ESPN’s Jim Bowden tweets that the Toronto Blue Jays have sent Kyle Drabek down to Triple A Las Vegas, and have called up Zach Stewart from Double A New Hampshire.
As a 23 year old in his first non-September action in the Major Leagues, Drabek has struggled, giving up more walks than any pitcher in baseball by both total number and per nine innings. He’s also the only qualifying starter in the Major Leagues who has walked more batters than he’s struck out. It’s a credit to his stuff that his inability to throw strikes hasn’t led to even more damage, as the young right hander has a 5.70 ERA, 5.44 FIP and a 4.97 xFIP.
As a 24 year old in his second go around at Double A as a starter this season, Stewart has been solid but unspectacular. Over a dozen starts, Stewart has a 4.39 ERA, but a more impressive 3.67 FIP. His walk rate and home run rate have both improved over last year’s numbers, but his strikeout rate has decreased slightly. He’s also suffered from some bad luck in New Hampshire as his .330 BABIP will attest.
Stewart has five pitches that he mixes up well: a four seamer that can reach as high as 96 mph, a sinker/two seamer that has some horizontal movement in addition to its vertical drop, a slider at 83-87 that can be thrown for strikes, a changeup (of course) at 81-85 mph and a curveball that’s similar to his slider.
According to Keith Law, who saw Stewart last September:
He stays over the rubber before driving forward with a long stride, although his arm action is a little long in the back and he pronates relatively late in the delivery. I know several scouts see Stewart as a sinker/slider pen guy, but I see four pitches, a good frame, and a pitcher who likes to attack hitters. I see a potential No. 2 starter, maybe a No. 3 if the changeup isn’t always where it was tonight.
As for Drabek, there appears to be some issues with his confidence in throwing strikes. Among qualified starters, only Derek Lowe has missed the strike zone more often than Drabek this year. Add a below average swinging strike rate, and there’s some obvious difficulties there. I just wonder if the Pacific Coast League is really the best place for a young pitcher who seems afraid of batters making contact to go to gain confidence. The league’s reputation suggests that the location of its teams, the stadiums in which they play and lack of fielding ability all benefit batters as oppose to pitchers.
However, Drabek is far too talented to be pitching the way that he was and something needed to be done.
Throughout this season, Drabek has been one of the more interesting Blue Jays starters to watch because of all the different pitches in his arsenal that he can throw at varying speeds and with different spins. However, one pitch we’ve seen far less of after hearing so much about during his time in the Minors was his curveball. By using his changeup and developing a cutter, Drabek seemed to drop the hook entirely from his repertoire on some nights. It will be interesting to see what role this demotion plays in his development, and what kind of pitcher he returns to Toronto as.
Update: Zach Stewart will start for Toronto on Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles.