Rocco Baldelli surprised many by choosing rookie pitcher Randy Dobnak for Saturday’s crucial Game 2 start over veteran Jake Odorizzi. Now, the 24-year-old with a few dozen MLB innings takes the hill in a David vs. Goliath ALDS appearance.
9 appearances, 5 starts, 28 1/3 innings, 1.59 ERA (2.90 FIP, 4.60 DRA) 27 H, 9 R (5 ER), 23 K to 5 BB, 1 HR, 3 HBP
Why Dobnak over Odorizzi
Dobnak is a sinkerballer who thrives by keeping the ball in the ballpark and avoiding walks. He’s only made three full-length starts in the Majors (two were opener-type appearances), so this is new territory for the 24-year-old righty. Judging a pitcher off of 28 1/3 innings is near impossible to do.
Perhaps Dobnak’s groundball act is perfect for Yankee Stadium, but it’s important to note that he would have needed to pitch bulk innings in either Game 3 or 4 anyway, so this is more shuffling the rotation than altering it irreparably.
With Odorizzi, there’s a real question as to his health. He left with tightness in his hamstring after his start on Sept. 24 and couldn’t make his Sept. 29 start to end the season. This delay gives him extra rest.
Before we get to Dobnak’s stuff, it’s worth going into his background. Just 2.5 years ago, the right-hander was pitching at Division-II Alderson-Broaddus College. He went undrafted and pitched for the semi-pro Utica Unicorns of the United Shore Professional Baseball League.
From there, he signed a Minor League contract with the Twins and has shot through the system in a little over two years. In the offseason, as an MiLB player with no major signing bonus, he needed another job, so he worked as an Uber/Lyft driver and has a 4.99/5 rating on Uber.
His wild (or, I guess, safe and orderly?) ride doesn’t end there. Since his last start on Sept. 25, he got married. Why would a Major League player get married at the end of September, you ask? Well, he’d been planning it for two years back when he was in A-ball after having just been undrafted. This normally would have been the offseason if he was still a Minor League player.
The sinkerballing Dobnak sports four pitches: A sinker, curveball, four-seam fastball and changeup. The sinker and fastball sit in the low-90s while his curve and change are in the mid-80s (change is 1.4 mph faster than the curve).
The right-hander uses the sinker to get in on the hands of right-handed batters with its two-seam action and force groundballs. It is a low-spin offering (which is ideal for sinkers as opposed to four-seamers) and gets above-average vertical movement, which allowed him to produce a 52.9 percent groundball rate in his MLB stint.
The sinker isn’t much of a swing-and-miss pitch, but hitters can swing over it as he throws it at the bottom of the zone.
However, if he leaves it up, it’s a meatball, as he did on the next pitch to Oscar Mercado after the above swing and miss.
The curveball works in tandem with the sinker as it moves away from right-handed batters, giving him two pitches moving in opposite directions. Though it gets less drop than the average curve, it’s been a highly effective swing-and-miss pitch with a 46.3 percent whiff rate in his short MLB stint.
It can be an out-pitch against lefties, but it’s his primary pitch to right-handers. He’s willing to use it to get a strike to begin a count, though he mostly buries it later in at-bats.
Dobnak carved up the Tigers’ lineup in his last time out by playing the sinker off the curve and held Detroit to just one unearned run.
Here’s a breakdown of how he uses his pitches:
|% to RHB||% to LHB||Avg. Velo (mph)||Whiff %|
Against left-handed batters, Dobnak changes his approach, throwing either the sinker or fastball nearly two-thirds of the time. As one would expect, he turns to his changeup more. He still got plenty of swings and misses on the few curves he threw to lefties, but he can also backdoor his sinker to lefties.
Dobnak attacks the zone slightly more than average and has gotten hitters to chase often. However, he primarily faced the bottom of the AL Central, so his small sample is skewed.
While the curveball is an essential pitch for Dobnak, he’ll have to tread lightly. Edwin Encarnación, DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are all among the best curveball hitters in baseball. If he tries to attack the zone with them too often, he will get burned as he did on his only home run this season. That might be why Stanton was successful in Game 1 as the Twins pitchers didn’t have a wipeout slider to offer him.
Last note on his stuff/motion: He’s quick to the plate, which should shelve most Yankees attempts to steal in the early innings.
History vs. NYY
Almost none! He did, however, face the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders in May and it came during Didi Gregorius’ rehab stint. (h/t Donnie Collins).
While Didi went 0-for-3, Dobnak walked five over 3 1/3 innings and gave up a three-run single to Ryan Lavarnway to knock him out of the game. It was just his third Triple-A start and his worst with Rochester, as well as the only time he issued five walks as a professional. The Scranton lineup featured Mikes Ford and Tauchman as well as Breyvic Valera and Brad Miller.
Keys to the Start
Defense: Dobnak is a groundball pitcher, through and through. If he’s excelling, there will be plenty of chances for the Twins’ infield. However, that’s not necessarily a good thing. We saw on Friday night how porous Minnesota’s infield can be and the team had the same issues in Dobnak’s last start, booting two routine grounders from Miguel Cabrera.
Experience: In the 2006 ALDS, the Yankees carried a 1-0 lead into Game 2 with a veteran starter opposing a rookie right-hander. That rookie right-hander was Justin Verlander, the Rookie of the Year, and he held his own against Mike Mussina as the Tigers turned around the series.
This one is different in that Dobnak has only 28 1/3 innings to his Major League ledger. In his three full starts, the team with the best offense was the Indians with a 94 wRC+ but no Jose Ramirez. Otherwise, he faced the Royals and Tigers. He has the type of game that could flummox the Yankees, but he has also never faced an offense near their level.
Home Runs: This is more of a key for the series as a whole, but Dobnak is a special case. In 46 innings in Triple-A with the MLB ball, he didn’t allow a single home run. He allowed just one in the Majors. Can he stymie the Yankees’ offense and hold them in the park?
How long can Dobnak go?: Yesterday, the Yankees ground José Berríos to a pulp over four innings, forcing Baldelli to use the bullpen earlier than he likely hoped. Dobnak is far less experienced than Berríos, but his sinker could be the key to quick outs and working deeper into the game. Dobnak has just 10 PAs the third time through the order in the Majors, yet he may get the opportunity to face Judge and co. a third time tonight.