Everyone loves a good comeback story; one of an underdog who overcomes all odds to triumph over their adversaries. The tale of Steve Delabar’s fall and rise is certainly one of a feel-good Hollywood movie.
And if his story concluded at the end of the 2013 season, it would be a satisfying ending … but it didn’t. After his All-Star campaign in 2013, Steve Delabar struggled mightily last season which saw him appear in only 30 games before being demoted to Triple A.
It wasn’t known at the time, but Delabar pitched with a pair of wonky knees in 2014. In addition to that, his mechanics slowly but surely deteriorated as the season progressed, which may have compounded the issue.
Steve Delabar’s statistics definitely reflected something being not quite right as his strikeouts went down and his walk rate went up. Year over year, Delabar saw his strikeout rate drop dramatically from 12.58 K/9 to 7.36 K/9.
Initially it may have been written off as Steve Delabar just regressing to the mean, but his career high 6.66 BB/9 walk rate was an indication of a bigger underlying issue at hand. It wasn’t until months later that it was revealed his nagging knees were the issue.
At one point, Steve Delabar along with Brett Cecil and Casey Janssen comprised one of the most formidable back-end bullpens in all of baseball. But since the 2013 season, the mighty have fallen and Delabar finds himself fighting to secure a roster spot.
Steve Delabar is one of only a handful of relievers who actually still have options left. Guys like Todd Redmond, Kyle Drabek and Liam Hendricks all do not; but they are all vying for the same spot in the Blue Jays’ bullpen.
John Gibbons has brought up Steve Delabar’s name several times when it comes to the Jays’ bullpen plans, which means the coaching staff must have a spot in the relief corp already earmarked for Delabar.
It sounds like this year when the club is opting to employ their best 25 men out of the gate, which would leave lackluster arms like the Jeremy Jeffress’ of the world without a spot on the roster.
If the team wants to stay competitive right out of the gate, the Jays owe it to themselves not to mess around with out-of-options relievers. Which means if Delabar doesn’t have a strong Spring Training, he could find himself left off the Opening Day roster.
However, the club could greatly benefit from a rejuvenated Steve Delabar, as the Blue Jays lack a number of reliable right-handed relievers. After the departure of Sergio Santos and Brandon Morrow, coupled with the in-limbo status of Aaron Sanchez, the Jays really don’t have a bona fide high leverage right-handed reliever.
Sanchez is invariably the linchpin in the Blue Jays’ bullpen and starting rotation plans, and they very well choose to send him to the rotation, an impact arm like Steve Delabar may make them feel a little bit better about keeping Sanchez out of the bullpen.
And judging by the way Steve Delabar’s been painted as a dark horse candidate this offseason, one gets the sense that Delabar may be poised to retake his spot in the Blue Jays bullpen once again.
The good news is that his short stint with the Buffalo Bisons was somewhat promising. His strikeout rate bounced back in AAA with 12.21 K/9, which under normal circumstances would’ve warranted a September call-up, but for whatever reason the Jays opted to send him home to rest.
And although his knees were a concern last year, Steve Delabar told Barry Davis of Sportsnet back in December that he feels just as good as he did entering his 2013 All-Star season:
“I know I can contribute like I did in the past. Physically I feel now like I did in the off-season leading into 2013.”
Considering how quickly he fell off the map last season, it would be presumptuous to assume Steve Delabar can return to his once domineering form. His first half from 2013 was otherworldly (1.73 ERA, 58 strikeouts to 23 walks) and set the bar high for any subsequent season.
But do the Blue Jays even really need the 2013 iteration of Steve Delabar? With Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup overtaking him as the new go-to guys out of the bullpen, Delabar might not even get the chance to pitch in those high leverage situations.
I don’t know if he’ll ever return as that once dominant setup man, but Steve Delabar can still be a very useful weapon in John Gibbons’ arsenal.
Image via CBS Sports