The Great Big 2012 Blue Jays Forecast Series, Part 13: Kyle Drabek

By Thom Tsang

With spring training officially just under a month away, we continue with a series of projections on what the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays might look like. Each day (don’t hold me to this), I will profile a 2012 Blue Jays starter, closing with a set of numbers based on my (usually positive) expectations. We continue to move along the projected rotation today with a look at former top prospect, Kyle Drabek.

I know, I know. Kyle Drabek’s first real shot at the bigs was an unmitigated disaster; why are we even talking about putting him in the projected rotation? There’s certainly an excellent case to be made for why Drabek ought to begin the season in the minors, and have someone up at the big leagues eating the innings instead. That makes sense, and I don’t disagree.

Still, I can’t help but pull for him; and the only real lines of reason I have for it is a) because it’s too early to tell, and b) why not? I mean, if it’s not going to be Drabek at the back of the rotation, who are the Blue Jays going to put there exactly? A mish-mash of guys like Joel Carreno and Luis Perez? Carlos Villanueva might be a good play, but he’s someone who hasn’t thrown more than 115 MLB innings in any of his seasons, and I think he contributes more as a long relief/spot starter type.

Dustin Mcgowan would have to be in the running as well, and despite the fact that I loved his comeback story, this will be a pitcher who threw less than 60 innings across all levels last year, and who will be 30 by April. Even if you give McGowan the mulligan on every inning he threw last year on account that he was working so hard to come back on baby steps, it’s impossible to say that his health is a major question mark now, and going forward as the team builds towards contention. Still, if anyone should be getting a shot to start ’12 in the rotation over Drabek, I think it’d be him.

Back to Drabek, then. He’s thrown at least 150 innings over each of his last 3 seasons, and I would argue that he possesses more upside than anyone else on the team who might be ready to go in there in April. Outside of an excellent opening day game (7IP, 0 ER, 7K, 3BB), the rest of Drabek’s time with the Blue Jays were, more or less, an exercise in frustration. That being said, consider this, the most oft-used of Drabek comps:

Pitcher A, age 23: 67.2 IP, 10.64 ERA, 5.59 BB/9
Pitcher B, age 23: 78.2 IP, 6.06 ERA, 6.29 BB/9

It’s more of a perspective thing than anything else. Pitcher B, of course, is Kyle Drabek, and Pitcher A is the guy who he was traded for, Doc Halladay. I’m not saying they’re similar type of pitchers with the same kind of make-up and trajectory or anything like that (comps are usually not very useful at all, actually), but I just wanted to point out that it’s a little too early to put any kind of career-defining label on Drabek. Maybe if he was headed into his age 26-27 season with a couple of full years on his belt, and he’s still walking more than 6 batters per 9, then you’d have better of a sample size. I doubt his career would even get that far with the bottom-of-the-MLB walk rate, but I’m also counting on the fact that it’s not a performance that is going to be repeated.

Over the first 3 starts of his MLB career (call-up in 2010), Drabek posted a clean 2.65 BB/9. Small sample, of course, but say you take his walk rate over the 162+ IP he had in AA in ’10 (3.78), applied a bit of a spike with the move to MLB and facing much better batters for the first time, I see him walking maybe a bit over 4 batters per 9. Not good, by any means, but not as disastrous as he was last year. If the team gives him the 5th spot to start ’12, Drabek will probably get knocked around a few times, and that probably won’t be too fun to watch, but it’s might just be a necessary evil for him to develop. You can’t learn to pitch to MLB batters unless you’re in the MLB, and I don’t think the Blue Jays have anyone else who would be ready to go with more potential to be an important part of the club in the future.

My biggest concern about Drabek, as with many other fans, concerns his ability to stay cool and bounce back when things weren’t going right. AAA Las Vegas probably wasn’t the most idea place to send him after a series of mound meltdowns, but that Drabek pitched (arguably) worse there doesn’t inspire confidence. On the other hand, I do consider that he was learning to throw a cutter in 2011, and that his best pitch, a filthy curveball that was supposed to be his bread-and-butter, was notably under-used. Might that have made a difference in his ability to generate, for example, swinging strikes? A number of things didn’t seem quite right with the then-23 year old in 2011, and I simply think it probably couldn’t hurt the team give him some time to sink or swim. He won’t be the only player on the team facing that situation, but being “the guy we got back for Doc” seems to put a different lens on things.

Call it hope or whatever you will, but given the starts, I think Drabek can put together numbers like this:

160 IP, 4.65 ERA/1.45 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 4.3 BB/9

Like what I forecast for Cecil, I think Drabek is very capable of outperforming some pretty low expectations. Then again, this whole thing has really been more of an “in defense of…” rather than actually looking at what he’s accomplished. Developing a young staff was never going to be easy or pretty, and on a starting staff that is short on stability and banking on a whole bunch of ideal world scenarios to excel, I’d think it couldn’t really hurt to give Drabek some time to demonstrate what he can do at this level.

If I were a betting man, though, I’d guess that Drabek will start the season in AA. Maybe he gets a shot if/when a hole opens up in the rotation? Anyone else think he might get the first crack to start the season? Who would you like to see instead? Your comments are appreciated.


Previous 2012 Blue Jays forecasts:

Part 1: J.P. Arencibia – 510 PA, .255/.315/.450, 26 HR
Part 2: Adam Lind – 600 PA, .260/.320/.445, 26 HR
Part 3: Kelly Johnson – 580 PA, .270/.350/.430, 16 HR, 11 SB
Part 4: Brett Lawrie – 610 PA, .280/.340/.490, 20 HR, 22 SB
Part 5: Yunel Escobar – 605 PA, .285/.365/.405, 10 HR, 5 SB
Part 6: Edwin Encarnacion – 580PA, .270/.330/.465, 23 HR, 6 SB
Part 7: Eric Thames – 300 PA, .270/.315/.455, 8 HR, 3 SB
Part 8: Travis Snider – 300 PA, .265/.315/.450, 9 HR, 5 SB
Part 9: Colby Rasmus – 590 PA, .260/.325/.445, 19 HR, 14 SB
Part 10: Jose Bautista – 650 PA, .295/.415/.595, 40 HR, 11 SB

Part 11: Henderson Alvarez – 150 IP, 4.25 ERA / 1.28 WHIP, 5.7 K/9, 1.85 BB/9
Part 12: Brett Cecil – 180 IP, 4.40 ERA / 1.35 WHIP, 6.1 K/9, 2.95 BB/9

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