It’s a funny thing, writing and speaking about baseball on the Internet. You aren’t allowed to be wrong even though you often will be. When the Blue Jays acquired Steve Delabar from the Seattle Mariners for Eric Thames, your intrepid DFJ podcasters were nearly unanimous in our scorn for the deal. Our collective distaste for Delabar stemmed from the curiously large number of home runs he surrenders. A problem he miraculously fixed since joining the Blue Jays, making our initial anger seem silly (with the benefit of hindsight, of course.)

It is, I suppose, entirely fair to throw stuff we say or write on the Internet in our collective faces. It is on record, after all. The only problem I personally have with commenter Blob Blaw recounting that fateful podcast in a recent DJF comment section was when s/he mentions the first time we discussed “their [our] Fangraphs/Baseball Reference scouting report on Steve Delabar”

Here’s the thing, if you do go back and re-listen to that podcast, you will note our “scouting report” was quite the opposite, mostly based on actually watching Steve Delabar with the Mariners. A Fangraphs/BR scouting report would quickly note his 3.22 xFIP in Seattle was very good, providing an easy outlet for positively.

The persistent belief — in my mind, at least — was Steve Delabar’s lack of a good breaking ball prevents him from effectively dealing with right-handed batters, as evidenced by his wild reverse splits prior to joining the Jays, allowing nine home runs and a .969 OPS (.388 wOBA). Since coming to Toronto, his results have been much better. Much, much better. Zero home runs with batters mustering a paltry .388 OPS (.198 wOBA.)

Before we get carried away praising Steve Delabar, let’s check in with reality for a moment. Delabar has been good but not great. The oodles of strikeouts are fun to watch but nobody will confuse him for Craig Kimbrel any time soon. With the Jays, Delabar has struck out 26 of the 66 batters to face him. That’s amazing. He has also allowed 2 home runs and a .671 OPS. So very good, but not next-level. Not even as good as Brandon Lyon, to be fair.

As anyone who has seen Steve Delabar pitch over the last month will attest, his splitter is his best pitch. Here is the man himself, while still a member of the Mariners, describing his grip and experience with the splitter to Larry LaRue of the Seattle News Tribune.

That pitch in action is a beatiful thing. Since joining the Blue Jays, Delabar shows an increased willingness to throw this filthy offering to right-handed batters. Watch him son Derek Jeter like it’s his job (which it is).

Throwing more splitters is sure helping his cause, especially the filthy nasty diving sickness evidenced above. But a few more splitters for strikes couldn’t be the reason for this drastic turnaround, could it? Scrapping his (very bad) slider and throwing more splitters to right-handed is a great start, but it his fastball that makes Delabar so tough on righties right now.

Blue Jays manager John Farrell attributes Delabar’s turnaround against right-handed batters to better command/location of his fastball and a more…judicious use of his slider.

…(Delabar is) doing a better job locating his fastball to the glove side, down and away to right handed hitters. His split is becoming more of a prominent secondary pitch, even against right-handed hitters.

If you look even deeper into the home runs against right handers, a number of times it was because a breaking ball didn’t get to the right spot. So for him we’ve looked to do two things: address fastball location, especially to that side of the plate and minimize potential mistakes with the breaking ball.

Looking at the pitch f/x data, what Farrell says “checks out.” Delabar has done a much better job keeping his fastball out of the middle of the plate while using it to get ahead in the count. Basic stuff but, for now, it keeps the ball in the yard and gets the big righty to his knock out splitter ASAP.

What do the Jays have in Steve Delabar? A very big guy with a very big arm. A guy who misses copious bats but one the gopher ball will always haunt. Just as many are quick to point out his sky high home run rates in Seattle were not sustainable, neither are his current/non-existent rates. Farrell and the Jays are still bringing Delabar along slowly, putting him into low or mid-leverage situations – mostly due to the ongoing dominance of Brandon Lyon and Brad Lincoln, me thinks.

Can Delabar be a good 8th inning guy in the big leagues? Probably. Were Parkes, Stoeten, and I wrong to dismiss him out of hand? I think I was. A little bit of tinkering and refinement in his approach is working wonders right now. Can it continue? Perhaps. When your big strikeout pitch is one that cannot and will not be thrown in the strike zone, it is a dicey situation to rely on it heavily. If hitters, especially righties, lay off on his splitter; Delabar’s in trouble. If he can get ahead with his fastball and keep hitters guessing – look out. Not bad for a relief pitcher who cost just the services of Eric Thames. Not bad at all.

