Delabar Pitching Like An Elite Reliever

BY @CHRIS_TOMAN

The Blue Jays found themselves a gem when they acquired Steve Delabar from the Mariners last summer in exchange for outfielder Eric Thames -- a trade that has proven to be a coup for Toronto. Delabar has emerged into one of the Blue Jays' most trusted relievers while Thames, a 26-year-old who had no future in Toronto, has yet to be appear in the major leagues this season and was recently designated for assignment by Seattle.

It's easy to overlook this as one of general manager Alex Anthopoulos' best moves -- given the splash he made this past winter -- but that's exactly what it has become. Delabar, who complements his mid-90s fastball with a nasty splitter and a slider he'll throw to right-handers, is making $498,000 and change this season and isn't set to become a free agent until 2018. Toronto has him under team control for the next four years after this season and, at a soon-to-be 30 years old, the club will likely get his best years at a bargain price.

Delabar has slid into the role of the Blue Jays' top right-handed reliever, helping bridge the gap to closer Casey Janssen after an arm injury forced the talented, yet oft-injured, Sergio Santos to the sidelines for the second consecutive year. Janssen is Toronto's only reliever who has thrown more high-leverage innings than Delabar this season.

Over 37 1/3 innings, Delabar sports a 1.69 ERA with 50 strikeouts while holding hitters to a .193 batting average. His 31.1% strikeout rate ranks 10th among American League relievers and he gets the bulk of those punchouts from his fastball-splitter combination.

According to Brooksbaseball.net, opposing hitters are 3-for-30 in at-bats ending in his split with 16 strikeouts. Similar to last year, the splitter has been a virtually unhittable pitch for Delabar. He throws it hard -- at an average speed 88-plus mph -- and generates late, diving action on the pitch as it approaches the plate, making it very difficult to square up.

delabardrew Delabar threw 18 pitches against Boston on Thursday, and recorded six swinging strikes. Here are two of those whiffs against Stephen Drew.

Only Cincinnati's Manny Parra generates a higher whiff rate off his split than Delabar's mark of 47.37%, and only Boston's Junichi Tazawa throws his harder, per Baseballprospectus.com.

As good as Delabar has been -- he hasn't allowed a run in nine June appearances -- some numbers suggest that he may have a difficult time sustaining this particular level of success.

Walk rate

Control is one area that Delabar has struggled with this season, which isn't all that surprising after his walk rate was a little on the high side in 2012. But despite walking 13.7% of the batters he has faced this season -- the fourth-highest mark among AL relievers -- Delabar is not allowing those runners to come around and score. Of the 40 qualified relievers who have walked at least 10% of the batters they have faced, Delabar, Seattle's Oliver Perez, and Colorado's Rex Brothers are the only ones with an ERA under 2.00. Delabar walked 26 batters in 66 innings last season and has already issued 22 free passes in 2013.

He's stranding nearly an identical rate of runners compared to last season thanks in large part to his elite strikeout rate which allows him to escape jams without relying on his defense to bail him out. And he isn't serving up the long ball, either, something that plagued him during his first half of 2012 with the Mariners. In fact, he's not surrendering extra-base hits at all, which is a big reason why those free passes aren't coming back to hurt him.

Limiting the damage

Delabar has faced 161 batters this season and allowed seven extra-base hits -- six doubles and one homer, good for an XBH% of just 4.4. Last season, he surrendered 26 extra-base hits, including 12 homers, while facing 274 batters, for an XBH% of 10.8. The lack of homers this season has kept his ERA and FIP down. Delabar's home run to fly ball ratio was a staggering 19.7% in 2012 -- the second-highest mark among AL relievers. This year, it's a measly 2.4%, which will be hard to keep up -- only three of 134 relievers who threw at least 50 innings last season had a lower mark. The league-average rate is around 10, so he has been on the extreme end of the spectrum two consecutive seasons.

Some other factors also suggest his numbers are headed for a correction of sorts.

He's a fly-ball pitcher, at a rate nearing 50%, and some of those balls are bound to start traveling a little further and finding their way over the fence. His groundball rate, meanwhile, is down almost 10% from last season.

While Delabar has a 1.69 ERA, his FIP is 2.64, which is still exceptional despite the discrepancy, and has an xFIP of 3.89. But although Delabar lives on the wild side and may be unable to sustain this type of production in the second half, he is already 0.8 Wins Above Replacement, and should be able to get that figure to 1.5 by the end of the season -- a very strong number for a relief pitcher.

Seattle basically handed Toronto Delabar for free and, for right now at least, he's pitching like one of the best relievers in baseball.

h/t Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus and Brooks Baseball for stats

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