As our eminent soothsayer Patrick Brennan said yesterday, the Twins having Randy Dobnak start Game Two of the ALDS was an interesting choice. Jake Odorizzi has a propensity for fly balls which would not blend well with either the Yankees or Yankee Stadium, while Dobnak, on the other hand, had one of the biggest jumps in groundball percentage in the minor leagues via a new and improved sinker.
Yet the sinker has been on the decline the past couple of years, largely because teams have replaced the ideology of weak contact with strikeouts via sliders, and teams like the Astros and Rays have transformed a number of pitchers using this framework. The sinker can work, obviously, but it requires excellent command and a heavy reliance on that and that alone to generate the weak contact you need in place of fewer strikeouts.
Dobnak, unfortunately, did not have that success. He threw sinkers at a whopping 58% rate, and his hard hit balls were hit 107.5 mph on average. Six of the balls hit faster than 95 mph were all sinkers. Ultimately, this was a matter of location; a quick peek at where he dropped his sinkers (the orange ones in the heart of the plate) is telling:
There was a clear strategy at work here because the Yankees largely ignored his curves (the blue) which were much better located, which gets into a larger point: the Bombers were largely relentless in their attack of Twins pitching that it didn’t matter that manager Rocco Baldelli decided to go with Dobnak instead of Odorizzi; it likely would not have mattered.
In Game One the Yankees faced 193 pitches in total, and 88 alone from José Berríos in just four innings. Berríos also had a fastball-first policy, and the results were largely similar; on the balls hit faster than 90 mph, all were against fastballs.
While the Yankees have something like an ~85-90% chance to win the series; remember, the Yankees were on the receiving end of this against Cleveland in 2017, a team also considered to be the favored juggernaut. With Odorizzi on the mound, there’s actually quite a bit of hope.
While still the fastball reliant pitcher that comprises most of the Twins’ staff, he’s been on the upswing, pitching to a 2.16 FIP since the beginning of August and seeing an uptick in fastball velocity, jumping from 90.83 to 93.11 mph. Odorizzi credits a new training program and mechanical changes to allow him to follow through in his motion to allow him to get that 2-3 mph jump.
Yet the Yankees, even with their massive advantage and seemingly unstoppable offense, won’t necessarily win by default. A lot will be decided by Luis Severino, who is still pitching just his 13th inning of the year on Monday. He is then followed by JA Happ, a pitcher who stacks up rather unfavorably with 1.9 HR/9 allowed. If the Bombers keep up their pace, it’s all moot, setting up a potentially cut-throat ALCS, either with their division rivals or the other AL juggernaut who knocked them off in two of their last three playoff appearances.