Friday, March 12, 2010

Unscrambling Rzepczynski

For no real reason, I don't think I've given Marc Rzepczynski a fair shake. Could be his cameo was just brief enough to keep him in the shadow of more prominent prospects, or the fact that he looks like a kid I hated growing up, but I don't know that I've spent enough time thinking about the potential of guy they call Scrabble.

Looking back at Rzep's 2009 numbers, the strikeouts and walks are the first things to jump out, as he collected both in bunches. Not to mention the plethora of ground balls induced by his sweet sinking fastball. How does Rzepczynski do it? Let's get a sense of what he throws. Click to enlarge. A lot

That's every pitch he threw in 2009, word is he added a few miles per hour on his fastball, touching 91 regularly this spring. Exciting stuff. Lots of sliders from RZep, an incredibly effective pitch for him, ranking right alongside Zack Grienke in terms of value per 100 pitches thrown. So what makes Rzepcyznski promising and what may hold him back?

Despite racking up impressive strikeout numbers, Marc Rzepczynski doesn't miss too many bats. Below league average, actually. He gets swinging strikes around 12% of the time with his slider, again a low number for such an effective pitch. The guys at Mop Up Duty looked at his numbers and found a very high rate of called strikes with his slider. Is that repeatable? Was that a fluke? How many rhetorical questions can I ask in one post?

Look at all those swinging strikes on junk down and away (to lefties, down and in on right handed batters.) It is worth noting that many of the errant sliders on the right hand side of the diagram (or inside to left-handed batters, we're looking from the catcher's perspective once again) would sit among the sliders I labeled "somewhat ruthful" above. Spinners that didn't really go anywhere, thankfully. Clearly the slider is an effective pitch to lefties, but right handed hitters have an easier time laying off. Which brings us to the key pitch in R-Zep's development, the change-up.

Rzepczynski throws his change almost exclusively to right handed batters, but not particularly effectively. While it might help keep hitters off balance no matter the situation, he needs to show he can throw it for strikes if he wants it respected. Even with the added mph on his fastball this spring, Scrabble needs to change speeds if wants to live.

The classification of change ups is an inexact science, but I think that covers most of Rzepczynski's. Almost all away from righties, not many thrown for strikes. I don't care how sinking or boring your two seam fastball is; if every swinging dick is looking for it, they're going to hit it.

If the guy with the difficult name but no worthy nickname is going to stick at the big league level, getting right handed hitters out is the key. Otherwise, he'd better ask Brian Tallet about career advice or ask Scott Downs about life as a setup guy. Obviously, he wants to start and the Jays would love for him to stick there. It's exciting to wonder if his walk rate dips at the expense of his strikeouts. Actually, not exciting, but interesting. Excitement and rate stats hardly go hand in hand.

Pitch F/X data courtesy my new friend Joe. Don't worry Brooks, I'll be back soon.


  1. I can't remember off the top of my head, but I think Fangraphs did an article back in the summer that said RZep is the #1 pitcher when it comes to getting hitters to swing outside the zone. That must be courtesy of the slider.

    He may not be a power pitcher, but he has the location down pat.

  2. Scrabble has to make his mark NOW!

    'Cause arguably we have nine starting pitchers who look to have more up-side than Marc: in order as I see them... Marcum, McGowan, Drabek, Jenkins, Morrow, Romero, Alvarez, Stewart and Cecil.

    Having said that - I am a BIG fan of our poly-lettered, poly-syllablic, righty.

  3. That's a good point ML, though I may quibble on the question of Dustin McGowan and upside. What we remember about Dustin McGowan doesn't quite line up with his track record.

    Getting back to his old levels would be an accomplishment, a level we used to consider a slight disappointment.

  4. " worthy nickname..."

    I remember a television broadcast last year where an announcer said that his teammates have dubbed him "Eye Chart".


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