All credit for the post title goes to Stoeten. It was his baby and I stole it.

Comments (99)

  1. Realistically it’s amazing that he’s even pitching at any level, let alone being a pretty key part of a bullpen. I mean, he’s got a fucking steel plate holding his arm together.

  2. Watching that video, Delabar has enormous hands.

  3. Lyon, yes, but Lincoln has been dominant?

  4. You’re allowed to be wrong about baseball, but I think the blowback will always be equal to the snark (which is in no short supply at DJF!)

  5. You’re self-aware, Drew, and I appreciate that in your writing. Excellent read, as always.

  6. Nothing wrong with changing your mind. Or underwear. Or both.

  7. Wow, I can’t believe you justified that with such a detailed response. There’s really only one thing you guys should ever apologize for, and that’s denigrating the Jose Bautista contract. Now THAT was dumb as shit both at the time and now.

  8. I seem to recall Delabar giving up an absolute bomb to Texeira at the Rogers Centre. I was at the game that day so I may have “mis-remembered” who was pitching. Anyway, the point is well taken. What I want to know is why can’t the Blue Jays “fix” their home grown guys (Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, Ricky Romero, Travis Snider… ad infinitum ad absurdum).

  9. I think this post is still the gold standard for 20/20 hindsight:
    http://blogs.thescore.com/djf/2010/04/04/your-2010-toronto-blue-jays/

    > “According to some bullshit on Wikipedia, fans in Toronto have christened Bautista with the nickname “Utility Bomb.” According to me, his career numbers have christened Bautista with the label “can’t hit right handed pitching.”

    • from that post:

      “Prediction: Adam Lind continues to be the best designated hitter in baseball.”

      swing and a miss!

      • My Favourite:

        Encarnacion manages to combine the slow starts of Vernon Wells and the baseball mind of Alex Rios with the arm of Chuck Knoblauch after coming down with Knoblauch’s disease.

  10. given Delabar’s success, have the Jays considered adding a splitter to Alvarez’s arsenal?

    i read somewhere that the coaches think it’ll be tough for Alvarez to make his slider work with enough movement to be effective as a K pitch because of his arm action.

    but i wonder why they haven’t considered toying with a split finger since it’s the same arm action as his fastball.

    does Bruce Walton not believe in it?

    is his Changeup basically a splitter?

    • He already has essentially two changeups, and adding a splitter would be akin to adding a third…i think if his arm slot doesn’t support a slider then trying to get him to develop a curveball is the logical next step.

    • He throws a great two seamer. I think they need to teach him a good cutter so he can throw the ball moving in and out.

      • of course he throws a great two seamer. that’s pretty much all he throws effectively. it’s his only plus pitch.

        and a cutter is basically a slider, just faster. that’s what he’s been working on now. i know Alvarez and the coaches have debated about whether the pitch is a cutter or a slider but Pitch FX seems to credit it as both – i suppose because of the varying velocity.

        whatever the case, Alvarez still doesnt have the arm action to throw a cutter as a swing and miss pitch. and that’s what he needs to stay in the big leagues.

        im just wondering if he can tweak his changeup to put more downward movement on it – like a splitter – so he can generate swings and misses on it for righties and lefties. but i understand if the Jays coaching staff are cautious to experiment too much with adding pressure to his elbow based on this year’s injuries.

    • Really tough to just “add” a splitter. Takes a very specific arm angle, and you need massive, massive hands to make it work properly. Tough to learn and tough to throw effectively.

      • nope, same arm action as a fastball. that’s the point of the pitch as others have mentioned elsewhere in the comments. you need big hands but since Alvarez is 6’1 big guys generally have big hands.

        “tough to learn and tough to throw” aren’t really reasons not to add a pitch. throwing a MLB caliber pitch of any sort is tough to learn and tough to throw. plus, a slider or curve is much more difficult for Alvarez given his arm action but they’re working on it – so that throws that theory out the window.

        the reasons they’re not attempting are probably what I’ve guessed at in my other comments:

        1) one of his changeups already resembles a splitter in a lot of ways

        2) they believe that throwing a true splitter could make Alvarez more prone to elbow injuries.

        by the way, why is add in quotations? seems “strange.”

