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The story of Steve Delabar is truly a remarkable one: a 29th round pick and would-be career minor leaguer who walked away from the game after a devastating elbow injury following six years as a pro, in his second season in independent league ball, Delabar became a teacher and a high school baseball coach, implemented an arm-strengthening program for his players, used it himself, found renewed velocity, then following a tryout ended up returning to baseball in the Mariners system, eventually working his way to the Majors, getting traded to Toronto, and becoming a 2013 All-Star.

A tremendous, bat-missing right-handed power reliever, Delabar looks like he could either be a fixture in the Jays’ bullpen for as long as his arm holds out, and as long as his command issues remain at bay. Yes, his second-half ERA ballooned to 7.02 from a 1.71 mark in the first half, but actually some of his peripherals got better over that span. His BABIP and HR/FB spiked, and his strand rate bottomed out– all of which to large enough degrees to feel comfortable they’ll regress to the mean, especially given that we’re only talking about a 16.2 second half inning sample that’s unduly impacted by an early August blown save in Anaheim. His walk rate actually went down by four percent, and his strikeout rate was up slightly, so there probably isn’t a whole lot to worry about.

Except, of course, his health.

Delabar missed most of August with inflammation in his pitching shoulder, then returned for September and– albeit in a small, nine-inning sample– had his worst full month of the season.

It would be silly to take his September swoon as too much of an ominous sign– I mean, his whole season comprised less than 60 innings– but… uh… weren’t the weighted balls supposed to be protecting Jays pitchers’ arms from stuff like this?

OK, obviously the weighted ball program– formally known as the Velocity Program– isn’t some kind of foolproof magic that’s going to keep pitchers from ever being hurt. But early in the season, when Delabar was blossoming into an All-Star and Brett Cecil had suddenly rediscovered the kind of velocity he needed to not just stay in the Majors but to thrive, fans– and the Jays themselves, both in the clubhouse and in the front office– were enamored with the possibilities.

In mid-June– not long after comments out of Boston that John Farrell was looking to implement the program– the Jays agreed to sign an exclusive contract with weighted ball guru, Jamie Evans, after also witnessing the success, and hearing the glowing reports from Delabar and Cecil, as well as Casey Janssen and Dustin McGowan, who by then had started using the program as well. Sergio Santos began training with them while recuperating from a mid-season elbow clean-up, as well, and there was even an report that the club’s pillar of health, Mark Buehrle, was trying the program out as well.

But a funny thing happened on the way to a renewed commitment to health, and it wasn’t just Delabar’s injury. Brett Cecil, of course, was the other prominent guinea pig on the club, and his tremendous season went out with a whimper– late August shoulder inflammation forced him to sit for nearly a week, then in mid-September his season was cut short by an elbow injury.

Not only that, Dustin McGowan spent most of August on the DL with an oblique strain. Of course, that can hardly be blamed on the program– nor, could any issue of McGowan’s, if we’re being honest– and if you remember, it was actually considered at the time to be something of a suspiciously fortuitously-timed injury, given the Jays’ roster crunch when he hit the DL. Also, in late May, Casey Janssen had to sit out a few days with some shoulder inflammation– though pretty clearly that seems like a residual effect of the shoulder surgery he had last winter, and that prevented him from having a full Spring Training.

But seeing the two most prominent guys in the program get hurt, even if they are pitchers, has to be a little disconcerting, right? As is the fact that, in the report from Boston cited above, we’re told that “Farrell said that Evans pretty much guarantees that he can help a pitcher gain at least four mph.” Uh… really? I mean, how much do we know about the long-term effects of this kind of training on pitchers? Less than the Jays do, one hopes!

For what it’s worth, Chris Sherwin writes about the program from a biomechanical perspective over at Blue Jays Plus, and he walks away skeptical, while also, I think, getting to the nut of the issue:

There is a lot about this program that is misleading and confuses people. I believe it is the velocity part that does it. For Jays fans we see the Delebar story and think any pitcher with a velocity dip can sign with Toronto, get on the program, gain velocity and be perfectly healthy. People have to realize that weighted balls are a must in any throwing program, but they are just one small part. Pitching is an unnatural event that occurs at an explosive moment. The training a pitcher does in the off season must focus on that fact. Core strength, leg strength, improved thoracic spine mobility, hip abduction mobility, hip and core stability, lower body power, scapular stability and overall strength are all vital pieces to the off season training schedule.

Now I’m not trying to take anything away from [program co-creators] House or Evans. In my opinion Tom House is one of the greatest things to happen to baseball. He revolutionized pitching methods in the 70’s and has helped develop thousands of pitchers over the years. The man is a pitching genius, I’m just concerned about one part of this program because the Jays organization appears to be all in with it. I love the progressive approach the Jays are taking here with this program. I have spoken a lot about my distaste for the pitching targets this team goes after. I love that the pitchers on this team will have access to a program like this.

Unfortunately it’s not going to be magical injury cure if the pitching acquisitions don’t change.

