In the year 2020, Minnesota Twins starting pitcher, Randy Dobnak, is as enigmatic a Major League Baseball player as I am a “casual” drinker. I’ll start out on fire and get even better as I go. But as I continue to mow them down, you can’t help but wonder when the crash is coming. Randy might have more stamina than you think, though (just like me).
You have likely heard Dobnak’s backstory by now (from Uber driver to pitching in Game 2 of the 2019 ALDS). However, just like my casual drinking, the year 2020 has started a whole new chapter in this new ace’s story. Yeah, I said it. A-C-E.
During this pandemic-shortened season (in historic fashion) Randy D. has registered a 4-1 record, a 1.42 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 25.1 innings. He has become the most underrated pitcher in the big leagues, by far. Oh, and he is still a rookie.
As Dobnak continues to rack up solid performances, Twins fans hope they have a future frontline starter. His sudden rise does brings up some questions, though. Is Randy Dobnak actually this good? Is this a flash in the pan? Does he have a shot at winning, not only Rookie of the Year, but…. the Cy Young too?
‘Stache of the game:— Randy Dobnak’s mustache (@dobstache) August 16, 2020
Randy Dobnak (like there was any question) 5.1 IP, 2 ER, 3 K, 1 BB, 3 H
The ‘stache moves to 4-1 on the season with a 1.42 ERA. 💪🏼 pic.twitter.com/ZKReD14lPY
As mentioned, Dobnak’s story is as feel good as it gets and has been discussed across the baseball world. Dobnak began 2019 in High-A rookie ball and propelled through the minors, while driving Uber to help pay the bills. That dedication shined through during his brief minor league career. While toying with minor league hitters, Dobnak amassed a 12-4 record with a sub-2.50 ERA, at each stop outside of Double-A… where his ERA skyrocketed to 2.56.
Randy Dobnak’s domination of minor league hitters launched him onto the Twins’ roster and into a highly utilized role in 2019. Still, nobody saw Uber guy parlaying that into a Cy Young 2020, and by default, Rookie of the Year. If a rookie wins Cy Young, it’s hard to believe he doesn’t also walk away with ROY. Only one other player (Fernando Valenzuela | LAD – 1981) has brought home both the ROY and Cy Young in the same season…
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR DEBATE
Let’s start with the easy one. Rookie of the Year. Prior to the season’s start, Dobnak wasn’t on any betting lists to win the award. Even Twins top prospects Royce Lewis (+6000) and Alex Kirilloff (+10000) were on the betting board… but no Randy D.
Oh how quickly Vegas forgets. He gave everyone a look into the future with his 2019 but they still screwed it up. According to Sports Betting Dime, Dobnak is now third in updated ROY odds (6/1). Still, he sits behind Luis Robert (White Sox) and Kyle Lewis (Mariners).
Some new prop bets from @SBD with the 2020 @MLB season 1/3 complete:#MNTwins World Series 11/1
Nelson Cruz MVP 32/1 (6th)
Randy Dobnak ROY 6/1 (3rd)
Randy Dobnak Cy Young 32/1 (6th)
Nelson Cruz O/U HR 15.5 (5th)— Ted (@tlschwerz) August 17, 2020
TOUGH HILL TO CLIMB
Luckily for Randy Dobnak and the rest of Twins Nation, Rookie of the Year isn’t voted on by degenerate gamblers. It is decided by the prestigious writers of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. All Dobnak has to do is impress them and he is golden.
That could be the root of the problem, though. While Dobnak has put up stellar numbers through the first month of the season, he isn’t racking up the kind of stats these dinosaur writers like to see (strikeouts, innings pitched, and wins). He also isn’t a hitter who is ripping the cover off the ball… which always helps the optics.
Dobnak can get the wins portion of the equation (thanks to how he pitches and the Twins offense) but some of those “old school” categories aren’t conducive to Randy’s style of play. Instead, he scores well on weak contact (38.2% hard hit rate) and ground ball rate (64.5% – 3rd in MLB).
WRITERS LOVE KEY STATS
Wins are still wins, however, and those + a low ERA might as well be viagra to these old school ball-guys. Dobnak has been elite in both areas. He came into his start this past Sunday with a league leading 0.90 ERA. At one point, he had the lowest ERA in MLB history (minimum of 40 innings).
Dobnak did give up two home runs in his last start to the Kansas City Royals, pushing his ERA to 1.42, but let’s not start nit-picking like Karen. Randy’s been so good that, even with both ROY competitors playing out of their minds, Dobnak still has the edge over both guys in bWAR.
Lowest All-Time MLB ERA (min 40 innings):
1. RANDY DOBNAK (1.25)
2. John Weyhing (1.62)
3. Ed Walsh (1.82)— Matt Braun (@matthew_btwins) August 6, 2020
The Twins have an easy schedule, on paper at least. As long as Randy Dobnak continues to perform at a high level, there should be no reason he isn’t in the running for Rookie of the Year when this weird AF season comes to a close. The Cy Young could prove more difficult.
TWO AWARDS FOR ONE PERFORMANCE
The bigger question is whether Dobnak can not only win Rookie of the Year, but the Cy Young award too. As mentioned above, history says this is possible… but is it plausible?
ESPN currently has Dobnak ranked behind only the Yankee’s Gerrit Cole, in their Cy Young Predictor. If one was to dive deeper into the world of statistics and analytics, they would see an even more holistic view of how well Dobnak has stacked up so far. Hint: it’s among the elite.
Dobnak’s control and ability to induce harmless contact is what makes him great. His current FIP of 3.77 shows how dominant he has been and how he has over-performed his ERA (which is also elite). Alex Chamberlain pointed out on Fangraphs just how rare a combination this is.
Chamberlain counts only 39 qualified pitchers since 2015, who had a better than 55% ground ball rate and over 12% whiff rate. If you add in Dobnak’s walk rate of sub-5.5%, the numbers dwindle even more. In fact there have been only three such seasons ever:
- 2019 Hyun-Jin Ryu (2nd NL Cy Young)
- 2015 Clayton Kershaw (3rd NL Cy Young)
- 2015 Jake Arrieta (NL Cy Young)
That is certainly rarified air. While it is still “early” in the season and everything will have an asterisk next to it this year, Dobnak is still on pace to be in the conversation for the Cy Young.
His approach isn’t complicated. His velocity is average and his pitch mix is nothing that will wow you on the surface, but it works (just like me when I’m drinking). This season may be pseudo-“flash in the pan”, as his projections and actual stats will likely climb in future years, but it is time to seriously consider him a candidate for both awards. We should fully expect Randy Dobnak to compete for ROY and Cy Young in 2020… and maybe even walk away with one, or both.
Jack Kewitsch | Minnesota Sports Fan