For the Giants, talented young pitchers have been of no shortage lately. Adding to the already crowded group of impressive hurlers is left-handed reliever Dan Runzler. Runzler found his way into a MLB game on Sept. fourth of last year. He entered a two-two affair, with two outs and runners on first and second, which is a 2.49 leverage index situation, and struck out Jody Gerut looking.
His brief appearance at the end of the 2009 season opened some eyes with one run allowed and 11 strike outs in 8.2 innings pitched. Left-handed batters had one single and two walks in 20 plate appearances against Runzler, while right-handed hitters fared better, tallying four singles, a home run, and three walks in 18 plate appearances.
Striking out batters by the bundle has been nothing new for Runzler, whose quick escalation through the San Francisco organization has featured remarkable K per nine inning rates. He has actually struck out more right handed-hitters per inning in his minor league tenure. In 2007, after completing his season for UC Riverside, Runzler was drafted in the ninth round by the Giants, which was his second draft entry and pitched that same year in the Arizona Rookie League. He struck out 21 RHB in 14.7 IP and five LHB in 5.3 IP.
In 2008, between two Class A teams, the 6’4’’ pitcher had a 1.54 WHIP, walking 40 in 54.6 innings, but Runzler continued to have success fanning hitters with a sensational 69 strikeouts over that period. The 2.10 Salem ERA rocketed to 5.47 with his promotion to Augusta where lefties hit .323 off him. After the ‘08 season, the tremendous life on his pitches have been polished and his walk totals have reduced to legit levels.
Last season, he didn’t skip a beat while he rose through four different minor league levels. Following a 27 inning return stint at A-Augusta where he conquered the competiton, posting an 0.68 ERA, 45 strikeouts (15.4 K9) and 11 saves, Runzler went on to shut down the San Jose competition, allowing only two runs and eight hits in 21.3 innings for the SJ Giants, the 25-year-old awed at both AA and AAA in preparation for his breakthrough to the Majors.
Marc Hulet of fangraphs.com shows that he induces a supple proportion of ground balls in his prospect rankings. Left-handed batters drive the ball into the dirt, which reduces hits allowed and right-handed batters have a very tough time even putting the ball in play… often striking out.
The following stats are from Baseball-Reference.com :
2007 Vs. LHB: 78.6 ground ball percentage, 7.1 line drive percent, .188 BAA, 8.44 K9
2007 Vs. RHB: 60.5 GB percent, 15.8 LD percent, .268 BAA, 12.94 K9
2008 Vs. LHB: 71.9 GB percent, 5.3 LD percent, .259 BAA, 10.49 K9
2008 Vs. RHB: 52.5 GB percent, 11.3 LD percent, .200 BAA, 10.46 K9
2009 Vs. LHB: 78.6 GB%, 4.8 LD%, .114 BAA, 10.96 K9
2009 Vs. RHB: 56.6 GB%, 5.3 LD%, .123 BAA, 12.41 K9
Gee, notice the absurdly low batting averages against in 2009 combined with astronomical whiff numbers. Overall, Runzler has pitched 48.7 more innings against right-handed opponents. This balance will translate to being a one-plus inning guy in the Majors and he could be a specialist at getting out of jams. In particular, he could be brought in to obtain double-play balls from lefties or to strike out a righty.
Runzler throws a “heavy” mid-nineties fastball which seems to produce a lot of softly hit balls. He’s only given up five home runs in 140.2 career minor league innings. He can paint with his very fine low eighties slider that shows late movement into right-handed hitters. In Runzler’s last look of 2009, he climbed up the radar to 97 MPH and maintained solid velocity over the 20 fastballs he threw in that game.
Runzler will likely earn a spot on the opening day roster, especially with his strong spring ERA of 0.00 combined with 13 strikeouts and only three walks in 7.6 IPs. He'll join the recently resigned top bullpen lefty Jeremy Affeldt, which gives the Giants two imposing LH options for extending the back end of games.