Indeed. And that’s why so much of the weighted ball excitement of this summer was probably a little misplaced. Then again, it wasn’t like there was a whole lot else to be excited about…

Comments (47)

  1. This was more of a weighted ball post mortem than delabar for what it’s worth.

    • It’s not worth much…

      • Or exactly nothing

        • Especially if you don’t understand baseball and all the nuances.

          The velocity program, with Delabar as it’s poster child, has the posibility of changing many players careers.
          Cecil wasn’t able to bust 89 with his flat fastball.It looked like he was done.He increases his velocity and makes it to the AS game. A game that hardly ever invites middle relievers to the party.
          Delabar was out of baseball and made it to the AS game.
          That’s two long climbs out of obscurity.
          The post’s not worth anything?
          For fucks sakes.
          Suck me dry and call me Dusty, I don’t understand some of the commenters sometimes.
          Stoeten was right to expand on the reasons behind Delabars resurgence.

  2. What is the over/under on the number of players who Stoeten goes through until he gets sick of doing this?

  3. Price and (according to Heyman) maybe Scherzer may be on the block this offseason.

    Might have been nice to still have Darnaud and Syndergaard around to dangle for one those guys. Ugh. Ah well. Hindsight.

  4. AA gets a win on the trade Delabar for Thames.

    I think the Jays have an excellent bullpen

  5. The Jays should acquire Justin Verlander.

    • Agreed. He would be a perfect fit with the Jays…

      Now let’s not think about this any further and get really, really mad when AA doesn’t acquire him for a couple of middle relievers and a B prospect.

  6. Benoit is making it interesting.

    • Too little too late, I’m afraid.
      But interesting none-the-less.

      • Verlander came up big.( as he should)

      • By the way, you forgot to preface your remark with ‘in my opinion.’
        You’re slipping.

        • Been distracted by a lady friend, so I’m a bit off my regular game.

          It’s like baseball.
          You never stop learning.
          The proper positioning CAN be the key to success.
          I’m starting to understand the importance of “the shift”

          • I always understood that your secret weapon was ice cream.
            Watch you don’t grind the gears.
            Consider double-clutching.

            • The ice cream is the irresistible enticement.We all have our weakness.
              I never stop learning about baseball or life.
              And I’ve found out learning can be fun.
              Really,really fun.

              • Einstein said “education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

                Maya Angelou noted “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.

                • You never cease to amaze me SP.
                  You certainly have a plythona, a plathor ,No that’s not right either.Umm.
                  You certainly know a lot of shit. ( I mean that metaphorically, of course).
                  Somebody asked a teacher , “Why are we learning things that we will never use once we graduate and go into the real world?”
                  She answered ” It’s not the content thats the most important, we are teaching you how to learn and that will last your lifetime.”

  7. BoSox and the Tigers
    Should be a good one
    Go Tigers.

  8. Tom House! This weighted-ball thing has always reminded me of his football-throwing thing (which people used to suspect of wrecking Ranger pitchers’ arms). Never knew he also had a hand in weighted balls.

    • What was the football throwing thing?

      I’d be very skeptical of that, if only because throwing a football is a completely different motion than throwing a baseball.

      • Yeah, that was the idea, actually (or at least I remember people saying that was the idea)–build general arm strength without putting strain on the same particular bits as you do throwing a baseball. I don’t know what all was involved in it, but I do remember seeing Rangers pitchers throwing footballs around on the field before a game at the Ex. I see his Wikipedia page currently mentions the footballs but not the weighted balls.

  9. And so it continues. Cheered for Texas in the play in game, Cincy and Cleveland in the wild card, Pittsburgh, Tampa and Oakland in the divisional series.
    Didn’t give a shit about the Dodgers-Braves series. Never really liked either team.
    Pretty much anyone I cheer for in 2013 goes for a shit.
    So…go Boston?

  10. Stoeten – I just wanted to say that I’m really enjoying these post-mortem posts.

  11. I think the main doubt that remains about the throwing program is its ability to keep pitchers off of the DL – though the fact that both Delabar and Cecil ended up missing time this season isn’t necessarily a knock to the program. We’re talking about two guys with significant pre-existing troubles. It may very well be that the program is the best thing for them and keeps them as healthy as possible – which still isn’t enough given their history. It will take more participants in the program and a longer period of use to determine whether there are negatives to using it.

    I’m skeptical of the idea of the program as a miracle cure but it is a very intriguing idea that if the Jays spend the resources to really research this – they could have a huge advantage over other teams. Especially if they can use this with starters. Imagine if Morrow and Johnson could use this to keep themselves healthy? That’s significant millions in found money for a team that is always on the verge of emptying the coffers for starting pitching.

