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40 in 40: Zac Rosscup

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Hey, a lefty bullpen arm!

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Los Angeles Dodgers v Seattle Mariners
Zac Rosscup throws an immaculate inning against the Mariners on August 19, 2018. His punishment is to pitch for the Mariners this season.
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Zac Rosscup is a left-handed relief pitcher. This is the main feature that recommended him to the Mariners. (The other being, of course, that he was once a member of the Tampa Bay Rays organization.)

Released by the Los Angeles Dodgers in November, he signed with the Mariners in December and joined Roenis Elias to form the lefty contingent in the bullpen. With Elías potentially making spot starts and long relief appearances to ease Yusei Kikuchi into the major leagues, Rosscup is suddenly the go-to for disposing of pesky left-handed batters in the late innings.

If you’re muttering to yourself, “Rosscup, Rosscup, why does that name sound familiar?”, it’s because last August against the Mariners he threw the 93rd immaculate inning in baseball history. The Oregon native had requested 19 tickets for his family to come watch his first appearance at Safeco Field. He saw action in the ninth inning of a 12-1 Dodger win. With wildfire smoke thick in the air, he threw three pitches each to Kyle Seager, Ryon Healy, and Cameron Maybin.

The LA tv broadcast crew had no idea what was happening, and most of his team and his manager were likewise clueless. Rosscup himself realized after the second out that he had a shot. Normally about a 50/50 fastball/slider pitcher, Rosscup threw two fastballs to Maybin to make sure he’d get strikes before going to the slider. Thankfully his catcher, Austin Barnes, was paying attention and there was a low-key exuberant celebration between the two after Maybin flailed away at the slider.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Seattle Mariners
Austin Barnes: You threw an immaculate inning! Zac Rosscup: I know, so awesome! Barnes: I mean, it was against the Mariners... Rosscup: Dude, come on.
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Including that Inning of Infamy, Rosscup has pitched a grand total of 65.2 innings in the major leagues since making his debut as a September call-up with the Chicago Cubs in 2013. He has often been injured; I counted eight trips to the disabled list in his transaction history. He has lived the life of a fringe relief pitcher, having been optioned to the minor leagues three times, designated for assignment twice, and picked up by a team and reassigned to a minor league team three times. None of that sounds great, so what does Rosscup bring to the Mariners beside a left arm that can throw a 93 mph fastball and an 86 mph slider? Let’s look at his negatives and see if there’s some balance with his positives.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs
The rare Mariner player who has felt the sweet, sweet sting of champagne on a baseball field.
Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Negative #1: His injury history

Just looking at the time period since his 2013 debut, Rosscup has been DL’d for left shoulder inflammation, left middle finger blister, left middle finger inflammation, and a left calf strain. The left shoulder inflammation led to surgery and missing the entire 2016 season. In both 2017 and 2018 he had problems with his middle finger. Whether those middle finger problems were a one-time cluster of injuries, the way he’s throwing his pitches, or an overuse injury from massive road rage we cannot say. In case it’s the latter, let’s hope he finds Seattle traffic more to his liking that LA traffic.

Positive #1: He may be injury-prone, but his contract is cheap

It’s possible, even likely, Rosscup will spend some time on the disabled list this season. If he does, his contract is reported to be $610,000 for the one-year deal, which means going out and obtaining more LOOGYs won’t be an issue. They could obtain twenty such LOOGYs if they wanted. [Eyes Zach Duke and Marc Rzepczynski] Please don’t obtain twenty such LOOGYs, Jerry.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at San Francisco Giants
Look, if I did that to my arm I’d be injured too.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Negative #2: He has walked 500 batters, and he would walk 500 more (not really, it’s called hyperbole, people)

For most of Rosscup’s career, his walk percentage has been significantly higher than average. In the last two seasons, however, he has done much better. He walked zero batters in 2017. Yes, he only pitched 7.2 innings (#LOOGY4LYFE), but we’re searching for positives. Last season, in 11 innings pitched, he walked exactly the league average of 8.5%.

Positive #2: He has The Whiffs (credit goes to Kate for that brilliant line; I can’t think about him throwing strikes without saying that in my head)

For all his struggles in the zone, Rosscup has posted an above-average strikeout rate every season. His career K/9 mark is 11.9. Last season he put up a career high of 15.88 and struck out 42.6% of the batters he faced.

Chicago Cubs v St. Louis Cardinals
Pitch face only scores a 3/10 on my scale.
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Negative #3: Batters hit him hard

The last few seasons the batters he has faced have not been gentle to baseballs Zac Rosscup has hurled their way. His career hard hit ball % is 36.7, but in 2017 and 2018 respectively he was at 52.4% and 47.8%. Small sample size and all, but the trend is not encouraging.

Positive #3: Batters hit him in the air

Rosscup is a fly ball pitcher who could relax with a spacious outfield behind him. His home stadiums have been Wrigley Field, Coors Field, and Dodger Stadium after all, all of which rank in the top half for offense in baseball, and Coors and Wrigley are in the top ten for right-handers to hit home runs in. Safeco T-Mobile Park, on the other hand, ranks in the bottom five for runs, and the bottom third for righty power.

Personal Notes: These are not classified as positive or negative because we’re not here to judge, just analyze:

Rosscup is a native Oregonian, hailing from the land of Clackamas. He wanted to play football growing up, but his grandfather took note of his body type and handedness and nudged him in baseball’s direction. Following his grandfather’s passing, Rosscup didn’t want to play baseball in high school. The prodding of his family led him to keep going. By all accounts he struggled in high school and it wasn’t until college that he found his way as a pitcher.

He attended Chemeketa Community College and put up a 1.55 ERA his freshman year and a 1.60 ERA his sophomore year. The Tampa Bay Rays made him the 859th pick of the 2009 MLB draft, taking him in the 28th round. He was traded to the Cubs as a piece in the Matt Garza trade. He has also played for the Colorado Rockies, making the Mariners his 5th organization and 4th major league team (assuming he makes an appearance and isn’t wounded in spring training).

Being an Oregon native, he is a Seahawks fan. Unfortunately, he is also a Timbers fan. He enjoys video games. If you’ve ever wanted to game with a professional baseball player, look him up on Twitter. He shares his gamer information there.

Essentially, Rosscup is a cheap left-handed arm in a bullpen that desperately needs a lefty. His strengths could play well in his new home stadium. If he stays healthy, he’ll be a help to the team. If he spends time with his old friend, the Disabled List, all it’ll really cost the Mariners is whatever it costs to find another lefty to replace him.