The Indians traded for Marc Rzepczynski. They traded Juan Herrera to get him. Tuesday is the day before the MLB non-waiver trade deadline, and so far this is Tuesday’s only trade to take place. Despite all the rumors involving bigger names, only these players have been swapped, and most baseball fans probably literally couldn’t care any less. It’s a trade of one non-prospect for a reliever who’s spent most of the year in Triple-A. But being that it’s a move involving a contending team — the Indians! — we might as well talk about it a little bit.
The Indians have been in the market for a lefty reliever, and Rzepczynski is a lefty reliever. To date the Indians’ lefty relievers have been Rich Hill and, sometimes, Nick Hagadone. They asked about better relievers than Rzepczynski, but they didn’t like the prices, so they picked up Rzepczynski for the cost of a body and a paycheck. He’ll go right into the bullpen, and he’ll be looked to to pitch to good lefty hitters in the later innings. He’s one of them very minor additions that could feel like a very major addition in a close, important game.
A thing to acknowledge: there’s a reason Rzepczynski had been pitching in Triple-A. He’s never been all that successful against righties, and, statistically, he’s gotten worse against lefties. Through 2011, he struck out 28% of left-handed bats. Since then, he’s struck out just 21%. In Triple-A this year, he struck out 15%, and one is free to wonder whether he really represents an upgrade over what Hagadone might offer. In Triple-A, Rzepczynski struck out a higher rate of righties than lefties.
And this drop in strikeouts is correlated with a drop in Rzepczynski’s slider usage. Used to be, almost half his pitches to lefties were sliders. The last two years, that’s dropped to three out of ten, and that pitch has been his swing-and-miss weapon. He hasn’t been able to throw the pitch as often for strikes, so he’s had to cut back, and that’s made him more hittable.
But remember the sample sizes we’re talking about. As recently as 2011, Rzepczynski was something of a stretch-run and postseason hero, and since then he hasn’t even thrown 60 innings in the bigs. The quality of his raw stuff hasn’t diminished, and even though every situational lefty feels like he’s 36 years old, Rzepczynski’s just 27. He’s actually under team control through 2015, with two more years of arbitration eligibility. The Indians got this guy for nothing, and his numbers are unremarkable, but if they can help him to find his slider, he could be a piece now and for the next two years. Even now, he can get most lefties out, and with a little improvement, he’s a weapon. He’s been real good before, and we know relievers are volatile. The ingredients are there.
Teams with good lefty relievers on the market have been asking for value in return. That’s value in exchange for a guy who’s going to get a few handfuls of high-leverage plate appearances. The Indians decided to go the easier, cheaper route, and the difference between Rzepczynski and someone else down the stretch is probably pretty small, even before you account for general reliever unpredictability. The worst that could happen is that the Indians just end up preferring Hagadone. The best is that Rzepczynski finds his slider and gets lefties out, having cost the Indians a phone call and a few minutes of paperwork. You never know which move is going to win you a game, or win you a series.
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