Randy Dobnak‘s 2019 campaign ended with him being one of the infamous faces of the Minnesota Twins’ American League Division Series matchup with the New York Yankees (the Twins were swept). This season he has been a godsend for manager Rocco Baldelli‘s starting rotation.
Prior to surrendering four earned runs across two innings in Game 2 of the 2019 ALDS, Dobnak was a late-season emergence for the Twins. Recording a 1.59 ERA across nine appearances, five of which were starts, he was a welcome addition to a pitching staff that was reeling down the home stretch.
The 2020 season has featured a continuation of that pitcher.
Dobnak has been a fixture in the Twins rotation this season. Across four starts he has posted an 0.90 ERA and WHIP and a 470 ERA+. He has walked just five batters.
Dobnak relies on soft contact. That said, he’s catching hitters off-guard, inducing weak contact and quick outs. Dobnak heavily relies on his sinker and slider. His velocity usually peaks in the low 90s. When you’re looking to fool hitters with a handful of offerings that come with considerable movement, a low-velocity fastball can be deadly, as hitters are anxiously protecting the plate with two strikes on them.
Dobnak is yet to record an out past the sixth inning and has thrown 80-plus pitches in just one of his four starts this season. Such an approach makes sense. This is Dobnak’s first season as a full-time starter, and it’s prudent to take it in stride. If Dobnak goes through an order a fourth time, the hitters have the advantage, as they’ve likely picked up on his pitch tendencies.
The Twins trotted out a plausible starting rotation in 2019, and they improved that unit by adding Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, and Homer Bailey in the offseason. The trio replaced Kyle Gibson and Martin Perez.
Unfortunately for the Twins, Hill, Bailey, and right-hander Jake Odorizzi, who recorded a 3.51 ERA across 30 starts last season, were either recently placed on the injured list or have missed part of the season due to injury.
Furthermore, Jose Berrios, the team’s ace going on three years, is off to a tumultuous start, sporting a 5.31 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP over his first four starts. Without Dobnak, this rotation is in shambles. At full force, it’ll be a sturdy unit.
Berrios has been one of the best right-handers in baseball in recent memory. He throws a deceptive curveball and an overpowering fastball and pitches deep into games. Maeda has top-of-the-rotation potential courtesy of his savvy off-speed arsenal; he’s off to an encouraging start, sporting a 2.66 ERA and an 0.72 WHIP across his first four starts. Odorizzi is a steady ground-ball pitcher adept at evading mid-game crises.
If Hill and Bailey return to the hill, they add veteran depth and playoff experience to the Twins rotation.
The impetus of the Twins’ 101-win 2019 season was their offense. They finished first in Major League Baseball in home runs (307) and second in runs (939), hits (1,547), batting average (.270), and OPS (.832).
Despite the absence of free agent signee Josh Donaldson, a depth chart that features the likes of Nelson Cruz, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, Mitch Garver, Jorge Polanco, and Luis Arraez should make for an elite offense. Yet, the Twins have been less versed at the plate.
While the Twins went into Friday fourth in home runs (32) and fifth in runs (98), they were also 14th in hits (151) and OPS (.739) and 15th in batting average (.241). They’re relying too much on the long ball, getting runners on base at a much lower rate than last season.
The AL Central was inevitably going to improve in 2020. That said, the early competition has been stiffer than expected.
The Cleveland Indians have been able to overcome the departures of tenured starting pitchers with a handful of young arms answering the bell; the Chicago White Sox have been a competitive bunch, especially in the batter’s box; the Detroit Tigers, 9-8, have been among the surprise teams in MLB; the Kanas City Royals, 8-11, have held their own.
The first-place Twins hold a four-game lead on the last-place Royals.
You can win a World Series with dominant starting pitching, as it can aid bullpen deficiencies by means of starters coming out of the bullpen in the playoffs. The best versions of Berrios, Maeda, Odorizzi, and Dobnak form a prominent quartet.
Is it reasonable to expect Dobnak to keep his ERA hovering around one as the season sprints on? Of course not, that would be absurd. What is reasonable is to look for Dobnak to be an effective five-to-six inning starter, getting the ball to an improving bullpen with a notable lead — which comes from the team’s formidable offensive attack playing up to its Bomba Squad nickname.
The above scenario playing out gives Minnesota its best rotation of the decade. To this point, Randy Dobnak has kept their rotation at its 2019 stature in the midst of others’ injuries and struggles.