There is no middle ground on Jesse Litsch. You either think he's the worst starter the Jays have, or simply bad. So polarizing! Might he be the fifth starter, or fighting for the long man role? Unless you're Mike Wilner in Daytime Radio Host/Chase Producer mode or have a thing for freckles, you probably don't think too highly of Jesse Litsch. Both of which are somewhat understandable but not especially estimable.
Let me get this out of the way: I don't understand the appeal of Jesse Litsch. Every non-disastrous outing he makes seems more unlikely than the last. I don't think I'm alone in this. In fact, the Fangraphs community projections for Litsch serve as a great reminder for the value of scouts.
Four different Fangraphs users submitted 2011 projections for Jesse Litsch. 2 self-identified Jays fans and 2 out-of-town fans. The Jays fans, likely armed with scarred memories of Listch's outings past, project a dire 2011 for the Jays right hander. The non-Jays fans hardly toss him Cy Young votes but those with Litsch baggage foresee half as many innings with fewer strikeouts and more base runners.
Base runners are not the friends of pitchers like Litsch. Pitchers who miss bats at a below-average rate must hope against hope to induce a ground ball to do the work they're out pitch cannot. It's stressful stuff, hanging on by a BABIP thread.
Just look at the company Litsch keeps. Here is a complete list of pitchers (since 2007) with at least 340 innings pitched, K/9 under 5.00 and ground ball rates under 50%. Children, look away from the screen.
When compared to the august company he keeps, two factors work against young Jesse Litsch. His in ball average is the lowest and his strand rate is the second highest. That, to me, is terrifying. Regression waiting to happen. Jesee Litsch isn't exactly the kind of guy who can afford to regress. A rebuilt elbow might keep Jesse Litsch from using his ground ball-inducing cutter as frequently in the future, exposing him to even more fly balls and home runs.
Some pitchers demonstrate repeatable ability to maintain high strand rates and below-average in play averages? Yes, yes they do. But they aren't among this wing and a prayer bunch. If Jesse Litsch transitions to more of a fly ball pitcher, his in play average might stay down but the strand rate will rise when the home runs roll in.
Only Buehrle has a (fractionally) higher strand rate than our pink hero and I'm willing to credit his superlative pickoff move and general left-handedness as bonus points for his magical case against reason. We certainly can't make the same allowances for Litsch.
Is this a long way of saying I don't think Jesse Litsch is a viable fourth, fifth, or emergency starter? Yes. Not only does he have marginal at best skills, his inability to remain healthy pretty much discounts any inning-eater claims.
Is Marc Rzepcynzski a better option in every single way? Absolutely! I don't say that as an unabashed fanboy1 but as someone who feels that the ability to miss bats and induce an above-average number of ground balls outweigh struggles with control and the occasional gopher ball.
1 - This is a lie.