Posts tagged Eric Thames

A Guide to Steve Delabar and The Steve Delabar Story

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Image Courtesy of james_in_to via Flickr

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.

Thinking Blue: Weekly Recap – April 30th

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Photo Credit: Getty Images via Daylife

Record This Week: 3-3

All is no longer right in this world. Down is up, up is down and the Orioles are at the top of the AL East. Of course I’m kidding as thus far the Jays have only played 23 games, which is only 14% of the the 162 game season.

They sure didn’t build on their success from last weekend in which they swept the Kansas City Royals in a 4 game series, but in a long season every team has slumps. This week the Jays relatively poor play resulted in a finish at 4th place in the AL East, but with one hot week they could be right back at the top.

Granted that week likely won’t be this upcoming week as the Jays have a 3 game series with the Rangers at home and then a grueling 4 game series in Anaheim against the Angels. However the point still holds true. The Jays are only 2 games behind the Orioles in first and a half a game behind the Yankees for the second wild card spot.

Not that it needs to be taken too much into account though, if the Jays go winless in the next week, its not something that you want to see, but so what. Over the course of a full season the true talent level of this team will shine through and I think they’ll be pretty darn good. If you’re patient enough to sit through an entire baseball game you should be patient enough to wait for the outcome of the 162 game MLB season. Winning is nice, but patience is key.

#StillFreeSnider?
If you follow the Blue Jays online community on Twitter (And really why wouldn’t you be), you may or may not have noticed something, the lack of #FreeSnider tweets. That partially has to do that with the fact that Snider left Thursday’s AAA game after jamming his wrist while trying to catch a ball in left field, but it could also be the fact that over the past week Eric Thames has been absolutely mashing. After this week Eric Thames is now the second best hitter on the Jays according to wOBA (that’s excluding Jeff Mathis and his 18 plate appearances) and also is second on the team in OBP.

Of course again this is a very small sample size, but Thames has looked good, well offensively at least. During the series against the Orioles in which the Blue Jays amassed 3 runs in 3 games, Thames seemed to be the sole bright spot. He had two home runs (one off of his glove) and led the Jays in WPA or Win Probability added during that series.

However the one thing I fail to understand in all of this is the sort of anti-Colby-esque mindset that has been put around Eric Thames. When Colby has played well there has been dozens of tweets along the lines of “where the haters at now?” or “Colby don’t look so bad anymore” as statistics based Jays fans make their proclamation to those who doubted Colby last year that Colby is in fact a good player. On the flipside of things when Thames has played well it has been the statistical community who is shut up by his production.

Don’t get me wrong its nice to see Thames hitting well and the Jays getting good production out of left field, but I keep the mindset that as long as Snider is fully healthy (which he isn’t at the present moment) he should be the one in the majors. The reason being that for one despite being the second best hitter on the team according to wOBA, Thames still has a negative WAR. Why? Because he has been terrible defensively, which has resulted in a -5.0 UZR.

I’m not going to go into all of the many details on the matter of who should be up with the Jays and why, as I did that pretty extensively back when Snider was demoted, but I’ll say one thing. That is that the Jays gave Snider a very short leash in 2011 and to be honest, despite Eric Thames’ sudden offensive power surge *cough* .354 BABIP *cough*, I’d hope they do the same with Thames in 2012. When he’s hitting he can stay, but when he should be on the first plane back to AAA. Viva Las Vegas.

Where Oh Where has Bautista Gone
Last year on this day Jose Bautista had 1.312 OPS, a .366 BA and he led the league in practically every offensive category. This year so far he has had a .670 OPS and a .187 BA and has been one of the Jays’ worst hitters.

At first glance that looks really bad and you probably either A. Spazzed out at your computer screen or B. Shrugged it off as just small sample size. Both sides may seem like plausible reactions, but the answer lies in between.

If you look beyond just the raw offensive numbers, Bautista hasn’t really been as bad as he’s seemed. His walk rate is below his gaudy 2011 numbers, but also above the 2010 numbers.  That walk rate is to go along with a career best 11.6% K rate. The encouraging thing about those numbers is that walk and strikeout rates are generally statistics that normalize quickly, meaning they can be taken in to context in smaller sample sizes.

Beyond that most of Bautista’s plate discipline numbers have stayed relatively the same as well, meaning he hasn’t necessarily “seen the ball” any worse than he had last season. However one thing worth noting is that Bautista’s O-Swing% has jumped up 5% showing that despite him making contact with roughly the same amount of pitches and getting roughly the same amount of pitches in the strike zone, Bautista has been swinging more at pitches outside the zone.

Because Bautista is swinging at more pitches outside the zone and therefore making contact with more pitches outside the zone, in some ways it explains why numbers like his slugging percentage or isolated power have been so low.

It is true that he is still making contact with pitches, but the contact isn’t necessarily good contact. Rather than hitting sweet homeruns he is hitting more weak grounders to the shortstop. This is shown through Bautista’s batted ball data, which includes a drop in both LD% and FB% in order to facilitate an increase in GB%. Ground balls often aren’t a good thing and especially not a good thing for a player who is considered a power hitter.

