No player in baseball is immune to the league adjusting and Dobnak has proven to be no different. After posting a 1.59 ERA through 28.1 innings in his debut season, Dobnak took a bit of a tumble in 2020. He started out just as hot but eventually was optioned and finished the season with a 4.05 ERA. The league really appeared to finally figure him out as he tallied a 6.41 mark in his last 6 appearances.
Since then the numbers speak for themselves. Through 36 innings this year Dobnak owns a 7.36 ERA and 7.95 FIP. He’s been worth -.4 fWAR, often allowing blowup performances that take the Twins out of the game before they even have a chance. So what happened to Randy Dobnak?
Walks Will Haunt
Dobnak by no means has what would be considered a walk problem by league standards. Unfortunately the bar is much higher for a pitcher with Dobnak’s skillset. In his rookie season he had a respectable 19.5% K rate and an incredible 4.2% walk rate. Unfortunately his K rate has dropped by over 6% over the last two seasons lowering his margin for error. It may not seem like much of a change, but his increase to a 6.5% walk rate since his rookie season means the tightrope Dobnak walks gets a little bit thinner.
We’ve seen the “bad luck” starts from Dobnak in the past where seemingly every batted ball finds a hole. With little strikeout ability to fall back on, Dobnak relies too much on batted ball luck to really issue any free passes at all. Asking for no walks at all is a tall order, which is why the more obvious solution would be to try to increase whiffs.
The Slipping Slider
Dobnak and the Twins appear well aware of his dilemma which is why so much was made of his new slider grip this spring. Dobnak looked like a completely different pitcher in Spring Training by generating tons of swings and misses with the new pitch, but unfortunately those gains appear to have been short lived.
Dobnak’s attempt to adjust to the league has simply turned out to be a disaster. To be fair the new slider has drawn a 4% increase in whiff rate thus far, but it’s hard to argue against the fact that the pitch is worse in pretty much every other measurable way. The path to consistent success was tough enough as a contact oriented control artist who leans heavily on two pitches. Without the slider it’s hard to see a light at the end of these struggles. So where can he go from here?
These issues Dobnak has had obviously run deeper than this shallow explanation but it’ll be interesting to see what he can do to adjust. Perhaps the first step is a return to the slider that worked so well for him in his first year and a half. It was a bit surprising that the initial adjustment Dobnak made wasn’t a new pitch to add to his repertoire such as a cutter, perhaps something like this could still be in the cards for the right handed sinkerballer.
One thing is for certain, Dobnak has a lot of work to do to restore faith in him as even a reliable back of the rotation starter for 2022. The Twins didn’t invest much into this extension but it certainly does run the risk of becoming a sunken cost if Dobnak can’t right the ship. Much like the Twins as a whole this year, Randy Dobnak is dealing with significant adversity. Can he overcome it?
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