What do wrestling, Jack Flaherty, and sliders have in common? Bryan Dobzanski

Photo credit: Daniel Gorman

Photo credit: Daniel Gorman

This story can also be found on the SB Nation St. Louis Cardinals site, Viva El Birdos.

Bryan Dobzanski was a two-time state wrestling champion back in New Jersey during high school. This is unfortunate for his Peoria teammates, some of which - to Dobzanski’s denial - think they can score a point on the 6-foot-4, 220-pound righty.

His athletic background creates an easy icebreaker when initiating conversation with the lone pitcher representing the Cardinals at Tuesday’s Midwest League All-Star Game.

“I would get in the wrestling room sometimes during the offseason, just to keep [my] conditioning in, but I haven’t [wrestled] probably in the last two years.” Dobzanski said. “I miss it every day.”

Combining a seven percent jump in his strikeout rate with a three precent drop in his walk rate, Dobzanski has cut his ERA in half from 2017. Aligning multiple factors facilitated this improvement, the first of which connects the Chiefs reliever to a familiar name.

“A lot of [my] workouts were tailored off of wrestling and football because that was the life style I kind of had when I was growing up - the wrestler in me.” Dobzanski said of his most recent offseason regiment. “I went out to California and I trained with Jack Flaherty for a couple months… I stayed at his place and got some good training in there, and I kind of used that as the opportunity to learn how to really train myself, as a baseball player.”

Photo credit: Daniel Gorman

Photo credit: Daniel Gorman

Flaherty is known for how athletic he is on the mound, which begged my asking of specifically how Dobzanski’s workouts changed when interacting with the current major leaguer.

“It wasn’t much olympic [lifting], it was a lot of stability and band work and even body weight.” Dobzanski said. “Mostly it was one-legged stability stuff.... Whatever you’re doing on the mound you want to try and translate those workouts into what you’re doing in the weight room.”

Dobzanski continued his refined plan after the most recent Christmas break upon returning home. He worked at the Maplezone Sports Institute (MSI) with Director of Sports Performance, Rob Rabena, and the current Plam Beach Cardinals catcher, Brian O’Keefe.

On top of revitalizing his workout routine, Dobzanski’s role changed last season as well. The righty started 11 games before the end of June in 2017 before the decision was made to make him a reliever. His last 24 appearances have come out of the bullpen, with results suggesting the change was positive.

“It was different because I’ve been a starter my whole life, since I’ve been, I don’t know, five years old.” Dobzanski said. “Instead of being 88-91 [mph] as a starter, the first time out of the pen I was 93-95 [mph]. I picked up a slider, and I think some of the success this year being able to throw my slider consistently and having more break to it.”

When Dobzanski was starting during the early stages of 2017, his repertoire consisted of a curveball. Picking up a slider in his transition to the pen caused him to tinker with grips until he found the one he currently uses.

Photo credit: Lance Brozdowski

Photo credit: Lance Brozdowski

Photo credit: Lance Brozdowski

Photo credit: Lance Brozdowski

“I started early on the horseshoe here for my slider.” Dobzanski said, showing me the old grip above. “And then I wasn’t really getting it where I wanted it to, and I switched over [to the ‘new’ picture above].”

The evolution of his primary breaking ball - from curveball to old slider to new slider -combined with an altered workout plan and role with Peoria, have been integral components to his All-Star bid.

Dobzanski even mentioned the lack of feel he had on various breaking-ball grips prior to his current one. He attributed this, in part, to elevated usage of a good fastball in high school, which for some can slow the development of an advanced breaking ball, limiting the chances to develop feel for the pitch.

“When I switched [to the new grip] I kind of had a tilted angle on it. I [threw] it just like a fastball, but at the last second I want to get it to roll off.” Dobzanski said. “...you kind of want to stay on top of it.”

His theory and metaphor behind the action of his slider help to visualize the ideal result of the offering out of his hand.

“Picture a cube, and you’re trying to pull that front-right box down and to the side, so it’s kind of like an ‘L’ shape.” Dobzanski said. “You want to get depth on your slider. You see a lot of sliders break to the side and down, which is really good, but all you really need on a slider is a little bit of depth because that’s what missing bats.”

Dobzanski likened his slider grip to Yeison Medina’s, rather than Jack Flaherty’s. Medina posted an incredible 74 strikeouts over 44 1⁄3 innings with Peoria last season and is known for a wipeout slider that has carried him all the way to Double-A.

“I’m pretty sure [Flaherty] uses the one I first started to use, from the horseshoe - everybody has a different grip.” Dobzanski said. “Sometimes [that one] works for me, but I’ve just been having more luck with this grip.”

A pitcher who calls Franklinville, NJ home hopes to soon upgrade his home park from Peoria, IL to Palm Beach, FL with an eventual promotion to Class A Advanced. His 2018 results show an offseason of preparation paying dividends, with a new slider grip and role acting as complimentary factors to a revitalized Bryan Dobzanski.