KBO DFS: The Argument for Drew Rucinski

Like many American players pitching in Korea, I’m fascinated by Drew Rucinski and why he doesn’t suck overseas. The answer can’t solely be the superior pedigree of the American baseball player. There has to be something added in Korea to what they brought from the States.

Rucinski wasn’t a strikeout guy in Triple-A, but is developing into one in Korea by leaning on his slider more.

Rucinski only had one start in MLB way back in 2015. His career has largely been as a Triple-A pitcher until he started his KBO career in 2019.

In Triple-A, Rucinski could never find the Ks with only 7.1 K/9 in 355.1 IP, yielding a robust 5.37 RA/9 after allowing 1.0 HR/9.

From his 900-plus MLB pitches, Brooks Baseball describes his fastball, sinker, and cutter as having above-average velocity but with very little movement, adding that his slitter and 12-6 curve were where it was at in the majors, regarding making hitters miss. Overall, he registered a decent 10.2% whiff and 30.1% chase rates, but only registered 7.33 K/9 to show for it in a small sample.

Should the Ks come up to reflect the whiff and chase rates? Probably not, as his MLB K rate was consistent with his Triple-A rate.

So, Rucinski packs up his talents and goes to Korea where he does really well. In 2019, he had a 3.05 ERA (8th), a 1.18 WHIP (8th), 2.28 BB/9 (10th), and an average 0.67 HR/9 in 177.1 IP. Good for fifth among pitchers with a 4.66 WAR, according to Statiz. But, still, only a below-average 6.04 K/9.

The Ks didn’t only not go up from Triple-A, but they went down. Way down.

Rucinski has become a heavy, heavy sinkerballer in Korea, throwing it 31.4% of the time, generating 54.8% of his contact in the infield for a 1.31 groundball:flyball ratio. Important because hitters hit .070 on that contact. But hitters hit .000 on Ks.

So far, in 2020, Rucinski has 8.17 K/9, ranking 13th of 44. It’s the best K rate he’s yielded since Double-A ball. His ERA has improved to 2.49 (7th). This isn’t a fluke.

Rucinski was tied for eighth in 2019 with a 65.6% strike rate with only 14.3% of those strikes being whiffs. This season, his strike rate is up to 67.7% and the percentage of those being whiffs is way up to 22.2%.

Again, though, we’re talking about 25.1 IP in 2020. Why can we infer there is something sticky to this?

Rucinski was a slightly harder thrower by MLB standards. His velocity might be elite in Korea. If his cutter was 91 mph and his fastball was 94, we can make a pretty good guess than a slider would be in the 90-to-92 range. In 2019, Rucinski added a slider, threw it 22.6% of the time, 40.2% of the time in the zone, but generated swings on 47.4% of them. Not a huge swinging strike inference to be made, but we see more swings than pure strikes, which is great for the chase rate.

In 2020, Rucinski has upped the frequency of the slider to 27.6%, but only 36.4% of the time in the zone, generating swings on a whopping 54.5% of them. This is an effective slider.

Which is where we go back to velocity. A simple question is: why swing at the slider? In a league like the KBO where the average fastball is still down in the high-80s, how does one imagine picking up on sliders in the low-90s? Especially a team which already struggles to put the bat on the ball like Rucinski’s Friday opponent, the Samsung Lions.

Samsung has been abysmal to start the year. They’re third-to-last with 4.68 runs per game and a sub-.700 OPS, striking out an average 18.2% of the time through 19 games.

Rucinski throwing strikes should keep his pitch count down, his opponent should keep the runs down, his sinker should get the grounders when he’s behind in counts, and the slider should get him the Ks.

Admittedly, I’ve been studying Rucinski little by little since his last start. I have not even come around to researching this slate. I don’t know if I even play Rucinski. I, honestly, don’t even know how much he costs. The point of today’s post isn’t to tell you to play Rucinski so much as to tell you to believe in Rucinski.

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