A Look at Drabek’s 2011 Debut

In a division that is filled with talented, young starters, Kyle Drabek of the Toronto Blue Jays has flown a bit under the radar. That has more to do with the multitude of talent that surrounds him in the division than it does Drabek, who was considered a top-15 prospect by some. Nonetheless, the key piece of the Roy Halladay return and the organization’s top prospect according to Marc Hulet, quietly entered the season as member of Toronto’s rotation.

The son of a former Cy Young award winner (obligatory Doug Drabek mention) made his major-league debut last season. In the small sample size of three starts, he posted decent results; however, we’re talking about 17 innings of work. Looking past the results, his fastball which was consistently in mid-90’s fastball and his plus curveball both matched scouting reports from the minors. While his strikeout rate was around average, he showed the ability to miss bats at an above-average rate. Following him from his time as a minor leaguer was the ability to induce ground balls in bunches.

After his first start in 2011, Drabek continued to show that all of the pitching talent in the American League East doesn’t reside south of the Canadian border. He took a no-hitter into the six innings against the Minnesota Twins and allowed just one earned run on one hit and three walks in seven innings. His command of the strike zone was a bit off; however, he was able to navigate through those seven innings in just over 100 pitches and strike out seven.

One key reason Drabek was able to work around his wildness was his ground-ball ability. Of the 13 balls put in play against him, 11 of them resulted in groundball outs. Pitching in one of the more home run friendly parks in the game, allowing one fly ball will greatly diminish the chances of ball going over the fence. Of course, he will not put up a 78% ground-ball rate going forward. That said, so far he is showing that, unlike some pitchers who see their GB% fall when they reach majors, he may be able to sustain an above-average rate.

We talked about the fastball and curveball above, but it looked like his best weapon from this weekend was a cut-fastball. A few scouting types- including Ben Badler of Baseball America- talked about the cutter’s effectiveness throughout the afternoon. The pitch had enough movement to be mistakenly classified as a curveball according to Brooksbaseball.net’s pitch f/x data. Even Denard Span noted how ridiculous the pitch was after the game, adding the Twins were lucky they did not get no-hit for the entire game.

As Eric Seidman pointed out last week, it is easy to get swept up in the hype during the first few weeks of the season. There is a non-zero chance it could happen, but nobody expects Drabek to post a pitching slash line (ERA/FIP/xFIP) of 1.29/2.40/2.61 this season. On the other hand, given his prospect pedigree and the process displayed on Saturday – mixing four pitches against batters on both sides of the plate – Drabek could have a handful of performances like he did this Saturday throughout the 2011 season. I’m sure that’s just what the Rays, Red Sox, Yankees, and Orioles wanted to hear.




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Tommy Rancel also writes for Bloomberg Sports and ESPNFlorida.com. Follow on twitter @TRancel


11 Responses to “A Look at Drabek’s 2011 Debut”

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  1. Noxage says:

    Pure, unadulterated filth stemming from his right arm on Saturday.

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  2. Ben says:

    Shades of the “H” word in Toronto on Saturday.

    He’ll have his ups and downs but he’s going to be a hell of a pitcher.

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  3. everdiso says:

    his stuff looked dangerously similar to an ex-toronto pitcher you may have heard of.

    I’m glad pitch f/x wasn’t the only one struggling to identify that pitch as a cutter, because that thing was just disgustingly unhittable.

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  4. Jayson Stark says:

    Drabek and Travis Snider’s high school teams were #1 and #2 in the nation in 2006, and now they’re on the same team. How many times has that happened?? You guessed it!

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    • Grant says:

      It’s happened twice, Drabek and Snider are the second time, the first being Stump Wiedman and Charley Bassett on the ’86 Kansas City Cowboys, 1886 that is.

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    • neuter_your_dogma says:

      With all of these sports factory schools posing as polytechs, Catholic schools or Christian academies recruiting gifted athletes in their early teens and younger, I am shocked this hasn’t happened more.

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      • Choo says:

        Darryl Strawberry, Eric Davis and Chris Brown anchored the Compton Moose, arguably the most dangerous Connie Mack team ever assembled. I’m guessing all them had Furious Styles for a Dad.

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  5. Robbie says:

    Great article. This start was especially impressive considering barely used his plus curveball. This kid continues to improve and could be a real ace. It’ll be fun to watch the development of Gose and d’Arnaud, along with Drabek, to see what kind of return AA gets from the Halladay deal.

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  6. Kris says:

    I figured this would be a huge test for Drabek because of the lefties in that Twins line-up. I still think the kid needs to really lock down that change to be great, but his cutter absolutely ate up lefties.

    I don’t think anyone’s ever doubted his talent or stuff. He’s always had that. People are just worried about where he can put it and whether or not his arm falls off during the whole throwing part of baseball.

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  7. Snider says:

    His cutter is nasty. It was pretty good last year in those 3 starts which is the first I found out he actually had a cutter and its coming along very nicely. It looked like a slider at times. Change-up is still a work in progress but I think it could become a near average pitch as he continues to develop which would be a great repertoire to have.

    I am also confused why scouting reports have him as a mostly #2/3 starter when he clearly has ace type stuff.

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