Steve Delabar is one of the better human interest stories in all of baseball. You may have seen him in a 2012 episode of “Real Sports with Bryan Gumbel,” which detailed his amazing ascent to the major leagues. Delabar spent his career in the low minors before a major elbow injury seemingly turned out the lights on the dream.
Delabar was coaching high school baseball and studying Tom House’s conditioning program when he surprisingly worked his way back into shape, and then some. Given another shot by the Mariners, the 29-year-old relief pitcher has not only made it to the majors, he’s going to the All-Star Game.
Now a Blue Jay, Delabar beat out a group of fellow AL relievers in MLB’s Final Vote to get his ticket punched for Citi Field’s all-star festivities. This group of lesser-known pitchers raised some eyebrows among various groups of fans.
First, the casual fan. Not everyone is aware of the good-looking half seasons posted by Delabar and ballotmates David Robertson, Joaquin Benoit, Koji Uehara and Tanner Scheppers.
Second, the picky fan. Raise your hand if you think the Midsummer Classic is a perfect showcase for teams’ seventh or eighth best relievers? If he’s not a starter and not your closer, maybe he’s quietly racking up high-leverage appearances. Still, does anyone think he’s among the best pitchers on the team, let alone in the league? As the old saying goes, they’re middle relievers for a reason.
Last, the nerdy fan. Baseball analysts are painfully aware of the mercurial nature of relief pitching. Forty to 70 innings isn’t enough time for even the best pitching metrics to balance out, so taking a half-season of something like ERA and holds can lead one down the garden path.
Delabar is arguably pitching worse in 2013 than he did in 2012, as he’s walking more batters while striking out the same amount. He is pitching well and doing a great job, but it’s hard to make the case that he’s outdone Grant Balfour (24 for 24 in saves). The A’s closer wasn’t even on the final ballot.
Jim Leyland wants middle relievers, he gets middle relievers.
Meanwhile, guys like Derek Holland and James Shields have each thrown 70 more innings than Delabar and have had much bigger impacts on their clubs than any of the pitchers on the AL’s Final Vote. Barring an injury replacement role, they’ll watch at home like the rest of us.