What to Do with Drabek?

Kyle Drabek got his first all-important pitcher win since May 16 last night as the Blue Jays beat the Royals 8-5. Coming off of a disaster start against Cleveland last week, it came as a bit of a relief. However, Drabek (23) was hardly impressive. With three walks and no strikeouts, Drabek arguably pitched worse than Kansas City’s starter, the legendary Vin Mazzaro (three strikeouts, one walk, one home run, and laughable defensive plays by Melky Cabrera, Matt Treanor (Treanor!) and Jeff Francoeur). It’s been a rough season all around for a pitcher some were touting as a potential front-of-the-rotation starter. What should the Jays do about it?

In short: Drabek, who came to Toronto as part of the Roy Halladay trade, has been terrible this season. A 4.98 ERA, 4.96 FIP, and 4.97 xFIP might not seem completely worthless, but when one takes the 2011 run environment into account, he’s pretty much been replacement level. He doesn’t seem to be suffering from random variation on either balls in play (.304) or fly balls (8.7% HR/FB rate) — if anything, those numbers could be worse. The problem has been his walk rate. Drabek has walked more batters (48) than he has struck out (43). Last night, the Blue Jays announcers tried to point out (in what they admitted was a cherry-picking way) that his ERA wasn’t so bad if the Cleveland start was discounted. However, even without that start, he still would have walked more batters than he struck out. Drabek has only struck out more batters than he was walked in four of his thirteen starts this season.

For a pitcher who had decent, but hardly dominating strikeout numbers in the minors (other than 60 innings in High-A in 2009), Drabek obviously needs to have good control. In his brief major-league stint in 2010, he managed a good walk rate (2.65) and a very impressive ground-ball rate (62%). The ground-ball rate isn’t bad this year, but, at 44.9%, isn’t much better than average. The strikeout rate isn’t good this season, but it’s obviously the walks that are killing him. Last night it seemed as if he started every plate appearance at 2-0, and the whole season has pretty much been like that. The BIS data-based plate-discipline stats say he’s only been in the zone 33.8% of the time. That’s slightly more than last season’s brief debut, but that’s what makes things a bit more scary: hitters are now swinging at only 39.4% of his pitches, which goes a long way to explaining Drabek’s exploding walk rate.

I don’t know exactly what the cause of the walks problem is: if hitters have already figured out what pitches to lay off of, if the pitches just aren’t as good this season, or what. The question is what the Jays are (or should be) doing about it. They have no reason to keep Drabek in the majors if he doesn’t need to be. This is a rebuilding year for them, and even if they were in contention, Drabek isn’t helping with that in his current state. They sent Travis Snider down after a much shorter stint of bad performance, why not Drabek? The Jays have a reputation for good pitching instruction, and perhaps they feel that is best given at the major league level in Drabek’s case. That’s a possibility, and why I titled this post “What to Do with Drabek?” rather than “What Are They Doing with Drabek?” I’m not sure what Drabek’s potential is. I was never that high on Drabek, but the Blue Jays obviously like him. But if he figures prominently in their plans — as he clearly does, and he should — perhaps sending him down into a less-pressurized environment where he can focus on the issues that have been so problematic this season is something they should consider sooner rather than later. After all, as bad as Drabek has been so far, as Buddy Bell once said, things can always get worse.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

48 Responses to “What to Do with Drabek?”

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  1. eric says:

    he has been disgustingly bad this season. But seriously, if he threw his pitches just straight for the centre of the plate, he’d be fine.

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  2. George says:

    Three walks yesterday, yes. But you neglected to mention in addition 3 wild pitches and another that bounced at least one foot in front of home plate. He isn’t missing his spots so much as throwing as wild as blindfolded drunk.

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    • glp says:

      Actually, Drabek was SO wild last night that the Royals really couldn’t do anything with him. A more patient team would have taken more walks and done more damage. Plus the Royals played like all-around crap in the field. He’s lucky he got a win out of it.

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  3. Bret Cecil says:

    I’ll take his spot.

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    • Brad Mills says:

      me too

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    • Nik says:


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    • Pat says:

      First off I would like to say how cool it is that a professional player like yourself, and Mr. Mills below you, reads articles on this website. If only more players were as statistically minded and down to Earth as the two of you! Most players would not be grounded enough to still post along side fans on a baseball site. I think that is really awesome.

      However, I do have a small complaint. I hope that the two of you have great major league careers. Your time will come to prove yourselves. There is no reason to be bashing a teammate of yours. Baseball is a team sport. You should be supporting each other. I know Drabek has been bad, but as his teammate you should be sharing his pain and hoping that he can improve. There’s enough room on the team for all of you! It’s natural to want your chance to prove your abilities, but please respect your teammates as you do so and they will likewise respect you if the roles are reversed.

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  4. Joltin' Joe says:

    Send him to AAA so he can work on his craft. As Brett Cecil said, he can start, as can Rczekckejksjspnski (sic).

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    • Beaster says:

      Zipper walked 3 straight to blow the previous game. I’d like to see a few more relief appearances from him before I’d think about starting him again. Mills or Cecil should get the call up

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    • ServiteLegend says:

      He went to Servite and he didn’t get kicked out!

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  5. Telo says:

    Tell the kid he throws strikes or it’s back to the minors.

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    • Halycon says:

      I love how people think it’s as easy as just telling him “throw strikes”

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      • JohnnyComeLately says:

        It’s not?

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      • SKob says:

        What is this – high school? It had better be that easy! If the guy literally can’t throw a strike when he wants to, he is Rick Ankiel with less juice on his fastball… How d’ya think that’s gonna work out?

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      • NEPP says:

        “Darryl, hit a HR”

        “Right skip!”

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  6. Pete in MTL says:

    I think he’s trying to put the ball down the middle but he’s just missing.

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  7. Kevin says:

    i think he tries to be too fine with every pitch. all his pitches have good movement to them, so you would think he could get away with throwing one over the plate every once in a while. he needs to pitch more like brandon morrow and less like jesse litsch. didnt al widmar fix juan guzman back in the day by telling the catcher to set up down the middle and let the movement take the pitch to the corners?? i could be wrong here…

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    • juan pierre's mustache says:

      can we start calling him Drab-K so that it’s easier to compare him to DiceK? DraBBek? also, it looks to me like they aren’t calling for much that isn’t somewhere around the middle of the plate already–can we consider the horrifying thought that they already are telling him to do that and this is the result?

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  8. jason says:

    It is my opinion that skiipping AAA is the problem. In AA he could get enough hitters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone. They would either strike out or hit a weak grounder. I assume that in AAA their would be less of these hitters, and Drabek would be forced to adjust – ie saving the dipping and darting stuff for when you are ahead in the count.

    He certainly has the stuff, it’s just a question of learning what to do with it, and where that learning takes place.

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    • Scott_Hayter says:

      Jays AAA affiliate is Vegas… thats the real problem, and its screwing the entire system’s development: batters are mashing and pitchers get blown to pieces.

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  9. CircleChange11 says:

    Q: What to do with Kyle Drabek?

    A: Drastically lower your expectations.

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  10. Josh says:

    The minor problem with Drabek is that he tries to make the perfect pitch. He tries so hard to paint the corners that he misses way outside. His pitches have so much movement, that it is probably better to aim at the middle of the plate and let that natural movement move it off the plate.

    The bigger problem is between his eyes – his attitude and lack of focus. He gets angry literally after every bad pitch and just seems to be fighting his emotions all the time. This guy isn’t on a Carlos Zambrano-type of anger – it’s much worse (though its anger focused on himself than others).

    I’m not sure if a trip to the minors is going to help him. Minor league players are a lot more aggressive and will swing at Drabek’s bad pitches, which don’t really solve the issue. I would hope that they would give him at least half a dozen more starts to make him realize and have a sense of urgency that he has to change something.

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  11. Heyward says:

    He’s no Brandon Beachy but I can’t stay healthy so what do I know?

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  12. Scott says:

    It’s amazing how many times he will throw a fastball in the dirt. I’ve never seen any other pitcher do it as much as he does.

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    • George says:

      I believe he is actually aiming for the dirt, approx. 3 inches in front of the plate. He hates dirt and wants to punish it. This is what the evidence suggests.

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  13. Big Jgke says:

    They Can’t send him to the minors, because if he goes down and flames there too he just doesn’t seem to have the mental facilities to handle that. The last thing the Jays need is another jerked-around Travis Snider experiment. I think you just let him attempt to pitch through it in the majors. The team is competitive because of divisional weakness this year, not because of any particular awesomeness on their part, and if they want to be competitive in the future a Kyle Drabek who worked through his wildness and mental ‘issues’ will be a key part of it.

    Injuries notwithstanding, I believe the Tigers used a similar approach with Jeremy Bonderman and that worked fairly well.

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  14. Jeremy Bonderman says:

    Wait… I am out of baseball at 28? That worked out horribly wrong.

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  15. Anon says:

    Unfortunately there aren’t many other options (keep in mind this is already a team which is starting Carlos Villanueva and JoJo Reyes). Cecil is getting his ass handed to him in AAA. Stewart is doing poorly in AA. Litsch is hurt again because he is woefully out of shape. Really the only three guys who could be considered are Rzep, Mills, and Perez.

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    • opisgod says:

      Mills is doing good enough to warrant at least a look. The other Barry Zito would be a back end NL starter if he wasn’t with the Jays, so an attempt to show he has value would be an intelligent move.

      At the very least, I dont think he’s going to be Edinson Volquez without the strikeouts, which is what Drabek is.

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  16. Mick in Ithaca says:

    I wonder if he needs to talk to his Da.

    Or maybe he does that every night, and needs to stop it.

    I don’t remember Doug being particularly guilty of wearing his emotions on his sleeve, but that may be only because I don’t have a good memory. But you’d think he would’ve been counseled against this sort of emotional display many times in the past. He looks like a high-schooler at times. I think the emotional stuff is definitely a problem since when he gives into it, his command gets even worse.

    Last night, JPA was frequently setting up outside against lefties. Drabek would throw it a couple more inches outside. The Royals were laying off those pitches. But then he’d come out and have an inning where he threw strikes and and got 3 outs in a row. Then back to command problems, with a bunch of pitches in the dirt. What seems to be lacking completely is any kind of an effective out-pitch.

