple of familiar names: Jose Berrios and Homer Bailey at 10.8 percent. Looking at zone percentage, there is a three way tie among Jeff Smardzija, Mike Soroka, and Bailey again at 42.6 percent (a bit of a preview of the Bailey post. Hmm). By now you’ve surely noticed that Dobnak’s numbers were markedly above the median.

 

In fact, his zone percentage of 43.8% would have tied him with Zach Eflin for 20th among all qualified starting pitchers, just a tick below Noah Syndergaard at 43.9 percent. His swinging strike rate of 12.9% puts him in a three way tie with Charlie Morton and Clayton Kershaw, who were tied for 14th among qualified starters. Obviously good company.

 

It gets better. If you look at qualified starters who posted at least a 12.9% swinging strike rate combined with a 43.9% zone percentage – that rare combination of being in the zone and missing bats – here is the list you get for 2019:

  • Gerrit Cole – 16.8%/45.2%
  • Max Scherzer – 16.4%/45.6%
  • Justin Verlander – 16.1%/45.2%
  • Lucas Giolito – 15%/47.2%
  • Yu Darvish – 13.4%/44.5%
  • Charlie Morton – 12.9%/45.1%

Just missed:

  • Clayton Kershaw
  • German Marquez
  • Lance Lynn
  • Noah Syndergaard
  • Trevor Bauer
  • Walker Buehler

Does this mean Dobnak is in the company of these elite aces? Of course not. What it does suggest, though, is that his success was not a fluke. He displayed an elite combination of skills in missing bats (which generates strikeouts) and living in the strike zone (which prevents walks). This suggests that he has considerable upside. He also threw essentially a major league innings load last year – compiling more than 160 innings across 4 levels from High A to the majors. This suggests he’s capable of providing the Twins with volume as well as quality, something that is not always the case for prospect pitchers.

 

There are reasons to be worried, though. The difference between Dobnak’s FIP and his xFIP was driven by an unsustainably low 5.3% HR/FB rate. The lowest HR/FB rate among qualified starters was 9.3%, and given Dobnak’s 42.5% hard hit rate, it’s safe to assume more of those fly balls will reach the seats going forward. That said, if he regresses to the mean in HR/9 and posts 150 innings with a sub-4.00 ERA, that’s obviously a serviceable starting pitcher. And, given that FIP and xFIP were driven by his 7.31 K/9, if those swinging strikes turn that into a 9.00+ K/9, he has considerable upside to deliver a lower ERA.

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This is a very interesting article with some very salient points. Great job. My guess is that Dobnak will pitch regularly and end up with about 8-10 wins and an ERA around 4.00-4.25 I am also going to predict he pitches about 135 innings with over 100Ks and will have a WHIP about 1.25. It will be a very solid and unexpected contribution for the year, which I predict will exceed Homer Baileys production. I also predict that Graterol will be in as SP after August and that both Colina and Balazovic will be up in September (and that The earliest Hill has a regular turn will be September - I think he will have some recovery issues

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When Dobnak got called up, he was on an incredible run of consistency dating back to the 2018 season, and that streak is still going even after his performance in game 2 of the playoffs:

 

 

 

There's potentially more here than he gets credit for, but still a lot of unknowns as he sees more MLB lineups and more data gets out on him.

 

He's going to be a fun one to follow this year wherever he's pitching.

 

 

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This is a very interesting article with some very salient points. Great job. My guess is that Dobnak will pitch regularly and end up with about 8-10 wins and an ERA around 4.00-4.25 I am also going to predict he pitches about 135 innings with over 100Ks and will have a WHIP about 1.25.

 

I would probably guess more in the 3.75-3.90 range for ERA, and I'm going to say he gets 125-130 (8.5ish K/9) strikeouts in 135ish innings. Guys with swing-and-miss stuff like he has displayed tend to figure out how to put hitters away. MLB hitters are obviously better than MiLB hitters, but he's only 25, so he's got upside in terms of pitch sequencing and velo. In general, I'd say my thoughts on his ERA are fueled by this expectation that he starts to get more strikeouts. I mentioned his HR/FB and HR/9, but he also stranded 77.4% of runners, which we shouldn't expect him to be able to do if we cannot get more Ks. Of the 18 qualified starters whose LOB% was at least 77.4%, 3 had a K/9 below 8 while 12 had a K/9 above 9.

 

Since we have to assume some homers are coming, he needs to up the strikeouts, and I think he will. Cheers!

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Great analysis - I'm pretty excited to see how Dobnak performs. One thing I did notice was that he had an even lower K/9 (6.65) and much higher walk rate (3.52/9) in 46 innings at AAA. His ERA was still great due to not giving up any homers and a 61.1% GB rate (I imagine plenty of those walks were turned into double plays) but his xFIP was 4.64. And the walks at AAA seem to be an anomaly though so it's not too concerning. I hope he can miss as many bats as you predict, but even if he doesn't he seems like he could still be a pretty useful pitcher. Nice job!

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Thanks, this is interesting and encouraging. I'm now going to check BR to see who he pitched against in those 28 innings...

 

11 innings vs Cle

5.1 vs KC

7 vs Det

3 vs CWS

1 vs Bos

1 vs Nats

 

Mostly not good offenses. But it's not like 20 of the 28 innings were against the Orioles. 

