What initially seemed like a throwaway pick-up during Spring Training turned out to be one of the shrewdest moves Jerry Dipoto made all year. Now Dane De La Rosa has become an integral part of the Angels bullpen. Can he continue to be a stalwart setup man?
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA calculation is approximate because my math skills are only "meh")
What happened in 2013?
Last spring, Jerry Dipoto traded cult prospect hero Steven Geltz for a 30-year old reliever with very little big league experience. It was a real headscratching move at the time. Well, shows what we know because that 30-year old reliever turned out to be Dane De La Rosa who turned out to be the Angels' best reliever in 2013.
That wasn't obvious right away though. De La Rosa was fine in April but struggled in May and got himself demoted at the start of June. That didn't last long though as DDLR made some mechanical adjustments and came back with improved control and increased velocity. Upon getting recalled, Dane began to earn Mike Scioscia's trust and work his way up the bullpen depth chart. By the end of the season he was the clear right-handed setup man. Giving up just one run over his final 22 innings really helped with that.
What do the projections think he will do in 2014?
It turns out that the projections aren't such a fan of 'ol Daner. They don't seem to think he can continue to limit hits or suppress walks in homer like he did in 2013. That could all just be a result of the systems having just one full season of him being in the majors. It is hard to blame them for that. Even his minor league numbers fluctuate quite a bit. Early in his minor league career he didn't give up many walks and wasn't special at limiting hits. Then in 2012, he was almost unhittable but walked everybody. There just is not a usable pattern of performance to draw solid conclusions from.
Does the Monkey agree or disagree?
Clearly, I disagree and I can't say that I think the projections are being all that fair to De La Rosa. They all expect his hits to go up quite a bit, but with a .273 BABIP last season, it wasn't as if he was wildly lucky. I can see it coming up a little bit just because he is a groundball pitcher and that BABIP is a tad low, but not to the point that it goes from right at 7.0 H/9 to all the way over 8. I came in at 7.46 and I honestly think I am being conservative there. In the final two months of the season, he allowed 11 hits in 22 innings, so he has that kind of ability in him.
Where I am less certain is the walks. I have him cutting his walk rate, but the other systems have it rising. I can see there point as Dane gave out a lot of free passes in the second half. In that dominant final two months I keep mentioning, he walked 12 batters in 22 innings. That's obviously not good, but he also only walked 2.7 per nine before the All-Star break. So, again, he has that in him but he hasn't ever combined the low walks version of himself with the low hits allowed version of himself.
I think he can do that though. The reason I think that is because I believe in the power of his fastball. As I alluded to earlier in the piece, DDLR's velocity took a big jump after he spent two weeks in the minors working out some mechanical kinks. See for yourself:
That's nearly 3 MPH he added to his fastball. That's huge. But what I really love about it is that his fastball is a very heavy fastball. It has good sink to it, but because Dane is so tall, he is able to get a lot of downward plane too. It is no coincidence that his performance improved over the course of the season as he built velocity. I see no reason other than injury or his mechanics going to pot again that he shouldn't be able to pick up where he left off.
What are the known unknowns?
If I do have one concern, it is De La Rosa's platoon splits. They're just weird. He only fanned 6.1 per nine against lefties versus 10.3 for righties. That's not the weird part. It's quite normal. Where it gets weird is that he held lefties to a .188 batting average against and a 2.35 BB/9 which is a lot of success for a guy who isn't striking many lefties out. Compounding the weirdness is that righties batted .244 against him with a 4.76 BB/9. Like I said, weird.
The hits can be explained away mostly by pretty divergent BABIPs. The walks are a bit harder to explain. All I can really say about it is that I see nothing in his repertoire or minor league stats to suggest that he is going to continue having reverse splits. As such, I'd expect that his numbers against lefties will get worse while his number versus righties get better. That should work out in his favor overall since he'll obviously end up facing more right-handed batters, but we won't really be sure until it actually happens.
Finally, this projection profile is awkwardly timed because just yesterday DDLR left his spring training appearance to go get an MRI on his right forearm. As of this writing, the results have not been made public. This could be very bad news as forearm tightness is a common precursor to Tommy John surgery.
Even if Dane is OK, it might give Mike Scioscia some pause over how he uses him this year. In what might prove to be a harbinger of a surgery to come, Scioscia rode De La Rosa very hard in 2013. He used him three days in a row on 3 occasions and generally just used him more than any other reliever on the roster. He might have to be a little more careful about overusing him in 2014 if there is a health concern. That may not be a bad thing though.
Outside of that, the hope has to be that De La Rosa is able to maintain the mechanics that allowed him to have so much success after he was recalled. Injuries have a way of making guys alter their delivery, so that could be a greater possibility than it was just a few days ago.