TORONTO, CANADA - JUNE 12: Jacoby Ellsbury #2 of the Boston Red Sox takes a base on Kyle Drabek #4 of the Toronto Blue Jays during MLB action at The Rogers Centre June 12, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Kyle Drabek has a lot going for him. He has a sinker that breaks twelve feet. He has a strong, prototypical pitcher’s build. He should be excellent, one day.
That day is not today, though, as the Blue Jays demoted Drabek after he was drubbed by the Red Sox on Sunday. And while Drabek does have a lot going for him, he also has to deal with a couple of things that other pitchers might not:
- he’s not Doug Drabek
- he’s not Roy Halladay
Those are a couple of long shadows. And, really, he might have been 13 when he made peace with the fact that his dad is a former Cy Young winner, and he might not care a whit that he was the main piece in the Halladay trade. But young pitchers are generally concerned with being young pitchers; that is, concerned with being erratic, inconsistent, and young. It seems a little rough to throw the weight of increased expectations on top of that.
And based on this season, if anyone in the majors needs some more time in the minors, it’d be a surprise. Drabek has been the wildest pitcher in the majors by a great deal, and had a historic start to his career -- of his 17 games in the majors, he’d walked three or more in 14 of them. That’s Kaz Ishii territory. And while you might read about Drabek being sent back to AAA, that’s a little misleading: he’s never been to AAA before. He’ll find it’s totally different from the rest of the minors, I’m sure -- the upholstery on the buses is 13 percent less stained, the hot-dog guns fire just a little farther ... it’s a different world.
It was a bit of a jump for Drabek to start the season in the rotation -- a gamble the Blue Jays were willing to take based on his stellar year in AA and the electric stuff he featured in spring training. It didn’t work out. Sinker-ballers can have trouble controlling the pitch that makes them so good in the first place. Brandon Webb walked 119 batters in his second major league season. Kevin Brown struggled with his control through most of his 20s. It can take young pitchers years to figure out their control if they’re throwing a standard assortment of pitches; adding a pitch that dips and dives like a Whiffle Ball just ramps up the difficulty.
Kind of like the expectations thing up there. Drabek was a nice story out of spring, but it seemed like everything was stacked against him just a little bit: He was a young sinker-baller skipping AAA, hoping to make a team forget their former ace by helping them contend in a tough division. That's a tough set of circumstances.
Drabek will be back, and he'll probably be good. His stuff is just too good. Even if he never learns to throw strikes, he'll still be an effective-yet-wild pitcher in the Carlos Zambrano mold. The beauty of his sinker, though, hints at something more. He'll have a little more time -- and a little less pressure, now -- to figure out how to achieve that promise.