Monday, 27 February 2012

My Plea for Kyle Drabek

Photo by sillygwailo licensed under Creative Commons
It has come to my attention through the poll on this site and what seems to be the general opinion of Jays fans that of the four troubling players listed Drabek is the least likely to have a comeback season and I ask why? It may seems so long ago, but it has only been one year since Kyle Drabek was the top prospect in the Blue Jays farm system and a shining star in the Blue Jays future plans. At that time Drabek ranked anywhere from No. 13 by Keith Law to No. 29 by Baseball America on their respective top prospect lists.

Heading in to Spring Training in 2011, Drabek was the next big thing, the possible first fruition of the trade that sent former Blue Jays Ace Roy Halladay to the Phillies, and the first tangible major league talent from Alex Anthopoulos' regime as general manager. He was all but handed a rotation spot after the Jays traded Shaun Marcum to the Brewers and he seemed to be ready to take it.

Obviously we would later learn that Drabek would not turn in the best of seasons in 2011 and I don't think I need to paint the entire picture of just how bad Drabek really was. All I have to say is that in almost a consensus opinion the simple stats, advanced stats, and Pitch F/X information all agree on one thing, Kyle Drabek sucked.

At this point in the blog post I usually point out what Drabek did wrong and how he can improve and all that, but in this case Drabek's problem is pretty simple and the fact is that he just couldn't throw strikes. Drabek was putting pitches galore outside the zone and in fact at the time of his demotion in June Drabek had walked more batters than he had struck out and was the not so proud owner of the league's worst strikeout to walk ratio.

Proceeding his demotion to AAA Las Vegas in June things just got worse. Being sent to the band box that is Cashman Field and the very definition of a hitter's league in the PCL obviously didn't help, but even against a much worse level of competition Drabek did not perform as he was expected to. Because of a lack of AAA Pitch F/X data no one (unless they saw him) can really discern specifically whether he wasn't throwing strikes there either, but what one does know is that in AAA he held a relatively similar strikeout to walk ratio and that is in no way a good thing.

In spite of all that has happened, Drabek's failure in the majors and minors is not completely indicative of what he could do in 2012. In general it is true that numbers and statistics from previous years can be used as a predictor for future performance. The difference with Drabek is for one what he has done thus far is a smallish sample size and there is not enough previous data to rely on, for another as is often cited with another Blue Jay, Travis Snider, Drabek is only 23 and going in to his sophomore season in the MLB.

Courtesy of Shi Davidi on Twitter
Yes he may have strugggled in 2011 and yes that is not a good thing to see out of a rookie, but a quick read of Shi Davidi's story on Drabek at seems to suggest to us that it may have been partially a mechanical issue with Drabek in 2011 and oddly enough I find it plausible to believe.

I may just be drinking the Spring Training story Kool-Aid in which every player is in the best shape of their lives, but looking at some 2011 footage of Drabek he seemed to me to be a little inconsistent in his mechanics and this article seemingly confirms that thought. In no way am I claiming to be a scout here, but if what Shi Davidi tells us is true then it could have been a big reason as to why Drabek looked like Tim Tebow on the mound.

Now with the Jays coaching staff addressing the issue, call me crazy, but maybe instead of being pushed into irrelevance, could Drabek surprise this year? He still seems to have the stuff that in 2010 Keith Law said could make Drabek "a No. 2 or 3 starter", but is lacking the command and third pitch that Law said he needed to improve on in 2011. The good thing is command can be taught and can be learned and it looks like it may come with further instruction, tweaking in pitch mechanics, and just more major league innings. The bad thing is it may not come this season.

With that said I'm not completely sure why I think Drabek will do well, but I do. He may no longer be the flavour of the month as that position seems to have been overtaken by Henderson Alvarez and Dustin McGowan, but that doesn't mean he won't be able to perform.  As well as I'm sure you already know because its been said 1000 times, but the pitcher that got the Blue Jays Kyle Drabek in the first place, Roy Halladay, similarly had command problems early in his career and look what he became. Not to say that Drabek will become Halladay though, because that simply doesn't seem feasible, but don't give up on Drabek just yet.

I know that usually the arguments on this blog are fairly statistically based, but for whatever reason with Drabek I feel different. I feel like he has the potential to be what the scouting reports say rather than the major league statistics, I feel like he can overcome the two pitchers ahead of him on the depth chart. Nonetheless if you don't have the same feelings as I towards the great Drabek, then at least realize that Drabek has barely pitched for a season and we've already lost confidence in him? It isn't like he got significantly injured or lost a lot of fastball velocity, the stuff seems to be there he just needs to harness it.

In the end there isn't nearly enough statistical evidence to back up any opinion suggesting that Drabek's potential is completely gone, so why not wait and see. To my dismay it seems like Drabek won't get the call come Opening Day, but as happens with pitchers they get injured or pitch poorly and Drabek looks like he could be first on the list to replace, in other words the pitching version of Mike McCoy (Hopefully Drabek doesn't acquire quite as many Air Miles). Finally if you refuse to believe in anything I've said at least remember this, last season you didn't see any major prospect sites suggesting Drabek was a worse prospect than current Blue Jays Canadian phenom Brett Lawrie, just saying.

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


  1. Dunedin here I come.28 February 2012 at 12:26

    I don't think it's that people have no belief in Drabek bouncing back so much as 58% (myself included) voted Rasmus (it's a 7% spread between the other three). I would have Snider last and been kind of wishy washy on Lind/Drabek.

    It's also in the context of the bounce back season, not career, in which case I would rank Drabek ahead of Lind, but still behind Rasmus.

  2. Fair enough

    Though I still don't think there is enough confidence in Drabek for this season IMO. He may currently be slightly blocked by the 2 aforementioned players, but if he gets a chance I still think he could surprise.

  3. Certainly the initial reports from ST are promising, but there is such a large gap to be bridged between his 2011 and big league effectiveness that I suspect the best thing for him would be to go down to NH for a few months, solidify his mechanics, gain confidence, and be ready to come up to Toronto in June if a slot opens up.

  4. I agree Drabek is being written off way too early. His stuff: mid 90s fastball, plus curve and avg change up are too good. If he has matured and got his head on straight he'll be fine. Now we will just have to find him a spot in the rotation. We know McGowan will be shut down early and Alvarez will likely be shut down in in August. So barring a trade, he should get some starting innings with the big club this year.

    What impresses me is the the most is what could be a pretty good rotation if all falls into place this year. Romero, Morrow, Alvarez, McGowan and Cecil have the ability to be a top flight rotation.

    After this year and barring injury we could have a ridiculous amount of depth. I really think that at that point you have to think Cecil and one of the kids in AA become trade fodder to bring in a bat (likely at 1B as I do not see Lind rebounding).

    If we do trade Cecil, next year you have Romero, Morrow, McGowan, Drabek & Alvarez with Hutchinson & McGuire waiting in the wings....I don't see Jenkins stuff translating to a Major league starter and definitely not in the AL East. However he may make a nice add on for an NL club. Things start to get really interesting probably around late 2014 when you have Nicolino, Syndergaard and Sanchez/Wojo knocking at the door

    It's amazing how much depth AA has built in 2 years!

  5. I somewhat agree with what you're saying, but in my opinion the time to put Drabek in New Hampshire was last year (which I advocated for by the way) rather than as I described the band box that is Cashman Field.

    As well I personally believe that he should be given the chance to succeed in the majors in 2012 from day one, but I can see the argument the other way, no doubt.

    Nonetheless it unfortunately looks like Drabek might be blocked by Alvarez and McGowan and be stuck in the PCL again until as you say a "slot opens up".