Pop quiz, hot shot: Which pitcher entered Friday tied for the league lead in wins (three) and had the majors’ lowest ERA (0.90)?
If your guess was Randy Dobnak, the bespectacled Twins pitcher with a 4.99 Uber driver rating (yes, he drove an Uber while pitching in the minors) and the Goose Gossage-like mustache, you obviously cheated and saw his accompanying picture.
But, it’s true. Through his first four starts, Dobnak was leading the league in both categories. He also had the 17th lowest opponent batting average (.183), the 15th best WHIP (0.900) and was in the top 30 in fewest walks (2.25 per nine innings).
Dobnak’s 88.9 percent strand rate, which is better than Justin Verlander’s league-best 88.4 percent in 2019, was ranked 11th, and his 66.7 percent groundball rate was the best in the majors.
These numbers, especially that groundball rate, are even more important when you take into consideration he is striking out just 4.95 per nine innings. If a pitcher is not going to strikeout batters, he must find other ways to get outs. And, right now, Dobnak is doing exactly that.
So, the big question is this: Is this guy for real? Let’s take a look:
Dobnak, the most added starting pitcher this week in ESPN leagues who went undrafted out of Division II Alderson Broaddus University, is walking just 6.6 percent of the batters he faces. This is consistent with what he did in the minors, where he issued 1.8 free passes per nine innings. The guy throws strikes. In fact, 209 of his 317 pitches (66 percent) have been strikes.
Dobnak also is keeping the ball in the park. He hasn’t allowed a homer this year, and has given up just one in his first 48¹/₃ big league innings. If you think this is luck, he allowed just 15 homers over 54 games in the minors (45 starts) and four over 143¹/₃ innings in college.
The groundball rate isn’t a sham either. Dobnak’s 52.9 percent rate over 28¹/₃ innings last year would have ranked sixth in the majors, wedged between Max Fried and Mike Soroka, and ahead of Stephen Strasburg, Sonny Gray, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Aaron Nola. In the minors last year, he had a 59.1 percent groundball rate at Single-A, 58.8 percent at Double-A and 61.1 percent at Triple-A.
Dobnak’s sinker, which has a 91 mph average velocity, is what got him to The Show, and it is a pitch he uses early and often. Of the 317 pitches he has thrown, 147 were sinkers (46.7 percent). Opponents are 9-for-32 (.281) against the pitch (seven of those hits were singles) and 78.1 percent of the balls hit were grounders.
Dobnak’s fastball sits in the 91-94 mph range, but he is only using that pitch 5.7 percent of the time. He does the rest of his damage with his changeup and slider, a pitch he is using 31.6 percent of the time.
Opponents are 2-for-26 (.077) against his slider, and it has accounted for nine of his 11 strikeouts. He also has a 17 percent swing rate against the pitch. Batters are struggling with his changeup, too, as they’re hitting .182 with two strikeouts and an 11.5 percent swinging strike rate.
Not every pitcher is going to, or has to, overpower hitters. Look at Greg Maddux. He struck out just 6.1 per nine innings over his 23-year Hall of Fame career while walking 1.8 per nine and inducing lots of groundballs. Roto Rage is not saying Dobnak is on Maddux’s level, he isn’t. But, Maddux was effective and extremely successful without the need, or ability, to overpower.
Is Dobnak going to maintain his current ERA? No. His 2.72 FIP and 3.76 xFIP indicate some good luck and there will be regression, but not to the point where he won’t bring value to your fantasy rotation.
Anthony Santander, OF, Orioles
Had an eight-game hit streak entering Friday, going 11-for-34 (.324) with two homers, 12 RBIs, eight runs and a 1.019 OPS in that span.
Dylan Bundy, SP, Angels
Allowed one earned run over his past two starts, going 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA, 20 strikeouts, one walk and a .145 opponent average. He is striking out a career-high 11 per nine, and batters are hitting .150 against him.
Renato Nunez, 1B, Orioles
Despite striking out 16 times over his first 12 games this month, he was 15-for-42 (.357) with five homers, 10 RBIs, 11 runs and a 1.211 OPS in that span.
Salvador Perez, C, Royals
Entered Friday with a 10-game hit streak, going 18-for-42 (.429) with two homers, seven RBIs, seven runs scored and a 1.122 OPS in that span.
Miguel Sano, 1B/3B, Twins
Though he homered four times and drove in seven runs in his first 10 games this month, he is 6-for-34 (.176) with 18 strikeouts.
Sean Manaea, SP, Athletics
Over his first four starts, the lefty is 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA, 13 strikeouts and four walks. He has allowed 24 hits over 15 innings and a robust .364 opponent average and .985 OPS.
Mitch Garver, C, Twins
Had just seven hits in his first 42 at-bats (.167) with just one home run and a .518 OPS. Had not homered or driven in a run since Aug. 2.
Tyler Chatwood, SP, Cubs
Before taking the mound Friday, he was the most dropped player in ESPN leagues this week after allowing eight runs on 11 hits in his last start on Aug. 6 against the Royals.
- Over his first 12 games as a Marlin, Jesus Aguilar went 14-for-45 (.311) with four homers, 12 RBIs, a .975 OPS and just six strikeouts. He is available in more than 65 percent or more of ESPN and Yahoo leagues.
- Unexpected saviors: Former Met Rafael Montero has not allowed a run and is 4-for-4 is save opportunities for the Rangers after Jose Leclerc went down with a shoulder injury. He was the most added relief pitcher in ESPN leagues this week. The second-most added was veteran Trevor Rosenthal, who is also 4-for-4 in save chances and is striking out 10.0 per nine innings.
- Matthew Boyd has allowed 14 earned runs over his past two starts, and a league-leading 22 over his first four. He is walking a career-high 3.7 per nine innings and opponents are hitting .353 against him, worst in the majors among qualified pitchers.
Team Name of the Week
Max to the Future