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Eyeing Cheap Relief: Steve Delabar

There many of us here in the electronic series of tubes who don’t pay for closers. That is, we either literally don’t pay big money in auctions or we don’t pay with a precious fifth/sixth/seventh round pick, what have you. But regardless of your perspective on the drafting of closers, we can all probably agree that many a fantasy team has been immediately buoyed by the acquisition, pouncing on, stashing of, the future closer. Headed into 2013, there are a few closer situations with seemingly defined roles, although the hold might be tenuous.

Casey Janssen appears to have the early nod as the Blue Jay closer, but recall that Janssen has a history of shoulder issues which have dogged him throughout his career. He had labrum surgery in 2008, he had surgery this past November because of recurrent discomfort in his shoulder (shaved down his clavicle or some crazy thing like that) and in between he’s been on the 15 day disabled list twice for shoulder issues and once for forearm issues.

Janssen has certainly earned the title of closer though, saving 22 games for the Jays after Sergio Santos‘ own shoulder exploded on him. Janssen posted a 2.54 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and a 27.7% K rate and proved to be awfully tough to hit — giving up just 44 hits over 63.2 innings pitched and giving up the lowest contact rate of his career. But a lot of prognosticators think Santos ultimately reclaims the job, with the idea that he can revert back to the guy who posted a 35.4% K rate with the White Sox in 2011.

But it’s not Santos that really interests me, it’s Steve Delabar. Given the clouds that hover over both Janssen and Santos relative to health, it’s entirely possible that Delabar is put into higher leverage situations, and potentially even close should the Jays have anything close to the kind of luck with pitching they had last season. Delabar was the guy that the Mariners turned into Eric Thames, and upon Delabar’s arrival in Toronto he went kind of strikeout goofy, whiffing 36.5% of batters while posting a 2.82 FIP, albeit with a near 12% walk rate.

Another interesting thing happened when he came over from Seattle. Delabar significantly modified his mix of pitches, or more specifically, he started throwing his split finger fastball far more frequently than he did in the Emerald City. BIS and PitchF/X can’t seem to agree if it’s a change up or a splitter, but it looks like a splitter to me, and he went form using it about 28% of the time to over 41% of the time in Toronto. Now I don’t know if pitching coach Pete Walker is a fan of the advance metrics, but Delabar’s splitter is easily his best pitch, and the trade to Toronto seemed to give him a great deal more confidence in it. For kicks – here’s the inning where Delabar struck out four batters in an inning:

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I’ll give Dayan Viciedo a pass here, but there were three batters behind him that stood there and watched the guy in front of him flail at a split finger fastball with two strikes. It’s not like they absolutely knew what was coming, but they probably should have known what was coming — and it just didn’t matter. With a fastball that touches 96 and a splitter like that, the Blue Jays have themselves a pretty fantastic 7th inning guy who could pretty easily slide into a 9th inning role should duty call. For his strikeouts alone and potential for holds, he’s someone I’d consider in deep leagues and certainly in AL-only formats.