Thoughts from Kyle Drabek’s debut

Kyle Drabek was the centrepiece of the Roy Halladay trade this past winter and without a doubt he has been the most hyped Jays prospect this past season – and that includes JP Arencibia.

Last week the Blue Jays called up the pitching phenom after Drabek’s New Hampshire Fisher Cats made a quick exit from the Eastern League playoffs.  Tonight was Kyle’s first appearance in the majors and much was made of his baseball pedigree.  Being the son of former Cy Young award winner Doug Drabek and having grown up around big league clubhouses his whole life, Drabek was supposed to be unfazed.

John Smoltz compares Kyle Drabek with his father, Doug Drabek

Well, he came pretty close to being as advertised.  Although the young Drabek exhibited poise on the mound beyond his years, there were some jitters early on. First, let’s talk about what he brings to the table.  Drabek brings a 4-seam 95mph fastball, a 2-seam fastball, a cutter, a changeup (albeit a work in progress) and an AJ Burnett-type spike curve that is plus-plus and an out-pitch.  Like Shaun Marcum, Drabek is known for being a bulldog and is aggressive in attacking the strike zone.  No doubt Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter had a copy of this scouting report as the O’s were prepared to face the rookie.  The O’s were just as aggressive as Drabek, swinging early and often.  This resulted in back to back singles in the first inning. During the Orioles next at-bat they executed a double steal.  Many young pitchers in his position would have wilted, crumbled or imploded.  Not Kyle Drabek.  He had to bear down and did so, inducing a ground ball and racking up two strikeouts with the spike curve.

Kyle Drabek strikes out Ty Wigginton with the spike curve

Drabek brings an extensive arsenal of pitches into each game.  His 4-seam fastball is pure gas and he can locate the pitch anywhere he wants to.  The 2-seam has nasty tailing action to the pitcher’s arm side that jams right handed hitters.  Ty Wigginton was a victim of this pitch on numerous occasions, resulting in foul balls off the shin.  When facing lefthanded hitters, he starts it on the middle of the plate and then it tails almost too far off the plate, too early.  The first single of the game was on this pitch and it was a great pitch, just a lucky hit off the end of the bat.  He used this pitch as the first pitch in the majority of counts.  It would be a much more effective pitch if he started it in on the hands of the left handed hitters and then allow it to cross the plate after the hitter gives up on it, a la Roy Halladay and Greg Maddux.

I didn’t see the changeup all game.  Drabek’s cutter is an interesting pitch.  The Twitterati were comparing it to a Mariano Rivera-type cutter but it is much different than that.  Where Rivera’s cutter has straight horizontal movement, Drabek’s cutter has horizontal movement as well as 2-plane depth so that it looks much more like a slider.  Doug Drabek was quick to point out that his son doesn’t throw a slider, since many in the pressbox were confused as to what the pitch was.  Pat Tabler remarked that his cutter is virtually unhittable to right handed hitters.  When Drabek locates it, Tabler is right.  He’s also able to backdoor the pitch to left handed hitters;  he did so beautifully in the 3rd inning to Nick Markakis when he fell behind 2-0.

Drabek’s spike curve right now is better than AJ Burnett’s, in my opinion.  It is not quite as hard but has as much break and Drabek is able to spot it where he wants at will.  It is a plus-plus major league out-pitch as I said previously, and a pitch he racked up most of his strikeouts with.  Felix Pie was left looking foolish after swinging over top of the pitch multiple times.


Drabek’s line? 6.0IP, 9H, 3ER, 3BB, 5K.  Pretty good for a first start.  I really liked his demeanour and when he fell behind hitters he didn’t give in to them.  This happened with Matt Wieters where he fell behind 3-0 but still threw his pitch.  Although he ended up walking him in the end, when he missed he missed low which is key.

Video highlights from Drabek’s debut

Drabek’s downfall, if you can call it that, was that he threw almost too many strikes.  Both Drabek and catcher John Buck are to blame for not making a quick enough adjustment in-game to recognize the aggressiveness of the Oriole hitters.  This is the main reason for the Orioles 9 hits.  Drabek threw first-pitch strikes to only 12 of the 26 batters he faced, while still throwing 60% of his pitches for strikes.  If he could take the strikes he threw on the back-end and shift them to the front-end of the at bat it would have made things easier for him.  If he is able to refine his changeup enough so that he feels comfortable using at any point in the count and in high-leverage situations, he will be a force to be reckoned with in the AL.  It doesn’t hurt that 2 starting pitchers on the Jays staff, Shaun Marcum and Ricky Romero, have 2 of the better changeups in all of baseball.  While this is just a glimpse into the future, I am pleased with Drabek’s first performance.  The future looks bright.

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2 replies on “Thoughts from Kyle Drabek’s debut”
  1. says: andy mc

    I also loved the fact that he didn’t break down AT ALL after the two 1st inning singles. Neither were a case of the hitter making really solid contact. He looks like he could still be utilizing the strategy that he was (reported to have been) told to employ: pitch to contact (more often). Maybe he can balance that out a little, in order to keep hitters OFF-balance. I’ve always believed that the best pitchers are hybrid SO/GB guys… like Doc in 2008.

    I guess we’ll have to see what direction the team takes with him. Throw him in the water, and see if he swims? Or give him a chance to dominate another level of MiLB? Tough choice, but it’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

  2. says: jessica n

    Love it, great report and agree, would’ve liked to see JP catch for him even though people want a more experienced catcher for his debut I disagree JP and Kyle are the future not you suck John Buck.
    great piece here, really great insite into the technicalities of his pitchings, thanks

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