If you were expecting a bounce back year for Blue Jays Relief Pitcher Steve Delabar, I’m sorry to inform you, it didn’t happen. Maybe this is just yet another chapter in Delabar’s crazy career path to Major League success. Delabar was drafted out of college in 29th round in 2003 to the San Diego Padres. Delabar wouldn’t be a highly sought after prospect as a starting pitcher, but with a lethal repertoire of pitches, all being thrown at amazing whiff rates, maybe he was underrated as a bullpen piece coming into the draft.
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Starting out in A ball, to some pretty poor results, Delabar would continue cut his innings in half each season while doubling his ERA. It seemed like things couldn’t get any worse for Delabar, but it was really just the beginning of his streak of bad luck. In 2009 Delabar would suffer a fractured right elbow, something that some might see as an injury that could heal in a couple of months. Delabar’s injury was much more severe, requiring a metal plate and nine screws, to be inserted into his elbow to allow it to heal. This wasn’t something that would require even a season of recovery, but would force Delabar into an early retirement.
Delabar’s career would seem to be over before it had even begun. He returned home to Kentucky, got a job as a substitute teacher and coach of the high school baseball team. As a coach, Delabar would hate to see one of his high school pitcher suffer the same injuries with his arm as he did. He began to work with local coaches, developing a throwing program with injury prevention being the most important piece of the program. Delabar would use the program himself, noticing over time that not only did the program work, but it might have given his career a second chance.
With his arm feeling like new, and his velocity up eight miles per hour from years before, Delabar would try his luck on the mound for a second time with a Major League team. Still with his metal plate in his throwing arm, he would give it another shot, trying out for the Seattle Mariners in 2011. Delabar would impress scouts in Spring Training, managing to sign himself a Minor League contract to play A ball.
Delabar would pitch like a new man, pain free on the mound, starting the second half of his career. Delabar would work his way up through the ranks throughout the season, making it all the way up to Triple A in August. When the September call ups came around, Delabar would get his call to join the Major League club, pitching in his first games in the big leagues in September.
Delabar’s time with Seattle would only last that short season, being traded in the 2012 season to the Toronto Blue Jays for 2015’s Korea Baseball Organization MVP Eric Thames. Delabar in the 2012 minor league season would start to show promise, posting a 3.82ERA in 66IP, while striking out a ton in the process (12.55K/9). His Fastball/Splitter combo would show promise, but his Slider would still be hit for hard contact quite often.
In 2013 all the pieces of Delabar’s game would come together, figuring out his Slider, and locating his fastball lower in the zone. Starting out the year on the Major League Roster, Delebar would come out of the bullpen gates hot. In his first half, he would pitch 42 innings, to an ERA of 1.71, while striking out an American League leading 58 batters -numbers so impressive that Delabar would make the All-Star game. Making the All-Star game in 2013 most likely seemed impossible three year prior, but now he looked like he had his pitches, game, and life all worked out.
Big things were expected for Delabar in 2014, as he would continue to hold down his setup role for the Blue Jays bullpen. Things would go south however, in his 25.2IP of Major League work he would post a 4.91ERA, unable to locate the strike zone with a 4.30 BB/9 walking nearly 14% of batters he faced. Delabar would be sent down to the Minors for the remainder of 2014, until the Blue Jays announced Delabar had been sent home late in the season for the remainder year so he could prepare for a big return in the 2015 season.
Although Delabar would not be impressive on the Major League level this season, he did put up pretty solid numbers in the Minors. Pitching 25.1 innings to a 1.42ERA his strikeout pitches have seemed to come back. Getting his K/9 well over 10, and a K-BB% to 20.6. Outstanding numbers to say the least, numbers that would almost replicate his 2013 All-Star season, unfortunately it wasn’t at the big league level.
That bounce back season would never happen unfortunately. After a successful Spring Training Delabar was stunned to find out he had not made the Major League roster, after rookies like Miguel Castro, and Roberto Osuna would impress the front office more. Delabar would have his chance to prove himself at the big league level again on May 3rd after being called up.
In his time at the Major League level, Delabar would not impress. Pitching in 31 games to a 5.22ERA, while the hard hit balls and increased walks snuck back into his pitches. Delabar would be sent back down in late July, when Aaron Sanchez would come back from injury. Things would just not work out for Delabar this year, but the numbers speak for themselves. He was clearly not producing to numbers to keep him on the Major League roster.
Maybe 2013 was a fluke? Maybe Delabar just hasn’t bounced back yet? Whatever you may think, Delabar will have another chance this Spring Training to make yet another big league comeback. With empty bullpen spots open, and with the departure of LaTroy Hawkins, Mark Lowe, and either Osuna or Sanchez potentially becoming starters, it would seem that Delabar’s chances of making the big league roster are higher than last year. It will be up to him to show up with his strikeout pitches ready, translating his play from 2013 to this year could prove huge for the Blue Jays. This obviously won’t be the first time Delabar has faced adversity, but it might be his last chance to.
Stats Provided by Fangraphs