Minnesota Twins: The Rise and Fall of Randy Dobnak

Starting pitcher Randy Dobnak of the Minnesota Twins. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Starting pitcher Randy Dobnak of the Minnesota Twins. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

In the first half of 2020, Randy Dobnak looked like an ace for the Minnesota Twins before it all fell apart. What happened to the young Twins arm?

Pitcher Randy Dobnak was one of the bright spots for the Minnesota Twins in the first half of the 2020 season. Through his first six starts, Dobnak was 5-1, while posting a fantastic 1.78 ERA. However, over his last four starts, he is 1-3 and is now sporting a disappointing 4.05 ERA.

These recent disappointing performances prompted the Twins to option Dobnak to their alternative training site at CHS Field in St. Paul on September 16. To take his place in the rotation, the Twins reinstated Jake Odorizzi from the injured list. Dobnak was not included on the Minnesota Twins playoff roster, but he could be recalled from the taxi squad should a need arise.

So what happened to this enigmatic pitcher? How did he go from pitching like an All-Star to being removed from the rotation and roster in just four games? Let’s take a closer look at Mr. Dobnak and why he has struggled in the latter half of this season as well as his prospects for pitching in the upcoming playoffs and his long-term future with the Twins.

Randy Travis William Dobnak went undrafted out of Division-ll Alderson Broaddus University (WV) in 2017. Without a dominating fastball, his prospects looked limited and it seemed like he may be finished with his baseball career.

He got a break when a teammate’s father (Jim Essian, a former major league player and manager) contacted him to see if he was interested in pitching for the Utica Unicorns of the United Shore Professional Baseball League, the team he was the manager for.

Dobnak said yes, and he went on to make six starts with the Unicorns, posting a 2.31 ERA in 35 innings. He caught the attention of the Minnesota Twins, who signed him to a minor league contract in August of 2017.

In limited action that year, pitching for both the Rookie League Elizabethton and Low-A Cedar Rapids, Dobnak won two games, with a 2.43 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings. In October of 2017, to augment his minor league salary, Randy drove Uber and Lyft in Pittsburgh for a year and a half and he received an excellent 4.99/5 driver rating.

Dobnak returned to Cedar Rapids at the start of the 2018 campaign and proceeded to pitch there the entire season. Used predominately as a starter, Randy went an impressive 10-5, with a 3.14 ERA, but with only 84 strikeouts in 129 innings. Despite having a fine season, his prospects for further advancement were somewhat limited due to his sub-par below 90 mph fastball.

He added a sinker to his repertoire near the end of the 2018 season and he worked on his previously ineffective slider. Adding these pitches to his already reliable changeup, he saw a great increase in his ability to induce batters to hit more ground balls. Along with his ability to throw all of these pitches for strikes, Randy transformed himself into a much more consistent pitcher.

The results of these changes were evident throughout the entire 2019 campaign. Dobnak won 12 games pitching for Class A Fort Myers, AA Pensacola, and AAA Rochester. His cumulative ERA was 2.07 for the season, and his GB/FO, ground ball/flyout ratio was an outstanding 2.18, which was more than 100 points better than his 2018 total.

He ended the year with the big club pitching 9 games, including 5 starts, where he acquitted himself well going 2-1 with a nice 1.59 ERA. He even got the start in Game 2 of the American Lague Division Series, though he struggled and was met with New York Yankees fans taunting him with chants of “Uber, Uber” when he pitched and lost against the Bronx Bombers.

This long-shot prospect was on the verge of becoming a key addition to the Minnesota Twins 2020 starting rotation. After his first 6 starts, his GA/FO was a fantastic 2.04 and his ERA was an impressive 1.78. Then, it all fell apart.

His current GA/FO has dropped to 1.97 and his ERA sits at 4.05. What happened to Dobnak after his impressive first half of the season. How can Randy Dobnak turn this around to make sure his Cinderella story has a happy ending?

In a conversation between Dobnak and Minnesota Twins Pitching Coach Wes Johnson, the first item that was discussed was the recent lack of control on his pitches, resulting in more walks and an increased number of hit batsman.

A deeper dive into this reveals that he is basically a three-pitch pitcher, fastball, sinker, and slider, and because of this, batters are sitting on his sinker, where they make contact on pitches in the strike zone at a 93.5 percent rate.

This may not bode well for Randy’s future as a Minnesota Twins starter, but it may pave the way for him to become a major asset to the Twins bullpen. Many relievers are successful having only two pitches in their repertoire.

Matt Wisler is a perfect example with his dominating slider. I hope this is there is an MLB path forward for Randy Dobnak, so that we can continue to root for this likable underdog.

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