Pittsburgh Pirates: Debating if These Early Season Successes are Sustainable
By Noah Wright
Jason Delay entered the year as the Bucs’ secondary backstop behind Austin Hedges. Despite little expectations with the bat, Delay is off to an astounding start to 2023. It’s only been 47 plate appearances, but he is currently slashing .390/.435/.610 with a .444 wOBA and 179 wRC+. With that, is any part of Delay’s season sustainable?
I hate to burst the bubble for any Delay fans out there, but nothing suggests that he’ll continue to bat over .300 or have a wRC+ that currently rivals Mike Trout. There are multiple reasons for this. First, he’s never been close to a great hitter in the minor leagues. He is a career .226/.297/.298 batter with an 80 wRC+ throughout the minor leagues. His best minor league season was in 2019, when he owned a .684 OPS, .307 wOBA, and 98 wRC+.
Delay also hasn’t changed much when it comes to hitting the ball hard. His exit velocity has gone from an already poor 84.9 MPH in 2022 to 81.8 MPH this year. Delay’s hard-hit rate has also dropped from 28.3% to 21.1%. He still chases pitches outside the strike zone over 30% of the time (30.9%). Delay’s overall batting average on balls in play clocks in at .417.
However, don’t get unsustainable confused with ‘will perform poorly’. There’s also a lot to suggest that he’ll be a much better batter than he was in 2022.
Delay still has a .358 xwOBA, which would still be above average. He’s upped his barrel rate from just 1.9% to 7.9%, meaning he’s making more quality contact despite making less hard contact. This is because he’s lowered his launch angle slightly from 15.7 degrees to 11.7 degrees. Overall, he’s just making more contact. While he may be swinging outside the strike zone at a similar rate to 2022, his chase contact rate has risen from a meager 47.4% to 72%. His overall contact rate is nearly 80%.
Again, Delay likely isn’t going to rival Tony Gwynn for the most recent highest single-season batting average. But there’s a good chance he’ll at least be noticeably better than his 2022, .213/.265/.271 triple-slash. That's not a high bar to set, but Delay is a defense-first back-up catcher, so any offensive value you get is more than welcomed and icing on the cake.