Though as with all that has happened so far in this season it still is small sample size and it shouldn’t be taken as the end all be all luck stat, but Jose Bautista has had a ridiculous .179 BABIP. That number being almost .100 points below his career average.

So then Bautista may not be performing to the level he did last year, but it would be very hard to expect that from him. His approach seems to have changed slightly at the plate, but he also gotten extremely unlucky. He is regressing and he is getting older, there’s no way he is this bad, give it time, have patience.

Bonus: The Home Run off of Thames’ Glove[mlbvideo id="20881909" width="400" height="224" /]

How Not to Fulfill the Prophecy

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Snider sliding his way to Vegas
Photo courtesy of Daylife via AP Photo

I like Alex Anthopoulos, I think he’s a great mind and has done great things to turn this club around from where it was going three years ago. Throughout his process his often stated prophecy has been to have ‘All-Stars at every position’ and that is a concept that I’m sure everyone can agree with.

He has made great efforts to fulfill said goal by acquiring players like Yunel Escobar, Brett Lawrire, and Colby Rasmus some of which have already become what was expected of them. However in recent execution of the same goal Anthopoulos and the Jays decided to demote Travis Snider to AAA, presumably in favour of Eric Thames in LF thereby hindering Anthopoulos’ great vision.

I agree with most of what Anthopoulos has done and I’m guessing that I will continue to do so with his moves in the future. However the one thing I’ll never understand is his constant misuse of Snider’s presumed abilities. Last year I didn’t agree with Snider’s demotion, but I gave Anthopoulos the benefit of a doubt when he said that Snider needed to ‘work on his swing’. This time around again, I disagree with the Jays’ handling of Travis, but at this point I really don’t understand what could possibly be gained from playing Thames rather than Snider.

As I previously mentioned Anthopoulos has said that he wants an All-Star at every position and I fail to see how Thames gives them that chance. In his 3 years in the Blue Jays minor leagues he was never put on any Blue Jays Top 10 list be it from Baseball America, Keith Law, or Kevin Goldstein, whereas Snider was atop each and every list a multitude of times.

In his 2011 Blue Jays Top 11 prospects Kevin Goldstein said, “As of now this spot (No. 12) could be low, because [Eric Thames] could be a solid everyday, corner outfielder.” This same sentiment seems to be similar to that of many other prospect mavens, but I fail to see how in that sentence or any other evaluation of Eric Thames it expresses that he could be an All-Star. He was never in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects and he broke in to the majors at 24, older than the average All-Star would have. Furthermore even when Thames did break into the majors he didn’t show any indication that he had future All-Star potential.

As evidenced by his wRC+, Thames was 8% better than the average MLB hitter, but with terribly below average defense. This resulted in a good, but not All-Star potential-esque 0.9 fWAR. If you take that number and pro rate it over 600 plate appearances it would still only be 1.4 WAR. From there if you really believe Thames could be that much better, you could raise the production by 50% and get to a 2.1 WAR. That looks awfully small when you contrast that with the approximate 4.0+ WAR that it takes to be an All-Star.

To obtain that level of excellence Thames would have to perform 185% better than he did in 2011 over 600 plate appearances. Meaning that if you assume that his fielding and baserunning doesn’t change he would have to hit as good as Curtis Granderson did last year to be an All-Star. Then even if you want to assume that Thames becomes average defensively in LF he would have to hit as good as Carlos Gonzalez did last year.

Snider, being the above average defender would still have to hit to a similar level, but the underlying point is that Snider has the potential to do so. Scouts have seen it in him, they saw it coming out of the draft, they saw it in his rookie season, and they even saw it last year.

Snider was the frickin’ 6th best prospect in baseball at one point, Thames has been criticized every step of the way. Thames performed well last year when called up at age 24, but Snider performed similarly in past years at a younger age.

Do you think that if given the chance the White Sox would send Adam Dunn down to AAA because he ‘didn’t perform well enough’ in 2011. No they would and will continue to play him, not only because he is owed a lot of money, but he has shown that he is a good ball player and just had a bad year. Travis may not be as distinguished a ball player as Dunn, but he did hit to around a league average level in his time in the majors with the potential for much more.

Thames may give the Jays a better chance at the playoffs in 2012, but Snider gives them a chance at that ‘All-Stars at every position dream’ as well as a shot at a World Series. I don’t know about you, but I’m a patient fan and if winning a World Series or even a playoff series for that matter means waiting, I will. I’d rather that than watch the Jays go all in on one playoff run.

Anthopoulos has always said that his goal is create dynasty not a playoff team, which is why I really don’t understand this move. Snider has shown what he can do in AAA, but hasn’t been given the chance to do the same in the majors (Thanks Cito!). AA wants a team that can win and win for a while and I fail to see how playing Thames over Snider in a rebuilding year gives the Jays the best chance to do that. Thames has shown us just about the peak of his production, Snider still has room to grow.

Of course Snider could still turn in to that bust player, but at the very least give him the chance to fail just as many have been given before him. It would be terrible to see Snider leave and be the player he could always be for another team, now is the time to make the right choice #FreeSnider.

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball America , Baseball Prospectus, ESPN

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