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I understand Dobnak’s become somewhat of a fan favorite, but I got a feeling that if he proves himself as even a league average starter he could possibly find himself included in a deal for a frontline starter at the deadline. Honestly, I could see the same thing possibly happening to the likes of Astudillo and Cave as well.

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Great analysis - I'm pretty excited to see how Dobnak performs. One thing I did notice was that he had an even lower K/9 (6.65) and much higher walk rate (3.52/9) in 46 innings at AAA. His ERA was still great due to not giving up any homers and a 61.1% GB rate (I imagine plenty of those walks were turned into double plays) but his xFIP was 4.64. And the walks at AAA seem to be an anomaly though so it's not too concerning. I hope he can miss as many bats as you predict, but even if he doesn't he seems like he could still be a pretty useful pitcher. Nice job!

Thank you! At the very least, we have reason to think he could be fun to watch.

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No Right handed Pitcher has ever won the ROY and CY Young, just sayin.

You may as well “Reach for the stars, you just might catch one.”‍♂

There is a chance that I may be a little biased.

If there is a time to dream of such things, it's surely in January.

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Thanks, this is interesting and encouraging. I'm now going to check BR to see who he pitched against in those 28 innings...

 

11 innings vs Cle

5.1 vs KC

7 vs Det

3 vs CWS

1 vs Bos

1 vs Nats

 

Mostly not good offenses. But it's not like 20 of the 28 innings were against the Orioles. 

Nice. I'd need to look into the tendencies of these teams re swinging strikes to see where they stood. Not all bad teams swing and miss a lot. Also, obviously his ability to be in the zone is independent of the opposing team. Good stuff.

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Great article, would not be surprised if Dobnak outperformed Bailey and pushes to be #3 starter.

Bailey is the default #3 to start the season. By mid-June he's (at best) the Twins' 5th best starter. It would not shock me to see him bumped from the rotation, but I'm just starting this journey. I've heard good things on the #narrative that he turned things around in Oakland.

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It`ll be interesting how the new arms will fare & that includes the ones who will be ready to make that jump this year  

Definitely agree -- Pretty much all facets of this team will be interesting/fun to watch this season. Cheers!

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I understand Dobnak’s become somewhat of a fan favorite, but I got a feeling that if he proves himself as even a league average starter he could possibly find himself included in a deal for a frontline starter at the deadline. Honestly, I could see the same thing possibly happening to the likes of Astudillo and Cave as well.

I will be really surprised if he gets traded. If he is awesome they will obviously want to keep him. If he's middling, I don't think they'll find a market for him. Cave gets mentioned a lot as a trade chip, though, and he's the one who makes sense to me. I could see a team buying in to the idea that he could flourish if he's given every day at bats. 

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They are not going to develop starting pitchers just to turnaround and trade them. Unlikely they move any starting pitcher over A ball.

I agree with this re someone like Dobnak, but I think they'd move a promising prospect pitcher if the deal was right (e.g., to acquire Jon Gray).

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I agree with this re someone like Dobnak, but I think they'd move a promising prospect pitcher if the deal was right (e.g., to acquire Jon Gray)

 

 

They are not going to develop starting pitchers just to turnaround and trade them. Unlikely they move any starting pitcher over A ball.

 

The Twins would and should move a AA pitching prospect for Jon Gray. He's a pitcher with the upside of Berrios and the same pay grade. Two years of Gray would cost either Duran or Balazovic, along with another prospect. They should do it in a heartbeat. The only problem is the disfunction of the Rockies front office.

 

The Twins just signed Donaldson. Like Brock said on Twitter(?), might as well put the pedal to the floor. 

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The Twins would and should move a AA pitching prospect for Jon Gray. He's a pitcher with the upside of Berrios and the same pay grade. Two years of Gray would cost either Duran or Balazovic, along with another prospect. They should do it in a heartbeat. The only problem is the disfunction of the Rockies front office.

 

The Twins just signed Donaldson. Like Brock said on Twitter(?), might as well put the pedal to the floor. 

Agreed. I'm all for dealing prospects for guys under team control. Not crazy to think they could do an extension with Gray after they get him, too. He's what you hope Balazovic or Duran can be. 

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The Twins would and should move a AA pitching prospect for Jon Gray. He's a pitcher with the upside of Berrios and the same pay grade. Two years of Gray would cost either Duran or Balazovic, along with another prospect. They should do it in a heartbeat. The only problem is the disfunction of the Rockies front office.

 

The Twins just signed Donaldson. Like Brock said on Twitter(?), might as well put the pedal to the floor. 

 

I'd rather they move hitting prospects first.  Pittsburgh just traded Marte, so they have an opening in the outfield.  A Larnach package for a Musgrove package would be more pallatable to me than moving one of Duran or Balazovic for Gray.

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I'd rather they move hitting prospects first.  Pittsburgh just traded Marte, so they have an opening in the outfield.  A Larnach package for a Musgrove package would be more pallatable to me than moving one of Duran or Balazovic for Gray.

 

I’d be pretty excited if we trade for Musgrove. He looks like an emerging stud.

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