  11. Fucking amateurs…

  12. Laying off his splitter is the problem if hitters recognize it as a fastball. It’s not like hitters can suddenly say – hey, it’s a splitter and it’s never a strike. It’s working almost like a circle change right now and you rarely want to throw that in the zone.

  13. Kudos to you for admitting you may be wrong.Then again you may be right in the long term.
    Ya gotta develop a thicker skin about criticism, though.If Stoeten/Parkes/Drew are going to mock commenters because they have a different point of view then they will be mocked in return.
    Over all your insights and analysis are appreciated and you’re right more than you’re wrong. It won’t be the last time it happens.
    You’re gonna have to accept the fact that you aren’t perfect.And stats don’y always predict future performance, but it’s a great place to start.

    • Because this never happens? Jesus fuck, man.

      • I knew you’d come out trolling for an argument as soon as I posted.

        Stop being so hyper sensitive and think with your head.

        • Hyper sensitive? Do I do this to other people, or is it maybe just to the one person who consistently posts this kind of up-his-own-asshole garbage as though it is fact. Yes, I like to counter your baseless horseshit pontificating.

          Not trolling for an argument, though, because there is nothing to argue here. Pretending that anyone writing on this site has never once admitted to being wrong? You really think that doesn’t deserve being told to fuck off?

          • You really do get emotional sometimes.
            The statement was about commenters being mocked as if they are fucking idiots for having an opposing viewpoint.
            Read Blob Blaws comment again about rush to judgement.
            Read the additional comments after.
            As I said in my comment,Drew still may be right.He’s more often right than wrong.
            I don’t mind being told to fuck off ( it’s happened here a few times before) but I do consider the source.

          • Read your comment again, Radar.

          • I read the comment twice and I am not seeing justification for this…. reaction.

            The point is not that you guys all think you’re perfect (gotta give RADAR a little benefit of the doubt there), because no critical thinker would actually believe that. Just that maybe some of the bloggers take their views on this game a little too seriously sometimes, and this is something to be aware of.

            But I’m just trying to stir the pot to pass the time before the end of the week, so feel free to brush off the constructive criticism.

          • Yes, I’d say you’re more than a bit sensitive when you lash out at others for pointing out that Steve Delabar might not have been the shitty reliever that you claimed he was. While he may never be a great reliever (or even a consistently good one), there were quite a few things to like about him when he was acquired (mainly his incredible splitter and K rate).

            Please try to remember in the future that disagreeing with you on a baseball issue is not some kind of attack against you.

      • You guys need to relax. It’s a long weekend.

        • I’ll drink to that.

          • I’m sorry RADAR, but it is hard to side with a guy who calls into the radio using his nickname/screenname. Unless it is your real name. Then, I just feel bad..

          • Sorry you see it that way Bradmclean13.As I said when I called,1st time caller.Did it as a lark. Purposely remained non confrontational and thought it would be funny. Got some recognition for DJF which I thought was neat.
            If that bothers you then I better come clean.
            I don’t really live in Pickering.
            And if thats the worst i’ve done to offend anybody here. I feel lucky.
            But if your only reason for “siding” with a person is the use of there screenname vs the content of what they said.
            I don’t know how to respond to that.
            But thanks for the input,I’ll keep it in mind,if I ever phone in again..

            • I’d use my screen name. Why the fuck not?

              If I call in to wilner and say “it’s mark from Vancouver island” none of you fucks would know its really the Stond Jays Fan….that is unless you read this post and actually were sober enough to remember.

          • HAHAHAHAHA. Talk about hypersensitive!

          • “Your going to have to accept the fact your not perfect” is the part that comes off as total prick. That really ruins the intended tone I think.

          • @ bradm
            I thought I was talking to an adult.
            My mistake.

  14. interesting piece fromt the NY Times about the abandonment of splitters in recent years because of concern over injuries: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/02/sports/baseball/split-finger-fastball-use-of-a-popular-pitch-falls-off-the-table.html?pagewanted=all

    • I may be wrong but I seem to remember that’s the reason the forkball went out of style.Elbow problems

      • I miss the forkball. It was the only pitch I ever learned how to throw.

