Drabek a walk waiting to happen

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Kyle Drabek throws against the Cleveland Indians during the...

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Kyle Drabek throws against the Cleveland Indians during the first inning of their MLB American League baseball game in Toronto June 1, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

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, Last Updated: 3:57 PM ET

NEW YORK -- There's an old adage in baseball that goes as follows; "Just throw strikes."

Onlookers make the sentiment seem simpler than what it really is, which is something Kyle Drabek can surely attest to.

If Drabek was "just throwing strikes," then his latest effort would be chalked up as a blip on the radar. Instead, his most recent outing, where he failed to get through the first inning against the Cleveland Indians, was a microcosm of what his biggest problem of the season has been - an inability to locate, or throw strikes.

The Toronto Blue Jays top-pitching prospect is finding out what every rookie before him has learned - the big leagues can be an unfriendly environment. Drabek's season has gone south ever since his first start of the year on April 2nd against the Minnesota Twins.

In that effort, Drabek accomplished a number of feats he hadn't yet achieved over the first three outings of his career. The 23-year-old recorded his first major league victory, struck out a career-high seven batters, allowed only one hit, and pitched a career-high seven innings - something he's only been able to replicate once over his past 11 starts.

Drabek's ERA sits at 4.69, among the top-10 highest marks in the American League, and a long list of numbers spell even more trouble for the youngster.

In addition to a major league high 45 walks issued this season entering this weekend's play, he's averaging 6.39 free passes per nine innings (no other AL starter has a mark above five), has the highest WHIP in the majors among pitchers with at least 10 starts (1.69), is one of only two players with a strikeout-to-walk ratio under one (0.96), and is throwing more pitches per inning (18.6) than anyone in baseball.

Simply put, the headliner of a 2009 deal which saw the Blue Jays ship Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies has been one of the worst starters in the game this season and, somehow, he's lucky it hasn't been worse.

With the amount of free passes he's issued, Drabek's ERA could be much higher. And with a subpar 6.11 strikeouts-per-nine-innings, that number may very well climb over five in his upcoming starts. The walks and strikeouts are controllable factors and since the one that needs to be lower is higher, a spike in ERA is almost inevitable. The walks will ultimately hurt him more often than not if he is unable to produce more strikeouts, as he's pitching with runners on base much too often. Opposing hitters have an on-base percentage of .380 against Drabek - is one of the highest mark in the game. He may be learning to battle in tough situations but, the reality is, Drabek has become a liability in the rotation.

While the Jays are 8-4 in games he has started, that record is hardly the byproduct of what Drabek has done on the mound. It's inflated by other factors such as the bullpen minimizing further damage, as well as the 8.53 run support he has averaged per start -- among the top-10 highest in the game.

The Jays will struggle to win games when he takes the ball, and may be forced to contemplate taking his spot in the rotation away from him. If he doesn't turn things around immediately, the team should follow the same path it has with other struggling youngsters, Brett Cecil and Travis Snider, and ship him down to the minor leagues.

Drabek did pitch well enough as a 22-year-old September call-up in 2010 to warrant a spot in the rotation in the first place. And, despite going 0-3, Drabek showed enough grit to warrant a serious look in the rotation during spring training. Trading away the most polished arm in the staff - Shaun Marcum - didn't hurt his chances either. Neither did winning Eastern League Pitcher of the Year honors in the Double-A circuit while pitching for the Jays' minor league affiliate New Hampshire Fisher Cats, where he added a no- hitter to his resume.

This is a young arm with plenty of upside who, entering the season, was named the organization's top prospect by both Baseball America and ESPN's Keith Law, so it's not like Drabek is going to become an afterthought anytime soon. However, the Jays may decide it's better for Drabek to work on his command in the minors.

By sending Snider to Triple-A Las Vegas, the Jays made at least one thing clear - future cornerstone of the franchise or not, which Snider and Drabek both are - the team will not allow for a profound deficiency to be ironed out with the big club. Snider learned that the hard way, as did Cecil, and it might not be long before Drabek gets a taste of the launching pad known as Cashman Field in Las Vegas, NV, the home of the Jays' Triple-A minor league affiliate.

If this continues, and the club allows him to solve his issues at the major league level, the Jays will have to rely heavily on their bullpen when he pitches - a major problem, especially during stretches when the "pen" is overworked.

It's all about command with Drabek. And it's all about command in the big leagues. At this point, a trip back to the minor leagues seems inevitable. Crazier things have happened - just ask Halladay, who had to be sent down in 2000 to refine his mechanics before becoming a "doctor."

There is no need for fans to panic about Drabek. The time for him to walk, to limit his walks, is now - before the team really needs to rely on him to make it to the next level.


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