When Dane De La Rosa was acquired for Steve Geltz at the end of Spring Training last year, it seemed like a good move – for the Tampa Bay Rays. Geltz had displayed a high strikeout rate in the minors, and, given the Rays ability to work with pitchers, appeared to have the chance to develop into a viable option in the bullpen. De la Rosa, meanwhile, had failed in his two stints in the majors, posting a 10.95 ERA in 12 appearances for the Rays. Although he struck out more than a batter an inning, at 30, De La Rosa seemed as though he was nothing more than organizational filler.
Then something completely unexpected happened. De La Rosa actually turned into a valuable part of the Angels bullpen. In fact, he may have been the Angels most reliable reliever last season, posting a 2.86 ERA in 72 games. Instead of being someone who would, at best, come in to close out a blowout, De La Rosa turned into a valued setup man for the Angels.
Typically, for hard throwing pitchers with control issues, taking a few miles per hour off the fastball helps to harness their pitches. Interestingly enough, Dane De La Rosa was not throwing overly hard for the Rays, averaging between 92 and 93 MPH with his fastball. For the Angels last year, De La Rosa increased that to an average of 94.57 MPH. He remained a predominantly fastball pitcher, but mixed in his curve and a changeup to keep hitters off balance.
With the Angels bullpen likely being an important factor in their playoff hopes in 2014, it is fair to ask if De La Rosa is a one year wonder, or if his success can be sustainable. Looking at De La Rosa’s performance for the Rays, he appears to have been a victim of bad luck. Although it was a small sample size, De La Rosa had a batting average against on balls in play of .409 in 2011 and .385 in 2012. In 2013, that mark was .273, much closer to the major league average of .296.
A look at Dane De La Rosa’s strand rate tells the same story. In 2011, only 41.3% of the baserunners De La Rosa allowed were left on base. In 2012, that number decreased to an atrocious 3.23%. Much like his batting average on balls in play against, De La Rosa’s strand rate normalized in 2013, as he stradned 74.3% of the runners that reached, again much closer to the major league average of 72%.
As a ground ball pitcher, De La Rosa could potentially get bitten by bad luck on the batted ball again. However, if his luck remains at the major league average, his performance in 2013 may be sustainable. With the question marks at the end of the Angels rotation, they are going to need De La Rosa to perform at the same level.
At age 30, Dane De La Rosa proved that he was more than organizational depth. In fact, he appears to be on the verge of proving himself to be a valuable setup man for the Angels.