        I wasn’t going anywhere with it, but it was awesome for using in pickup games.

      • interesting point. it doesn’t seem – based on that article – that the abandonment of the splitter was based on solid data though. they mention repeatedly that it’s anecdotal evidence regarding injuries that causes teams to shy away from it.

        it makes sense in principal that a splitter or forkball would cause more pressure on the elbow, since you’re less able to cushion elbow exertion and apply pressure with your hand and wrist because of the wide grip.

        based on that it also makes sense why Delbar – with his Bionic elbow – would be able to throw a splitter without those injury fears.

        but i still wonder if there are concrete studies that point to a splitter being more injury provoking than say a pitcher with “bad” mechanics.

        • Probably the same kind of head-up-your-ass anecdotal evidence the OriLOLes (not sold on them yet) use to tell Dylan Bundy to lay off his cutter, which is arguably his best pitch.

          • i dont think the Orioles want Dylan Buddy to scrap the cutter permanently or because of injury concerns. just for the season so he can develop his changeup.

  15. it was even the scorn of Delabar that was off-putting – it was the fact that you spent all year shitting down Thames throat, and then cared all of a sudden when he was traded

  16. We should just enjoy watching Delabar school good hitters, instead of getting panties all knotted up. They have the makings of a terrific bullpen for next year, so I’m excited.

  17. Jon Lester didn’t clear waivers. Could it be Blue Jays? Can John Farrell fix him?

  18. I only didn’t like that you agreed with Parkes. Nobody likes Parkes.

  19. The more I read this site the less I like it. Stoeten is an arrogant prick who insults anyone who doesn’t go along with his ill-thought out opinions. The only good thing here is the links to other sites. I’m out of here.

  20. fuck is drew really this stupid? “if hitters can lay off his splitter he’s in trouble” do you even know what a splitter is? It looks like a fucking fastball then disappears 2 feet in front of the plate. That’s why hitters swing at it. They have no choice.

    • If they ID it early, by the rotation. If it was that simple, why wouldn’t everyone throw it?

      • Sorry Drew.
        If they picked it up by rotation then it wouldn’t be effective.
        Because just because you know how to throw a pitch doesn’t mean you can throw it properly.It takes skill.

      • Holy cow, does everything need to be explained to you? There are probably less than 100 people on the planet than can throw a 90mph splitter effectively, yet drew thinks it’s simple for everyone to throw it.

        yes you can ID a ball if it’s thrown 70mph, but you can’t when it’s thrown 90+

        note to drew: baseball is HARD

  21. Just because something is unlikely or improbable doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

    It was improbable that Bautista would have another season like his 2010 season in 2011. It happened though. It was unlikely that Romero would regress to the point of being (potentially) the Jays worst starter in 2012 – but it happened.

    I don’t think you guys were wrong in the least to suggest that Delabar would probably struggle. It was about probability and measuring past performance/trends. It is entirely possible to have an informed opinion that is ultimately wrong. Its an inexact “science”. People make adjustments that pay off. Some don’t.

    Delabar has been a very pleasant surprise for the Jays. Similarly I think we can look at Moises Sierra as a peasant surprise thus far. It was unlikely that either was going to be as good as they’ve been – but not impossible.

    That’s why I don’t get the reaction as though this was some sort of gotcha moment.

    A guy like Keith Law for example is going to make a hell of a lot of predictions that are proven untrue – that comes from basing opinion on probability and statistics – which remain an excellent indicator of the likelihood of an event.

    • I also think that while he’s been a pleasant surprise, that it is still entirely reasonable to question whether or not he can continue to be this trustworthy going forward. A good bull pen arm for sure – but I wouldn’t call him an 8th inning guy at this point.

    • Well said.

  22. I think the Dude would abide, and say that Delabar has been like a well mixed Caucasian. Very fine.

    But then for everyone Dude, there are the naysaying Jesus’s, licking at their Rawling balls, getting ready to “fuck you.”

  23. I really enjoyed this post Drew, thanks. I think this is an example of the best possible way to handle being wrong – on the internet or otherwise. Admit it. Discuss what you learned that changed your thinking. State an adjusted position. Do it readily, and graciously, and being wrong shouldn’t be a big deal.

