Kyle Drabek was acquired by the Blue Jays in December 2009. You may remember the trade as it involved two of the best pitchers in baseball. The Phillies traded Drabek to Toronto among a package of prospects for Roy Halladay. The Mariners and A’s were also in on the deal, with Cliff Lee heading (temporarily) to the Pacific Northwest.
Drabek is generally ranked as the top prospect in the Toronto organization. (THT agrees.) A high school All American, he was available to the Phillies as the 18th player taken in the 2006 draft. Drabek had some off-field issues along with a reputation for being temperamental and difficult. A blue chip on his shoulder.
Don’t take it for granted
It’s not clear what was holding Drabek back, but the start of his professional career was a departure from the tremendous success he had in high school. Walking nearly as many as he struck out, Kyle’s six-start debut in the Gulf Coast League was nothing to write home about. His 7.71 ERA already sticks out like a sore thumb on his career line.
By July of 2007, Drabek may have been getting on the right course—until he felt something strange in his right elbow. Rest didn’t do the trick. After having his elbow examined by as many as three doctors, he opted for Tommy John surgery. His ligament replacement surgery was done around July 25.
Drabek would come back quickly, notably making some personal changes along the way.
During that long, grueling road back, young Kyle Drabek had time to think. To reflect.
He realized that if he wanted to get back to those big league parks, he needed to grow up. Respect the game. Work at it. Appreciate it more than he ever had.
“I knew I was going to have to change things if I wanted to get there,” he said.
Everything, people around the Phillies now tell you, has changed with Drabek. His demeanor. His work ethic. His maturity level.
Harnessing his potential and rehabbing quickly, he was tossing from 90 feet in spring of 2008. His goal was to get back to full strength, where his fastball could get up to 97 mph.
Making his first four rehab starts later that summer, Drabek no longer had any problems with the Gulf Coast League. He shaved five-and-a-half runs off his ERA and moved on to New York-Penn League for another four games. Drabek wasn’t striking many batters out at this point, but his free passes started showing hints of scarcity.
In 2009—Drabek’s final year with the team that drafted him—the righthander burned through Advanced Single-A ball and finished the season in Double-A. He would return to the Eastern League in 2010 in a new uniform. In a total of 258.1 innings across the two seasons, Drabek posted a 22-11 record with a sparkling 3.21 ERA. While there was a small spike in his walk rate in 2010—from 2.8 per 9 IP to 3.9—his strikeout rate was steady, totaling 7.2 per 9 IP. Drabek also returned to an above-average groundball rate. His 2009 season was his only sub-par worm killing year to date.
It all came together on July 4, 2010 when Drabek threw a no-hitter. He issued two walks but thanks to a double play, Drabek faced just one over the minimum. Ten weeks later he was following in his father Doug‘s footsteps by pitching in the major leagues.
Full season in the making?
Thanks to a job opening created when Shaun Marcum was traded to Milwaukee, Drabek is in competition for one of two spots along with Marc Rzepczynski, Jesse Litsch, Scott Richmond, and Jo-Jo Reyes, according to Jon Paul Morosi.
What should we expect out of the
rotation Rookie of the Year candidate?
Starting with Hardball Times Forecasts:
Other 2011 projections from Fangraphs are in close agreement. The crowd-sourced projection appears to be the most pessimistic on performance but the most optimistic on innings pitched.
ERA FIP IP Bill James 3.71 3.96 34 Marcel 4.04 3.95 69 Fans 4.23 4.09 150
150 innings could be on the low side for Drabek, assuming he makes the team, performs and remains healthy. Nothing is a lock with a 23-year-old pitcher.
According to Morosi, the lid is off on innings and Drabek could pull as many as 200 if the stars align. I’m pretty sure the Blue Jays would be more than pleased with 180 innings of 4.30 effort, which may not be out of his reach.
Drabek has the stuff to be a big league starter. He throws five pitches, although he didn’t use his change-up against right-handed batters in his three September 2010 starts for the Blue Jays.
Average pitch speeds
Drabek’s curveball group may include some sliders. The limited amount of data and calibration issues make it difficult to tease out the two types. As a matter of fact—as you’ll see in the charts below—I classified them as sliders initially.
He is throwing up above 97 at times, so he recovered all his velocity from the pre-surgery days.
Flight paths against left-handed hitters
click images to enlarge
Flight paths against right-handed hitters
The side, or first base, views are particularly useful in this case. You’ll notice the small “hump” but big drop on his curveball, which is marked “slider” and shown in black. The movement is apparent in video—it’s a hard, tight breaking pitch.
Catcher’s view of flight paths, left- and right-handed hitters
257 pitches doesn’t mean a lot, but Drabek showed three things in his three starts:
- Swing-and-miss stuff (.287 whiffs per swing)
- Trouble or reluctance to find the strike zone (.405 in wide zone)
- An ability to induce ground balls (59 percent of balls in play)
References & Resources
PITCHf/x data from Sportvision and MLBAM. Batted ball data from MLBAM. Pitch classifications by the author.