Oakland Athletics’ Marc Rzepczynski Must Only Be Used Against Lefties, Despite Melvin’s Hints
On Wednesday, Joe Stiglich reported about a conversation he had with Bob Melvin regarding the roles that each of the new bullpen pieces will play in the 2016 season. It was a fairly innocuous conversation, as the skipper hinted toward bullpen roles that most of us were expecting to hear.
Sean Doolittle will close. Ryan Madson and John Axford will likely be seventh and eighth inning staples. Liam Hendricks will probably be the fifth-and-sixth inning under-pressure guy. These are predictable roles.
But then Melvin said something that I strongly urge him to reconsider.
Stiglich wrote, “Marc Rzepczynski, the fourth new addition, is likely targeted for a lefty specialist role, though Melvin says he’d have confidence leaving the southpaw in for a right-hander on occasion.”
THAT’S HOW YOU LOSE GAMES, BOB!
Don’t get me wrong; I firmly believe that Rzepczynski is the league’s premier left-handed specialist. His career splits versus lefties are incredible. For his career, lefties are batting .211/.285/.288 against him. He strikes out one out of every four lefties he faces, and has a K/9 ratio of an outstanding 9.61. He induces lots of swings and misses, but when lefties do make contact on him, it gets hit for a ground ball 64 percent of the time.
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He’s a reliever who strikes out a quarter of the lefties he faces, hinders them to a .200 batting average against, and keeps the ball on the ground two thirds of the time when they are able to make contact. How many times did Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Kyle Seager, or even Colby Rasmus punish the A’s bullpen last year? How many situations would I have begged to have somebody like Rzepczynski ready to go in those situations?
Now the Athletics have that guy, and it is imperative that Melvin doesn’t misuse him.
The reason that Rzepczynski isn’t currently better known as one of the league’s premier specialists is that managers have failed to resist the temptation to leave him on the mound to finish an inning, even if every metric instructs them to do otherwise. Astonishingly, he has been asked to face over 200 more righties than lefties throughout his career, and this accounts for why his overall career numbers aren’t as good as they should be.
Throughout his career, righties are batting .278/.371/.445 against him, which is considerably less desirable than the numbers he posts versus lefties. Right-handed batters are eight percent less likely to strike out against him, eight percent more likely to hit a fly ball, and six percent more likely to send a ball in play over the fence (all stats courtesy of FanGraphs).
That is my message to Bob Melvin. He must be able to resist the temptation to leave Rzepczynski out for an entire inning.
I understand the temptation, too. He will embarrass two consecutive left-handed batters as they futilely chase a slider that’s diving away from them. He’s cruising his way to the third out, right? Right??
Unfortunately, not against righties.
The good news is that the A’s are a number-centric organization, and there may be no other active reliever whose splits more obviously reveal the best use of the player’s talent.
The A’s have somebody special in Rzepczynski; Melvin just needs to use him the way he’s supposed to be used.
But hey, at least we know Prince Fielder can’t lay off his slider.