Many popular opinions of pitching prospects are formed from general scouting reports. While these reports are invaluable resources, they can’t always be trusted. Hundreds of minor league hurlers are credited with “mid-90′s velocity,” but very few MLB starters actually have that grade of heat, for example. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear about a pitcher with “a mid-90′s heater and plus curve,” only to have him come up to the big leagues and show a fastball that averages 90.5 mph and a slider.
When a pitcher come up to the majors, we can finally get a foolproof reading on what exactly his arsenal is comprised of, thanks to the great Pitch F/X system. In this series, I analyze just that–the “stuff” of recently-promoted MLB pitchers. Now that they’ve achieved their big league dreams and thus factor directly into the MLB picture, it’s high time that we know exactly what these guys are providing.
This time, I’m taking a look at Mets starter Chris Schwinden.
Chris Schwinden was never considered much of a prospect, and FanGraphs’ Mike Newman, who had seen him pitch in Low-A years ago, was shocked that he ultimately made it to the big leagues. But here he is, and Schwinden’s made three starts, covering 16 innings. He hasn’t been that bad, either–he’s allowed just one homer with a 12/5 K/BB ratio.
The 25-year-old righthander, who turned in a solid year in Triple-A this season, is not a hard thrower; the fastest pitch he’s thrown since his callup is about 91 mph.
Schwinden throws three pitches: an 85-91 mph cut fastball (average: 88.1 mph), a 72-78 mph curveball (average: 74.4 mph), and a 79-83 mph changeup (average: 81.3 mph).
He gives different looks with the cutter, to the extent that Pitch F/X often isn’t sure whether to classify the pitch as a fastball, cutter, or slider. A control pitcher, he’s gotten strikes with the pitch, regardless of Pitch F/X’s classification of it, 65.9% of the time. He has a 6.0% whiff rate on the pitch, which isn’t stellar, but there are plenty of fastballs that get lower whiff rates.
The cutter is often known as a pitch that can get in on opposite-side batters, so let’s see what sort of platoon split it has:
Strike Rate Whiff Rate
vs. LHB 66.12% 5.4%
vs. RHB 65.74% 6.48%
Indeed, then, Schwinden gets similar results with the pitch to both lefties and righties. He also trusts the pitch to batters from both sides, throwing it 71% of the time to righties and 63.6% of the time to lefthanders.
You’d think the 7.4% discrepancy there would be largely made up by an increase in changeups to lefties, but in fact, he uses the pitch a similar amount to batters from both sides of the plate, throwing it 15.8% of the time to righties and 15.3% to lefthanders. It’s the curveball that Schwinden favors more to opposite-side batters.
The two offspeed pitches are both somewhat effective, but neither is a put-away pitch. The curveball has induced whiffs 11.1% of the time, and the changeup 14.3%, but the breaking ball has gone for strikes just 60% of the time and the changeup 54.8%. That means that there’s an inverse relationship between the percentage of strikes and percentage of whiffs of each of Schwinden’s three pitches. That makes each of the three offerings workable, but it makes him an eminently hittable pitcher who doesn’t seem to have an easy path to dominance.
Schwinden’s approach is somewhat similar to that of the Twins’ Liam Hendriks, as he steps somewhat toward third base in his delivery in order to pound the right side of the plate:
If we isolate his pitches to lefthanders, the trend is even more extreme:
He does throw a ton of chase pitches. Look at his curveball location:
And his changeups to lefthanders:
Both the curveball and changeup have solid movement, but it remains to be seen if MLB hitters will continue to chase them once Schwinden’s scouting reports get out and he faces teams for the second time–as such a non-prospect, it’s highly doubtful that anyone really saw him coming, so the book on Schwinden really isn’t out yet.
That said, he gets a good amount of strikes with the cutter, and all three of his pitches are functional to batters from both sides of the plate. With his solid command of all three offerings, it’s feasible that he could turn into an innings-eating back-of-the-rotation starter. It’s tough to see him as a key pitcher on a staff, but if he’s able to survive the adaptations of MLB hitters, he could be a functional member of the rotation, able to avoid walks without giving up tons of home runs.
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