When the Blue Jays traded Eric Thames for relief pitcher Steve Delabar midseason I had little to no knowledge of who he was or what he could do. To me Delabar seemed like any other relief pitcher, but as time wore on I found him to be quite a tantalizing and fascinating player. He is 6 foot 5 and 220 lbs, he’s a relief pitcher, and the inside of his elbow looks like this. The reinforcement of Delabar’s elbow as seen in the picture was the result of multiple elbow injuries from Delabar’s 6 year minor league career that included stints in loA and hiA as well as Independent ball.
Following his last stint with the Brockton Sox of the Can-Am League Delabar called it quits and moved on to pursue other things in life. As Geoff Baker wrote for the Seattle Times back in September Delabar went on to substitute teach and coach at the high school his wife taught at in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. All was well, until one day a friend of Delabar’s who owned an indoor pitching facility brought in a new throwing program that was intended to be used to prevent injuries to the throwing arm, but instead it produced higher throwing velocities in it’s participants. Delabar was among the greatest beneficiaries of this program, according to their site he experienced a 10 MPH increase in velocity.
Shortly thereafter Delabar was scouted by the Mariners, which eventually resulted in him being signed to a minor league contract midway through the 2011 season. In April of that year Delabar was out of baseball and living in Kentucky. In June of that year Delabar was pitching for the High Desert Mavericks in the HiA California League. In September of that year Delabar was striking out major league hitters with 95 MPH fastballs…okay the Royals, but still.
For a pitcher who had a career 4.27 ERA in the minors prior to 2011 that was quite a remarkable turnaround, but that alone is not what makes Delabar so interesting. Beyond his story Delabar has displayed some remarkable skills and has proved to be quite the effective reliever.
The three pitches in Delabar’s repertoire include a mid 90s fastball, a high 80s splitter, and a slider that he throws against right handers every once in a while. He rarely pitches backwards and he’s generally consistent in his approach that sees him set up with the fastball and finish with the splitter.
The incredible thing about Delabar is the location he’s shown with the splitter; he’s able to throw the it down and away with ease to both sides of the plate. A prime example came when Delabar was sent in to pitch the 10th inning against the White Sox and struck out 4 batters, the most strikeouts by any pitcher in a single extra inning. Greg Wisniewski of Infield Fly had a great post breaking down the four at bat sequence in it’s entirety. In order Delabar struck out Dayan Viciedo, Tyler Flowers, Gordon Beckham, and Alejandro De Aza all strikeouts coming on the splitter.
In terms of overall results in 66.0 innings in 2012 Delabar had 92 K’s, good for a 32.8 K%, which ranked him 6th among relievers with at least 60 IP. Of those 92 strikeouts, 56 came on Delabar’s splitter a number that ranked second in the league. Aside from his K’s, Delabar has also proven to be a relatively effective reliever through other facets of his game. He’s strikes out tons, he doesn’t walk too many, and he keeps the ball on the ground at an efficient rate.
Generally a reliever who does those three things well is one you’d consider for a full time late innings role, however like others of his kind Delabar has demonstrated vulnerability in both his home run rate and his platoon splits. Delabar, interestingly enough has exhibited reverse platoon splits in his short time in the majors mainly due to a huge jump in his fly ball rate versus right handers.
If you take a look at the chart on the right (via Baseball Prospectus) it shows Delabar’s career fastball frequency vs. right handed hitters in each section of the strike zone. As you may notice it appears that Delabar has a tendency to leave his fastball up in the zone quite a bit more versus right handers, which could be a contributing factor to the increase in home runs and fly ball rate vs. righties.
Of course another factor in the equation is the rate at which Delabar’s fly balls turn into home runs, which as it stands now vs. right handers it’s a lofty 27.5%. One would expect that rate to normalize, meaning there would be a significantly less amount of home runs.
If in any fashion Delabar can find a way to limit his home runs versus right handers it could make him a much more valuable commodity going forward. A commodity that could perhaps pitch in a full time late innings relief role and to think it only cost ole’ Eric “let’s swing at everything” Thames.
Of course we are dealing with small sample sizes throughout all of this data, but it brings an intriguing possibility to the future of Delabar’s career. Even if he doesn’t progress further than where he is now, Delabar is still a valuable reverse LOOGY with raw stuff that is as exciting as any. It’s a theme that is common among many of the Blue Jays’ relievers, they have the stuff and hopefully the stats will come.