Spring Training signals a new beginning to the long, arduous season that belongs to the 162 meaningful scheduled games of Major League Baseball. While for the Blue Jays have few roster spots up for competition, especially with their bullpen comes the question of how John Gibbons will utilize the team. Casey Janssen might not be ready for the start of the regular season, leading to the thought that Sergio Santos might be your Opening Day closer. Darren Oliver looks to be the 8th inning setup man, a role in which he was both familiar with and excelled at last year in his first season with the club (and 19th overall). That leaves Steve Delabar likely pitching in the 7th inning or earlier, although his stuff is quite spectacular. So much that it might be in the best interest of Alex Anthopoulos to groom him to be Toronto’s future closer.
Before you start sharpening your pitchforks or preparing your lobotomy machines, let me explain myself.
Steve Delabar has great strikeout stuff
For a man who had temporarily retired from the game of baseball entirely, Steve Delabar really came back with a vengeance. After a full season with both the Mariners and the Blue Jays in 2012, the 29 year old posted a swinging strike percentage of 15.8%, good for 4th among qualified relievers in the majors. The three relievers ahead of him were Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Joaquin Benoit, with Delabar ahead of closers Sergio Romo, Jason Grilli, Ernesto Frieri, Jason Motte and Fernando Rodney. In addition, Delabar’s K/9 was good for 8th in the majors at 12.55/9 innings. While there are a lot more qualities needed to become a closer, having lights-out stuff last year puts him in league with some of the game’s best 9th inning men.
Steve Delabar had juxtaposing excellent and terrible partial season stats between Seattle and Toronto
While he was always a strikeout machine, Delabar had wildly-swaying stats between the Mariners and the Blue Jays. For example, on Seattle Steve Delabar had a strong collection of stats in 2.70 BB/9, 0.93 WHIP and a .183 BABIP, yet was held to a -0.4 fWAR over 36.2 innings. The problem was that he gave up too many HR’s, with a HR/FB rate of 27.3% and a 2.21 HR/9, with led to a 4+ ERA. After coming to Toronto he posted a 0.6 fWAR over 29.1 innings, in a large part because of his 14.11 K/9 and much improved HR stats, like 0.90 HR/9 and a very respectable 10.7% HR/FB rate. This led to a lower ERA at 3.38 with the club and a 2.82 FIP. But what is surprising is that with the Blue Jays Delabar posted a 4.60 BB/9, a .323 BABIP and 1.30 WHIP. If Steve Delabar were to replicate his Blue Jays numbers over a full season, he could expect to bring in roughly 1.3 fWAR; a perfect combination between his Seattle control numbers and his Toronto strikeout/low HR numbers and Delabar would be well on his way to becoming an elite reliever. We’d have to see what a full season of Steve Delabar with the Blue Jays will provide, which leads to…
Steve Delabar’s contract years allow Anthopoulos to unleash him as a closer with perfect timing
(This last section is a lot more speculative than quantifiable, but that’s the kind of thing required when making a bold prediction.) Current Blue Jays closer Janssen’s final guaranteed season is in 2013, with a $4M option in 2014 with no buyout. Santos’ final guaranteed year with the team is in 2014, with club options for $6M, $8M and $8.75M over 2015-2017 and $750,000 buyouts for each year. In a greater viewpoint, there is no Blue Jays player guaranteed a contract year beyond 2015 without going to arbitration. The team might be looking to save their money if they want to keep some of their big name players like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Brandon Morrow. That’s where inserting Steve Delabar as an affordable closer option comes in.
At the moment, Steve Delabar has 1.015 service years in the MLB. During the 2014 off-season, he will be up for his first year of arbitration. Anthopoulos would be smart to utilize Delabar in the 7th inning for 2013, use him as a setup guy in 2014 and take him to arbitration during the off-season. That way the Blue Jays would be able to sign Steve Delabar for setup man dollars and use him as a closer later, much like how the Pirates signed Jason Grilli for 2 years/$7M and then traded Joel Hanrahan to use Grilli in a closer role for 2013.
Regardless of what the Blue Jays do going forward, with Steve Delabar under team control for the next 5 years the team has an exciting pitching option with electric stuff. Hopefully the 29 year old can remain patient, work on his control and keep the ball in the yard over the next few years. If so, Anthopoulos might not need to look for a free agent closer for quite some time.