When you are the 726th player drafted in a draft, your odds of making it to the major leagues are incredibly slim. Only two players drafted in that spot (and signed) in the history of the draft have donned a major league uniform: Milt Hill and Dane De La Rosa. It took De La Rosa five seasons of pitching, in any league, to throw his first pitch above A-ball. That time frame included stints in places such as Yuma, Helena, Long Beach, and Victoria with stops in between. It also included a stop in the real estate market in 2006 trying to close deals on houses.
The Rays gave him another chance in 2010, and he finally reached the major leagues on July 20th, 2011. He went on to pitch 11 more games in Tampa Bay before being traded to the Angels late in the 2013 Spring Training season. De La Rosa went to the Angels as a pitcher that struggled to command his fastball. Yet another new location for De La Rosa, but with it came a new approach to his craft.
In looking at video of De La Rosa from the past two seasons, he has made some minor tweaks to his delivery. The first changes come in his setup for his delivery (click all images to enlarge).
The first image is from 8/27/12 when De La Rosa mopped up a 13-3 blowout against Boston while the second one came in his second save of his career against his former team. The 2013 image shows that De La Rosa has changed where he starts on the rubber while also starting his hands a bit higher, and closing off his front side more than he did in 2012.
At the max lift portion of his delivery, he now resembles the man he was called up to replace on the roster in 2013, Jered Weaver.
De La Rosa has more bend in his back leg, has brought his hands closer to his body, and has more twist in his upper body as he shows his back to the opposing hitter. These adjustments allowed him to stay closed easier in order for him to open his hips up to come to the plate in rhythm with his delivery.
One of the thing that stands out in reviewing De La Rosa from 2013 is his increased velocity.
The data from BrooksBaseball shows that shows that the average velocity on De La Rosa’s four-seam fastball rose nearly each month of the season in 2013, continuing the trend that started in 2012.
|April 2012||92.2 mph|
|Sept 2012||93.2 mph|
|April 2013||93.7 mph|
|May 2013||94.8 mph|
|June 2013||95.7 mph|
|July 2013||95.6 mph|
|Aug 2013||95.6 mph|
|Sept 2013||96.4 mph|
The data also shows that De La Rosa was throwing from a bit of a higher release point, which pitchers can use to add velocity while sacrificing horizontal movement. The increased velocity led to increased results. Opponents slugged just .277 against him last season, which was in the top tenth percentile of all relief pitchers that faced at least 200 batters in 2013. His Contact% as well as his opponents wOBA were both in the top-third of the same sample size. The improvements led to more success against right-handed batters as his swing and miss rate against those batters (35.5%) was higher than the likes of Koji Uehara (35.1%) and Craig Kimbrel (34.0%).
The Angels have had their issues in recent years harvesting pitching talent from their farm system, but they appear to have done quite well thus far here. They’ve turned an undrafted organizational middle reliever into an opportunity for a home town kid to go good. So far, so good.