From Class A to the Bronx: Detailing Randy Dobnak's Rapid Rise

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

A couple of offseasons ago, we ran a series similar to what we’re doing here, entitled “Minnesota Twins 40-Man Report Cards.” The only key difference to be aware of is since it’s happening now instead of during the offseason, we’re going to make it forward-looking — that is, with the current roster as constructed, looking back on their 2019 season.

Previous editions:

So in some cases, it’ll be looking at players who might not have necessarily spent all or even any of their 2019 season in the organization.

Let’s dive right in, starting with the pitchers:

  • Player: Randy Dobnak
  • 2019 team(s): Minnesota Twins
  • Pertinent Numbers: 28.1 IP, 1.59 ERA/2.90 FIP, 0.8 fWAR/0.7 bWAR (with Minnesota); 46.0 IP, 2.15 ERA/3.45 FIP (with Rochester); 66.2 IP, 2.56 ERA/3.00 FIP (with Pensacola); 22.1 IP, 0.40 ERA/2.73 FIP (with Fort Myers)
2019 Lowdown

Maybe I’m just needing to stand on my soapbox for a second, but it feels so reductionist to continually recall Dobnak as the Uber driver-made-good — especially when it’s used to encapsulate his meteoric rise to pitching in the Bronx in Game 2 of the American League Division Series. Or if you’re an opposing fan, demean the fact that he was there in the first place.

I’m willing to be wrong here. Certainly, it wasn’t his fault that Michael Pineda was suspended and Kyle Gibson had a rough end to the season.

But even without his ride-share prowess, the story of Dobnak is unlike many, if any, ever told in professional baseball. Dobnak wasn’t drafted out of high school, so he went to Division II Alderson Broaddus University in West Virginia.

After four years of putting up numbers for the Battlers, Dobnak again went undrafted.

In fact, Dobnak made light of this fact when he faced the Minnesota Golden Gophers in a scrimmage for the first game action for the Twins this spring. He joked with reporters afterward that it was the first Division I baseball he’d ever played.

Despite going undrafted in 2017, an undeterred Dobnak went and pitched in the United Shore Professional Baseball League in Michigan, making six appearances before finally catching the eye of the Minnesota Twins, who signed him on July 31.

Dobnak’s final appearance in the USPBL was a brilliant one — a complete-game four-hitter with two earned runs, seven strikeouts and no walks against the East Side Diamond Hoppers.

That was it for Dobnak in the Independent Leagues. No longer was he a Utica Unicorn — though in reality, a unicorn is what he truly is to this day.

A little over two years later — Aug. 9 of last season — Dobnak found himself on the mound at Target Field taking on the Cleveland Indians.

That wasn’t even close to the highest of heights his rapid ascension took him, but just another step.

Dobnak opened the season with the High-A Fort Myers Miracle, believe it or not.

With every stop along the way — five levels in all over a little over two years — Dobnak did what he does best. Throw strikes, induce grounders and keep the ball in the ballpark.

That’s exactly what he did in the major leagues, too. While it wasn’t even 30 MLB innings, Dobnak fanned 7.3 batters per nine, walked just 1.6 and allowed only one home run over that stretch — even despite the juiced baseball. His groundball rate was 52.9 percent, and it hasn’t been uncommon for that mark to touch the high 50s at any of his previous stops.

The path to Dobnak staying in the big leagues over the long haul won’t necessarily be easy. But if he keeps doing what he’s been doing, it’s going to feel a lot easier than the path getting there was.

Jeremy Maschino‘s Take

Dobnak features a sinker, four-seam fastball, curveball and changeup and while that seems like a fairly common group of pitches for a pitcher to throw, the way Dobnak throws them is anything but normal. Dobnak’s favorite pitch, the sinker, is a much different pitch than the average sinker. He throws it around average fastball velocity, coming it at 92.2 mph, but throws it with much less spin as it comes in around an average of 1,944 RPM.

With the low spin, combined with the tilt of 2:45, Dobnak gets around 14 inches less carry than the major-league average four-seam fastball, and seven inches less carry than his four-seam. However, I would like to see him get his spin efficiency up from mid-80 percent to as close to 100 percent as possible allowing him to get more arm-side run. As long as he can avoid the middle and top of the zone with his sinker, it’s a good pitch for him.

Dobnak’s curveball is his second most thrown pitch. But, to be honest, it’s not much of a curveball at all.

Thrown at an average velocity of 84.1 mph, with a spin rate of 2,392 RPM, a tilt of 8:00 and spin his efficiency nearing 20 percent, this results in only around 3.6 inches of spin-induced movement.

Given all of this information, I would say his curveball is actually a slider. It’s within the 8-to-10 mph difference from his sinker that we look for in sliders, the tilt is much more horizontal than what we would see in a curveball and the spin efficiency sits in the gyroscopic slider range (10-30 percent). This leads to a pitch that has little, but late vertical and horizontal break. This isn’t all that bad though. Having a “curveball” that has similar vertical movement as the sinker gives him an opportunity to tunnel off it.

As long as Randy continues to understand his curveball is not a normal curveball, he will continue to have success with it.

His four-seam fastball has not been terribly special and I would like to see him improve on it this year. My biggest worry is the lack of spin efficiency. He’s already a low-spin guy, so it’s hard to justify throwing a four-seam as much as he does already, but when you factor in his low-80 percent spin efficiency it makes me worry — especially if he tries to go up in the zone.

Without the spin rate and spin efficiency, this will cause his four-seam to sink from the top of the zone, back towards the middle of the zone. But long as Randy can try to avoid the top of the zone with his four-seam, it’s a serviceable fastball to throw glove-side.

Dobnak’s changeup is something you don’t see every day. Due to its tilt of 2:30, and spin efficiency around 90 percent, it may seem to have slightly more carry than his sinker even though it is thrown about 6.0 mph slower. Because of the tilt on the changeup, it should tunnel very well with the sinker as they are only a 15-minute difference (7.5 degrees). This gives us that very similar profile to the sinker, but due to the difference in velocity, it should help him miss bats and create weak contact.

Final 2019 Grade: It’s not Dobnak’s fault he had to pitch in the Bronx in October and it didn’t go well. From the Fort Myers Miracle to starting in the Bronx in the span of just a few months? There’s no other way to grade Dobnak’s 2019 season than an A.

Jeremy Maschino is an independent pitching analyst and researcher who specializes in data-driven baseball. Follow him on Twitter here.

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