    The idea that Buehrle or Dickey could use the program is very exciting too. Dickey is far more effective with a mid-to-high-70s knuckler and a fastball in the low 80s. He struggled early in the year when (as Stoeten showed at the time) his velocity had slipped from his Cy Young 2012. Just getting it back to the level he was at with the Mets would make him all the more dangerous. Imagine how effective Buehrle could be if he could regain a few MPH on his fastball? The man has an incredible ability to pitch well with velocity that would finish other pitchers. Even a slight improvement would have a significant impact on his ability to get hitters out.

    The jury is still out on the program as a whole but I think what is most important for the Jays is to invest in the science to ensure that they understand the program and its effects. That way they’ll really know what they have. I would hate for them to ditch the program after a few guys end up on the DL, when it may have just needed some slight tweeks in methodology.

    • Well said Ernie.
      I know a couple of guys using weighted balls and they have been encouraged by the results.
      Sherwin seems to suggest that other factors are more important and i don’t disagree but as addtional training to the standard,it appears to produce results.
      It’ll be interesting to see what the future brings for players of all levels.
      You can actually buy them for baseball and softball at sports stores.

    • I don’t think anyone is suggesting ditching weighted baseball training. It’s been around for years and is very affective. I’m merely suggesting ditching the “holds” part of the program due to recent research.

      • Thanks for the clarification.
        My knowledge of the program is limited to those using it and their thoughts.
        I appreciate your opinion and research.
        I realize it’s not a panacea for all pitchers.

    • Good post, but I’d disagree about it helping Dickey much. The velocity on his knuckleball is more about touch than arm strength. He has the strength to throw a baseball in the 80s, but you need incredible touch to throw a knuckleball at that speed.
      So I don’t think increasing arm strength would help much.
      Would be really interesting if Buehrle could add some speed though.

      • I was making reference to the velocity dip that he experienced in both his fastball and knuckler at the beginning of the year. Certainly the knuckleball needs touch – but the faster its thrown the harder it is to hit so I don’t see how improved velocity would do anything but help – especially since the main reason Dickey’s pitch is different from those who have come before him – is that he throws it harder.

    • One thing I didn’t see above (or I missed it)… I think the main reason why both Cecil and Delabar got hurt had nothing to do with the weighted ball program but more to do with the fact both of them were severely overworked by the shittiness of the starting rotation in the first half. Both earned their AS nominations by appearing in so many games and pitching lights-out, but in hindsight, maybe it would have been far more beneficial to the team for these two to have had the entire AS break off to rest their arms. It wasn’t long after the AS game that both started to get dinged, both on the mound and in terms of health.

      If the starters performed as expected and went deeper into games, would either Cecil or Delabar have gotten hurt? Who knows? I’m certainly not ready to dump on the weighted ball program as a potential cause.

      • Again, nobody is blaming the program for their specific injuries. “weighted balls are a must in any throwing program.”

        I would be incredibly upset if they dumped the program altogether. Just replace the holds with wrist weights.

    • I think the other element of the weighted balls program people arent mentioning is the fact that it has helped turn 2 poor bullpen pitchers into 2 of our best pieces. Cecil was almost a long-shot to crack the roster but ended up being dominant due to an increase in fastball velocity and increased movement on breaking ball, both of which I have heard attributed to the weighted balls. Even if the program doesnt make pitchers injury proof, the fact that it may be elevating the performance of our pitchers in the mean time is promising.

      • Actually I praise weighted ball training in the article. The point of mentioning injury prevention was to dispel the narrative surrounding the program.

        • Your article was excellent Chris.Keep it up.
          It certainly has provided food for thought.
          More investigation by me is needed before I stick my foot in my mouth (again).

  12. John Farrell doesn’t need the weighted balls program, he’s got the Sunscreen program.

  13. Wilson ramos

  14. I’ve never seen that quote from Evans before. It’s not surprising though because he is trying to pump a velocity program. I just hope the Jays were fully educated on the subject instead of falling for a sales pitch.

  15. Mark Buehrle was 50 to 1 to win the Cy Young last year.

    The arguments against the velocity program is pretty flimsy (see article above) compared to the bulk of the results.

    Odds are Buehrle will make all his starts.

    Multiply the LHPness by crafty veteraness by 4mph increase to FB (if he chooses to commit to the program that is).

    I’ve wasted $20 on sillier things (50 to 1 on $20 bet = $1000), but the payoff would be worth the trouble.

    Yes a crazy bet, but I’ll be keeping an eye on his velocity come spring training.

    Yes there are much better candidates out there, but even the best get hurt, and a guy like Buehrle could built a nice little narrative for for all those idiot writers to yank to.

    • There is nothing “flimsy” about the research results behind the holds part of the program.

      • I’m not sure if we’re talking about the same thing, but I was referring to the to Delabar missing most of August as not really being a big deal, and that the program as far as real results are concerned (at what we’ve been told) is pretty great.

        Their really isn’t an argument against it that is holds much water compared to the results shown by just Delabar and Cecil alone. How much success can be attributed to the program as to Buehrle, McGowan and Santos effectiveness in the 2nd half isn’t clear, but the fact remains that they were on the program all either came back pretty well, or improved.

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