Rob Delaney made an important decision before he ever threw a pitch this season. He would no longer obsess about his statistics.
It wasn't that he didn't care about the numbers, he just wanted to stop dwelling on them. The 23-year-old reliever had always been one of the first players to check out the stat sheet posted in the clubhouse, but all of that agonizing didn't do much to help his bottom line.
"I used to look at my stats all the time and worry about them, so I decided not to look anymore," Delaney said. "You see a lot of guys worrying over stats. I just want to concentrate on playing the game."
Instead of chasing a lower ERA the way a dieter chases those always-elusive last five pounds, Delaney decided to let his results speak for themselves. The area around the stat sheet became a no-trespassing zone as he went through the summer blissfully ignorant of his own numbers.
It's almost a shame Delaney chose this season to stop looking. His numbers were good. Really good.
Delaney spent the majority of the year with Class A Beloit and was 1-0 with 29 saves and a microscopic 0.77 ERA in 36 appearances. The right-hander gave up four earned runs while striking out 56 and walking just six in 46 2/3 innings.
Delaney continued to thrive following his promotion to Class A Advanced Fort Myers in mid-July. The New Jersey native went 2-0 with seven saves and a 1.54 ERA in 17 games, allowing 19 hits in 23 1/3 innings. He fanned 27 and walked 10.
Even though he wasn't poring over the stat sheet, Delaney knew he was pitching well. The scoreless innings started adding up and the pats on the back from teammates increased. A ballplayer doesn't need to look at a piece of paper to know he's getting the job done, and freeing his mind clearly had a positive effect on his performance.
"I just focused on pitching well and not letting anything get in the way of that," Delaney said. "I just kept trying to do what I was doing all season long."
It certainly was a breakthrough year for Delaney, who was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Minnesota Twins in 2006 after pitching three seasons at St. John's University. He was an unspectacular 1-3 with a 4.64 ERA for the Gulf Coast League Twins before being promoted to Fort Myers, where he had a 5.40 ERA in three appearances late in the 2006 season.
"It was kind of surprising," Delaney said of his 2007 performance. "I was just excited with the way things were going. Everything just seemed to work out well this year."
Delaney credited Beloit pitching coach Steve Mintz with adjusting the grip on his slider and giving it more bite, a big reason for his eye-popping numbers. Fort Myers pitching coach Eric Rasmussen also earned praise for reinforcing those lessons and helping him get a better feel for the pitch.
His arsenal includes a fastball that sits between 90 and 93 mph, but it was the slider that became a key pitch for Delaney, even though he estimated that he threw it about 30 percent of the time. He also mixed in an occasional changeup, but that pitch is a work in progress.
Delaney claimed he still hasn't looked at his statistics even though the season's been over for about a month, and it's a superstition he plans on keeping.
"I might have to, unless someone tells me otherwise," Delaney said with a laugh. "I haven't looked at my numbers. I was going to the other day, but I got sidetracked."