    I take issue when peeps double down on their position once evidence clearly calls it into question. I don’t think you’re prone to that. I think Parkes, when he want to scratch his contrarian itch, is another story.

    Regarding Delabar, I became an unthinking fanboy after his 4K inning. His numbers this year are oddly similar to Johnny Venters’s, and I’m going to go into next year expecting him to be like Johnny Venters. So there.

  24. Great post, Drew. As Navin said, your self-awareness serves you well.

    One of the reasons I was confused at the three of you not liking the Delabar deal initially was that the HR rate seemed like an easy statistical outlier to point out, and that noting that would have been consistent with your past musings. You’ve all talked about how relievers tend to fluctuate from year to year, and that HR rates tend to go up and down as well.

    It may well be that Delabar’s stuff lends itself to Stanton-esque HRs, and I think we’ll see more over the next year if he’s a useful piece, or a disposable arm.

    Isn’t a split-finger fastball hard on the arm, or something? I don’t think it’s an easy pitch to throw well.

    • I pointed out that exact thing out last month (the ridiculous and unsustainable 27.3 HR/FB% in Seattle over a very small sample size) and was still mocked for my opinion on Delabar (that he could actually be a decent reliever down the road with that splitter/K rate).

      And yes, there’s nothing wrong with being wrong (I have been plenty of times…go back and check my critical comments about the Marcum/Lawrie deal that turned out exceptionally well for TOR). However, the insults to go along with it get old fast and just aren’t necessary. Of course, it’s only one of the DJF that really has this problem (and it certainly isn’t Drew).

  25. Very nice mea culpa, Drew. I had the feeling at the time that you were taking Blob Blaw’s comment to heart.

    I am not convinced you actually believe this, but as others have pointed out, it’s quite simplistic to believe that you’re ‘not allowed to be wrong’. It’s all in the presentation and the treatment of opposing views.

    Part of what makes this blog great is the edginess (as I’m sure many already know, there’s a reason why TheScore wanted to hold onto these properties). But you can be edgy and still have tact, and every once in a while this gets left by the wayside.

    I am starting to think that maybe a reason for why KLaw has been ‘blackballed’ from an MLB job is less because of the far-reaching power of JP Riccardi and more because he has cultivated a reputation for being one to communicate his (insightful, intelligent, and well-reasoned) views in a less than respectful manner. If you are content to forever stand on the outside and look in, however – and have minimal interactions with superiors – this is not really a problem.

  26. “filthy nasty diving sickness”

    So, the bends?

  27. Delabar has impressed me considering I thought he was destined for the minors after we first acquired him-Seattle sent him down 2x.
    I see he has potential closer stuff-remember Bruce Sutter was an ace closer for years with a max splitter and a 86mph FB while delabar;s FB is 94. Consistent control of the split will give him a chance to be a stud.
    Obviously he has not achieved that kind of command yet or we never w/h got him for that Fukstick Thames but I am very encouraged especially if Santos, for some reason, ends up being a fukstick

  28. Bruce Sutter pioneered the splitter and threw it all the damn time. He’s strike some Expo out on four pitches and three of them would be splitters. Delabar uses it much less often.

    Gotta like the Delabar acquisition though. They only gave up (if you can call it that) Eric Thames. That’s why the best part of Drew’s post is the last sentence.

  29. Delabar is Bionic Arm Man with some seriously nasty stuff. Let’s just hope the screws and plates hold that fucker together.

  30. According to Zaun it’s a slider that causes all the problems. He said that’swaht blew out Santos’ shoulder

  31. Requesting the Real Life DJF picture plx.
    Fuck Delabar, he wont win us anything with his Lex Luger arm and his catchers mitt sized hands. Seriously, he was wrong about STEVE fucking DELABAR. STEVE-FUCKING-DELABAR. he’ll strike out a few guys here and there, hold a 1 or 2 run lead, keep the bleeding down I suppose, but seriously, se what having an amazing bp has done for us in the past few years????

    STEVE FUCKING DELABAR???? COME ON!

  32. [...] a one-year, $3 million deal in arbitration, if contract talks had gone there. Or @DrewGROF‘s piece about Steve Delabar, whose “stuff” — his splitter, mostly — has people [...]

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