Monday, September 12, 2011
How baseball failed Steve DelabarPosted by Kyle Boddy
Pro Ball NW's editor Jon Shields showed me an article by Geoff Baker at the Seattle Times about Steve Delabar, the newest feel-good story in baseball. Delabar is a relief pitcher for the Seattle Mariners who was recently out of baseball due to a blown elbow. Geoff's story sums it up nicely here:
What happened is that a substitute teacher and baseball coach who'd given up on his playing career because of a shattered elbow found new life in a training regimen he was trying out in advance for his players. Delabar, 28, was a 29th-round draft pick of the Padres in 2003 who'd played five seasons of pro ball and topped out at Single-A.
He then pitched in the independent leagues in 2008 and 2009. His arm was tiring in 2009, but his coach, despite Delabar's protests, insisted he was needed to finish off a game. He heard his elbow pop while throwing a pitch, then saw the bone jutting out from his skin as he stared at the painful fracture.
Surgeons had to wire the elbow back together, inserting a steel plate with nine screws in it that Delabar still shows to anyone brave enough to look via photo on his iPhone. His career was pretty much done in 2010, when he converted to Friday night softball player and began taking courses at the University of Louisville to finish his teaching degree.
Jon wanted to know my thoughts on this story, since he knew about my work at Driveline Baseball. I thought for a bit, and told him:
Most people will see this and think: "Wow, that's great for him!" What I see is a colossal failure by MLB teams. Why wasn't Delabar exposed to better training methods before he flamed out, or after he was injured, by MLB organizations?
People like Dave Cameron have posted how ridiculous it is that teams don't provide adequate nutrition for their minor league baseball players, and this philosophy certainly extends into training as well, as evidenced by the Delabar story.
It's easy to point to Steve Delabar and say: "Wow, what a great story! A guy who came back despite facing major adversity and made his mark in major league baseball!"
But the story is far more complex than that.
For every Delabar out there, there's many more Jason Neighborgalls (the golden arm) who needs unconventional coaching and doesn't get it, and eventually quits baseball or becomes severely injured, ending his career. There's no reason that Delabar should have been released from professional baseball and forced to find his own velocity training program. Major league organizations should have rehabilitation plans for their fringe guys and should have experimental plans for their non-prospects (like Delabar) to get the most they can out of so-called "organizational players."
Organizations that have lower payrolls can't just get the most out of their top prospects if they hope to compete in the playoffs. They need to develop their organizational players and develop "lesser talented players" into players who can contribute at the highest level. And it shouldn't be up to the Steve Delabars of the world to find out how to break back into professional baseball.
Kyle Boddy is the owner of Driveline Baseball and Driveline Biomechanics Research, both in Seattle, Washington. At his facility, he's melded statistical analysis, strength & conditioning, prehab/rehab, and advanced biomechanical analysis concepts to develop improved efficiency, durability, and fastball velocity of baseball pitchers. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and found on Twitter: @drivelinebases.