Steve Delabar, a man of great importance
Steve Delabar is an outlier. Following the derailment of his baseball career in 2009, Delabar worked briefly as a schoolteacher before embarking on a comeback that lead to him being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for Eric Thames in 2012. His career of extremes brought him to an All Star game in 2013 before crashing back to AAA Buffalo last season. Entering 2015, Steve Delabar is not the safest arm out of the Blue Jays bullpen, but he may be the most important.
After an offseason spent waiting for bullpen moves that never came, Blue Jays fans are now witnessing a spring training filled with open competition. Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup are entrenched as the lefties currently, with Rob Rasmussen having a shot at joining them. Marco Estrada, Chad Jenkins and Todd Redmond are all favored for a job, as well, but unless Jenkins continues his quiet ascent, those names could represent little more than middle inning appearances.
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The competition between Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez could land Sanchez in the bullpen, while the young Miguel Castro and hard-throwing Greg Infante are very much in the conversation themselves. Standing in the middle of this mess, however, is Steve Delabar, and his success could solidify both the impact and flexibility of the entire unit.
Delabar, at his best, has closer material. His power fastball reaches 95 with movement, which enables the use of his slider and split-finger later in counts. When his control abandoned him in 2014, however, his leverage was forfeited and batters became aware of the fact that his lethal split-finger rarely stays in the bottom of the zone. After posting a 12.6 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 in his All Star Season, 2014 saw those numbers get ugly, with 6.7 BB/9 and 7.4 K/9. Despite battling knee problems through the season, Delabar has no excuses.
“I’m not putting any type of stock into that causing the year that I had last year,” Delabar told Robert MacLeod of the Globe and Mail. “I just sucked last year. We’ll just call it like it is. I just wasn’t very good last year and that was the fact.”
According to Fangraphs, Delabar lost some heat in 2014 with his fastball dropping from an average of 94.1 MPH to 93.0. The main issue, though, remained with his control as he struggled to put himself in pitcher’s counts. Opposing hitters made contact on 77.7% of swings in 2014, compared to 69.7% the year prior.
It’s important to keep in mind that Delabar did show some regression in the latter half of his All Star campaign. Has he been figured out by the league, or will a healthy Delabar truly return to his peak form? Now weighing in at 235 pounds, up from 217 last season, the imposing Delabar was able to put in a complete offseason free of interruption due to injury.
Competition remains the name of the game in the Blue Jays bullpen. Many questions remain, but Steve Delabar has the ability to answer several of those at once. If he is able to re-establish himself as a late-inning reliever, the placement of Cecil, Loup and Sanchez will become much easier for John Gibbons, and the bullpen could surprise.
Next: Brett Cecil sidelined with shoulder issue