The charming story of Randy Dobnak and his rapid rise from small college pitcher to independent ball pitcher to Twins minor leaguer to certified member of the Twins rotation has been well-documented.
Oh, he was an Uber driver along the way? Posted a 4.99 rating? Ended up being the Game 2 pitcher for the Twins in Yankee Stadium in last year’s playoffs? Sell the story to Hollywood, it’s that good.
But let’s spend a couple of minutes now on a more stripped down version of that story that focuses just on this: Dobnak, a pitcher who gets results. He had a 1.59 ERA in limited work last year.
And in case you thought that was a fluke, he’s 5-1 with a 1.78 ERA in six starts this season. That’s still a small sample size, but it’s a growing sample size.
More importantly in this strange, 60-game coronavirus sprint of a season, it’s a sample that’s about 50% of an entire year. So it’s not crazy at all to think about this: Dobnak as an AL Rookie of the Year candidate.
Wait, didn’t he pitch a lot last year? Yes, but he didn’t top 50 innings or 45 days on the active roster. So he still qualifies as a rookie.
But wait, aren’t there some other really good candidates with stronger pedigrees? Sure. Twins Daily got into that discussion a couple weeks ago.
Since then, Dobnak has put up two more solid starts. One online oddsmaker puts Dobnak at 6 to 1 to win the award — the third most-likely player behind Luis Robert of the White Sox and Kyle Lewis of the Mariners, both at 3 to 1.
Robert has been among the favorites all year and has not disappointed with 7 homers and an .862 OPS for the hard-hitting White Sox. He probably has to be considered the favorite at this point.
But Dobnak is in the mix. Though he has just 16 strikeouts in 30.1 innings, he has issued only seven walks. Perhaps more importantly, he has been excellent at inducing soft contact and keeping the ball on the ground — two things that when paired with his impeccable control have helped overcome a lack of strikeouts. He is, to borrow a phrase from the Twins’ past, the epitome of how pitch-to-contact is supposed to work.
Per FanGraphs, Dobnak is inducing soft contact on 20.2% of all balls put in play — eighth-best in the majors among 55 qualified starters. And he’s getting ground balls on 62.4% of balls put in play — third-best among qualified starters.
That has kept him from getting hurt too badly by homers — just three allowed in six starts, though all three were in his two most recent outings. The ground balls helped him through his shakiest start of 2020 Sunday, when three double plays in his five innings allowed him to escape having allowed just two runs despite giving up eight hits.
If Dobnak can continue to keep hitters off balance, he could wind up with very good numbers by season’s end. In this shortened year, that probably means just 6 or 7 more starts — and could lead to an honor even more meaningful than that 4.99 Uber rating at the end of 2020.