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AL Starter for $1: Marc Rzepczynski

Mike rolled out our American League Starting Pitcher Rankings on Thursday and although the ensuing debate seemed far more concerned about everyone’s favorite band, there were some names towards the bottom of the barrel worth keeping an eye on for draft day (or the wire in the case of already-drafted leagues, of course). One in particular that I’ve been tracking is Marc Rzepczynski.

Eager to shed the oppression that is the Miley Cyrus Tier, Rzepczynski brings a sinking fastball and slider combination with a good change to keep hitters honest.  His slider is his best pitch, producing a quite nice 15.6% whiff rate and while his fastball doesn’t typically break 90, its sink produces robust ground ball rates.  Rzepczynski should provide your squad with solid, if not great, strikeouts at very low cost with a K/9 rate over 8 last year, and given his track record of strikeouts in the minors, Bill James is predicting that to increase over 9 in 2011, which isn’t unreasonable considering he sniffed that rate in 2009 at 8.80.

Given the preponderance of ground balls, one could assume his BABIP would be slightly above league average, but even his .342 BABIP from 2010 should come down a tick.  Looking at the American League Average on batted ball trajectory, it appears that Rzepczynski was getting a bit of a raw deal not only on his ground balls but line drives and fly balls as well:

While the difference isn’t huge, one could expect him to settle into something a little more league average in 2011.  The BABIP on fly balls is important to consider as well since he’s been a little generous in giving up gopher balls in his major league service at 13.6%, most of that due to problems with right handed hitters (1.36 HR/9 vs. RHH; 0.52 vs. LHH). He did, however, improve throughout his shortened season last year

Pitching at the Rogers Centre isn’t doing him any favors as it’s one of the friendliest places for right handed hitters, but with a little help from lady luck and perhaps hanging on to that improvement from 2010, his HR/FB rate could settle into something a little more palatable in the 10% range, which would have obvious implications for his performance on your roto stats.

His WHIP, however, could be a deal breaker as he continued to have problems with his control with a BB/9 rate of 4.24 leading to a WHIP of a team-destroying 1.60. But his WHIP in very similar innings in 2009 was just 1.32, built largely on a little better luck on batted balls and the ability to miss bats, so there’s certainly hope that Rzepczynski could see a WHIP south of 1.40 in 2011.

ZiPS particularly despises Rzepczynski projecting a 5.55 ERA 123 IP and 99 K’s while Bill James seems quite enamored with him, suggesting a 4.50 ERA with 3.83 FIP, a 9.08 K/9 with his HR/9 coming down to 0.82.  Marcel sees a much more modest K rate of 7.7 but also a much more respectable ERA of 4.22 and a BB/9 rate of 3.69.  So the projections are kind of a mixed bag of someone you wouldn’t want to touch and someone who is a must start in an AL-only format.

Rzepczynski is just 25 heading into this season, so he’s still learning how to pitch at this level and there’s certainly reason for optimism given his minor league success and his relative youth. He’s someone that I plan on targeting late in my draft, and if you’ve already drafted, he should be someone you should think seriously about as a waiver pickup when the need arises, if he’s not already rostered.