Marc Rzepczynski is a Lefty to Rely On
Danny Madden | On 22, Mar 2014
The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ players who has a key role in holding the team together.
It came as no surprise last summer that general manager Chris Antonetti was trying to obtain a solid left-hander to bolster a worn and torn bullpen. With Rich Hill being the only somewhat reliable left-handed pitcher, there was a blatant need for a new lefty to rely on. What ended up being the surprise of the summer was when the Indians finalized a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals to receive lefty Marc Rzepczynski for minor leaguer Juan Herrera.
Originally, Rzepczynski, or “Scrabble,” was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the fifth round of the 2007 First Year Player Draft. He later would go on to stay in the Blue Jays minor league system for the next couple of years before making his debut in 2009 due to a slew of injuries to the Blue Jays pitching staff. Originally Rzepczynski was a starter for the Blue Jays and filled a key role in their rotation while their pitchers were on the disabled list.
In 2011, he was eventually traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in a package with Octavio Dotel, Edwin Jackson, and Corey Patterson for Colby Rasmus, P.J. Walters, and Brian Tallet. After the 2010 season, he was used strictly as a bullpen reliever, and that is exactly where he fit in at St. Louis. He played a key role in the 2011 push for the World Series as he made 28 appearances and had an ERA of 3.97 with a K/9 of 11.1. In 2013, the wheels began to fall off for Rzepczynski which inevitably would lead to his demotion to Triple-A Memphis, and then traded to Cleveland.
Most people scoffed at this trade when it was made, since Rzepczynski at the time had a 7.84 ERA in 11 games prior to being sent down to Triple-A Memphis. When he was at Triple-A, he had a much better ERA of 3.07 in 32 games before being traded to the Indians. After having such an off season compared to the year prior where he posted an ERA of 3.23 and a K/9 rate of 8.5, it was thought by many that this trade was just an impulse move by Antonetti just to try and make some type of trade before the deadline was up. It turned out that this was actually one of the best moves that Antonetti had completed all year.
Once he arrived in Cleveland though, he put his woes in St. Louis behind him and seized his new opportunity. In 27 appearances in Cleveland, he had an ERA of 0.89 with a K/9 of 8.9. Rzepczynski was able to hold batters to a 0.159 average, and more importantly he held lefties to a 0.128 average overall. Being a lefty specialist, he needed to be successful facing left-handed batters, and that was the problem that all lefties had faced in the current bullpen. Rzepczynski came as a breath of fresh air when he arrived. “When Zep came over, our bullpen took off,” explains reliever Cody Allen to Cleveland.com’s Paul Hoynes
“When Zep came in…he pitched so well that it really helped the bullpen. Not only in his numbers, but it helped everybody else,” manager Terry Francona said to the Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes.
Throughout 2013, the Indians bullpen had seen plenty of lefties during the season. The only guy to stay in the pen for the entire season was Hill. Other lefties that had made appearances during the season includes: Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes, David Huff, and Clay Rapada. Rzepczynki became the go-to-guy once he settled in, and that’s going to be the role that he will provide this year. Joining Rzepczynki in the pen this year will be newly acquired Josh Outman who came to Cleveland in the Drew Stubbs trade on December 18, 2013.
Rzepczynski credits his flaws in St. Louis to not being able to throw his slider for strikes, which caused him to fall behind in the count. “I couldn’t throw my normal slider for strikes, I started throwing a slower one and was able to locate it,” Rzepczynski explains to Hoynes.
Along with a slider, Rzepczynski also throws a two seam fastball, sinker, and change up. He lives with movement as none of his pitches topped 91 mph last year. He tends to throw his sinker and slider the most above the rest of his pitches, which goes to show how much he has to rely on control of his breaking pitches to be successful.
After the bullpen fell apart in the first half of the season in 2013, bringing in Rzepczynski and moving players like Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw to new roles, helped solidify the bullpen. Now that everyone understands their role, excluding few remaining spots that are still left in the pen, the hope is that their success can continue into the 2014 season. Rzepczynski will be the number one lefty in high pressure situations out of the pen. Outman will be assuming the backup lefty relief. Having a good lefty specialist is crucial to a successful bullpen. When there’s a right-handed reliever on the mound who has an issue facing a left-handed batter that is where Rzepczynski comes in. He needs to make sure that he is locating his slider for strikes, while also keeping the ball down.
Earlier this off-season, Rzepczynski and the Indians avoided arbitration with a one-year, $1.375M deal. He still has one more year of arbitration before hitting free agency. If he continues to pitch as well as he did in 2013, then there should be no issue with tendering him a contract come the end of the season. He currently holds a career ERA of 3.95 so there is reason to believe that he will regress slightly, but as long as he’s getting lefties out when he needs to then he will have done his job.
In any major sport, fans want to see their teams go out and sign the big name guys, or trade for the best players in the league. Although, sometimes it’s the players that fly under the radar that end up making the most impact on a team. Rzepczynski did it last year, and now he’s not a surprise. He’s a key member of this Indians bullpen, and looks to improve on what he showed the club last season.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer