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.