On the surface Jason Delay appears to be off to a strong with with the Pittsburgh Pirates this season, but are his offensive results sustainable?
Even though the Pittsburgh Pirates are 1-9 in their last 10 games played, they still own a half game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the National League Central. When a team that was not expected to contend is first place in their divison in May there are always some surprise performance contributing to this. For the Pittsburgh Pirates, one of these performances has been that of catcher Jason Delay.
Through his first 57 plate appearances this season Delay is hitting for a .360/.411/.540 slash line with a 157 wRC+. He's walking at a 7.0% clip and striking out at a 15.8% rate. All of these numbers are a huge improvement for the mostly career minor leaguer who slashed .213/.265/.271 with a 53 wRC+ in 167 major league PAs last season.
The question about this start for Delay now becomes is this sustainable?
In short - no, Delay's strong stat is not sustainable. At least, this strong of a start is not sustainable. Not even close. However, that's the easy answer. That's the answer that just creates more questions. So, let's take a look at what indicates that Delay's start is not sustainable.
First and foremost, Delay is benefitting greatly from a .415 batting average on balls in play (BAbip). League average BAbip this season is around .330. Sustianing a high BAbip is not easy for any hitter to do. Sustianing a high BAbip is even more challenging for a hitter who does not have plus speed or high hard hit rates, two things that Delay does not possess.
The second, and biggest, issue with Delay is that he does not hit he ball hard. He has an average exit velocity this season of 82.4 MPH, to go with a 20.9% hard hit rate. These results are well below the league averages of 88.4 MPH and 35.9%. He also puts the ball on the gorund too often with a 45.2% ground ball rate. His 18.6% fly ball rate is also 5% points below league average.
There are two positives with Delay, though. He does not chase ptiches very often, nor does he swing-and-miss very often. Delay has swung at 33.3% of pitches that have been thrown to him outside of the strike zone this season. He's also only whiffed at 12.4% of pitches thrown to him. Even though Delay does not hit the ball hard, he does do a good job of putting the ball in play at a high rate.
Now, this is not to say Delay is going to go off some sort of cliff. If he can continue to have a low chase and whiff rate, he can continue to improve his numbers from last season. After all, his xBA (expected batting average) is .273 and his xSLG (expected slugging) is .434. This indicates that based on Delay's batted ball results his batting average is expected to be .273 and slugging .434, still solid numbers for a backup catcher.
While Delay could still finish the season with overall offensive improvement, he is due for some major regression. The question really should not be viewed as if that regression is going to come for Delay, but how large will it be when it happens.