With Dustin McGowan on the mend (plantar fasciitis in the right foot) even more eyes were on the Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Kyle Drabek tonight. Not only are people within the Jays organization still hoping he can live up to his potential but maybe he can earn an outright spot in the rotation immediately. Kyle Drabek helped his case with a strong spring training effort versus the New York Yankees and basically their full starting lineup.
Kyle Drabek faced 20 batters and gave the Jays 5 shutout innings, allowing 5 hits, walking 2 and striking out 5 to improve his spring ERA to 3.14. Not only did he strike out a batter an inning but he also kept the ball on the ground inducing 5 ground ball outs (and only 2 flyouts). The talented youngster would be a major boon to the questionable back end of the rotation if he were able to put it all together on a consistent basis.
Last season was rough for Drabek – 78.2 IPs, 87 hits, 55 BB, 51 K’s, 6.06 ERA, 5.52 FIP, 1.81 WHIP. But don’t forget one Roy Halladay set a record for the worst ERA (10.64) for any starting pitcher with more than 60 IPs and he turned out pretty good. Not to say that Kyle Drabek is remotely close to the talent level of a Roy Halladay but it goes to show failure can quickly turn to success with the right combination of talent, effort and a little good fortune.
With that I thought we would revisit Kyle Drabek’s highly anticipated (and highly successful) MLB debut last year on April 2nd, 2011 versus the Minnesota Twins. The big right hander is talented and has been highly touted by scouts since being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies.
Let’s take a look at what I wrote one year ago along with some Pitch F/X data from his stellar outing versus the Twins:
The Minnesota Twins quite frankly looked lost against the relatively unknown major league commodity Kyle Drabek and Drabek took advantage carving up the Twins with a wide assortment of two and four seam fastballs and an effective cut fastball. The cut fastball was especially effective on the outside corner of the plate against left-handed batters as Drabek caught a few Twins looking for strike three – though it appeared the strike zone at times was slightly favouring the pitcher.
The Twins took feeble hacks most of the game during Drabek’s seven strong innings and his final line was pretty impressive – 7 IPs, 1 hit, 1 earned, 3 walks and 7 strikeouts. It took him 101 pitches to get through seven innings and while his defense picked him up at times he was clearly in total command for most of the outing.
The seven strikeouts are extremely encouraging and although the league will adjust to Drabek as they learn his nuances a bit better an even better sign was the amount of worm burners he was inducing – 11 ground outs to only one fly out. A look at the pitch f/x data will give us a more complete picture and I was especially curious to see how the cutter would look in terms of movement, velocity and placement.
According to Brooks Baseball Drabek threw 14 cutters (9 for strikes, only 1 swinging) and the average horizontal break was 1.41 inches with an average speed of 90 MPH. For comparison the wicked cutter of Mariano Rivera can move 2.5+ inches away from a righty, but that isn’t fair to any pitcher as he has made a living on one pitch and has obviously mastered it.
Here is another chart plotting horizontal movement with speed and pitch type.
Drabek changed speeds well, threw a variety of different fastballs to each side of the plate and flashed a pretty solid curveball at times as well. Have a look at the vertical movement and horizontal movement of each pitch as well.
We have to temper our excitement and expectations given his age, lack of experience and in my mind still a suspect minor league track record but to not come away totally impressed with Kyle Drabek’s season debut is extremely imprudent. Drabek’s next start should come Friday night (April 8th, 2011) against the L.A. Angels, I am sure a lot of eyes will be on that game to see just how he will follow up his stellar debut.
After a miserable 2011 campaign the pressure is definitely on Kyle Drabek to show the Jays he can still be a top of the rotation type of starter. Given the number of high quality, high ceiling starting pitching prospects coming through the revamped system Drabek could be in danger of becoming a forgotten man if he doesn’t right a ship that went well astray last season.
Tonight’s five shutout innings against an AL East division rival was a good start.