    Where is the vaunted 12-6 breaking ball we heard so much about? He rarely throws a curve, and the ones I’ve seen have hardly been hammers.

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    • dfghj says:

      Probably isn’t throwing curves because hes 2-0 to start every at bat.

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      • Mick in Ithaca says:

        Well, yeah. But he hasn’t shown the big curve for which he has/had a reputation all year, including Spring Training.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      It’s also possible for dad and son to have completely different personalities and emotions, due to growing up in different environments and having different life experiences … while still be very genetically similar (physically, etc).

      One also has to wonder whether Drabek has ever really struggled in baseball up to this point. Some guys don;t handle it very well (Andrew Miller), whereas other guys can make adjustments and not just expect things to “bounce back”.

      At the very least, this year, Drabek is going to find out what works for him in MLB and what needs to improve. You can’t tell that from AA and AAA. It’ll be up to him whether he makes the adjustments/improvements or not.

      I remember reading about Drabek’s emotions (and possible immaturity) while he was a minor leaguer. My first impression was that he might be spoiled, or simply just used to doing very well, and doesn’t handle any adversity very well.

      The same things were said of Strasburg, and he was able to put the effort in and change it around … of course he didn’t struggle at the MLB level either. Had he struggled we might have seen some immaturity or over-reacting.

      It will be an interesting situation to watch.

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  17. bsizzle says:

    Why did they jump him from AA to the majors? It wasn’t as if his AA numbers were off the charts either. It seems like he could use more seasoning down in AAA.

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    • Halycon says:

      In a ridiculous bandbox? Yeah okay…

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    • Mick in Ithaca says:

      He was Eastern League pitcher of the year last year. He threw a no hitter. He pitched well in his September call up. He pitched pretty well in Spring.

      And then again: he was the 3rd best guy they had coming into the season, and it seemed pretty clear that the manager wanted him in the rotation.

      And yeah: Vegas. Notice they didn’t send Stewart to Vegas either.

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  18. greenfrog says:

    How about just letting him pitch and not getting so worked up about the first two months of Drabek’s very young career? No need to worry about FIPs and xFIPs at this point. He’s clearly got a great arm, but is simply struggling with his confidence and command (perhaps the pressure of following in his Dad’s footsteps is affecting him). He’s 23 and has a good minor-league track record. He’ll likely work it out.

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  19. dougiejays says:

    The bizarre thing is his minor league rates are perfectly adequate. Maybe it’s merely that big-league hitters don’t swing at bad pitches nearly as much as AA hitters, but it’s a DRASTIC jump. I’d like to think it’s the fear/respect/perfect factor. He’s got bloodlines, his Dad has probably taught him all about “pitching” rather than “throwing,” but he doesn’t have the pinpoint control to work the edges like a Pedro or a Halladay, so he ends up walking the ballpark. To his credit, he’s had his share of vintage-Dice-K outings where he’ll go six or seven and strand fifteen, but it’s not a good strategy long-term.

    The other (frightening) possibility is a hidden injury. That would…well…suck. Let’s leave it at that.

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  20. Confused says:

    Forget about Prince and Papi….First there is CircleChange11 getting ripped in multiple threads with red thumbs down a plenty. Now we have Telo valiantly defending the honor of Dave Cameron? WTF is going on?…..Oh yeah must be due to small sample size.

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  21. Antonio bananas says:

    He plays in the AL East. that’s the problem. The AL East is so much better than any other league that this elite prospect, who would be a cy young candidate in the NL, can’t handle it. How can anybody pitch in the AL East. All of the pitchers on the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays are really good and the Jays and Os have pitchers that would dominate in the NL. He’s just not AL East good. He should feel bad though, a high ERA in the AL East is like a 3 ERA in the crappy national league.

    I don’t even know why they have any other league besides the AL or even any other teams but those in the AL East. They should make the National League AA and the AL West and Central AAA. Send Drabek back to the Phillies (who should transfer to the AL East because they’re so much better than any other team in the NL) so he can refine his skills on those awful NL hitters.

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    • Antonio bananas says:

      read my sarcasm with Gilbert Gottfried’s voice in mind. I stole the style of comedy/sarcasm from him.

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  22. Jose Molina says:

    Maybe Jose Molina needs to be his battery mate for the rest of the season and guide this kid along. Molina did a great job with morrow and seems to understand how to get these young pitchers to throw strikes and have good games. JPA will get to that point I hope but his game calling skills are still being refined.

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  23. tdotsports1 says:

    I for one am not overly high on Drabek for a lot of the reasons you stated already, low-ish K-rate throughout his pro career, less than stellar control and the lack of a put-away pitch.

    In fact, I think the Jays prospect ‘horde’ as a whole has been overhyped a bit. I see some decent names but outside of Brett Lawrie (who’s glove is still in question) I don’t see many potential stars down there at this point.

    I hope they have success signing their recent draft crop to continue to infuse the organization with young talent as AA has done a great job turning a once CRAP system into a decent one, but still overrated IMO.

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