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 Phillies reliever Michael Schwimer.
Michael Schwimer posted some truly dominating numbers in the minor leagues. Combined with his massive size (6’8″ 250), one would think that would make him a top relief prospect, if there is such a thing.
However, Schwimer flew basically under the radar, even as he posted am 86/22 K/BB in 68 innings in Triple-A this season. Finally, the 25-year-old got the call to throw in twelve September games, and he acquitted himself decently, striking out 16 in 14 1/3 innings but walking seven.
The righthander has a surprisingly complete three-pitch arsenal. While he is an imposing figure, he doesn’t have Grade A heat; he can reach back for a 93-94 mph fastball when he needs to, but he averages just under 92 mph with the pitch.
Schwimer’s out pitch is his slider, an 80-84 mph big breaker that almost looks like a curveball because he’s releasing the ball from such a high point. He tends to raise his arm slot on the pitch, releasing it from about seven feet off the ground.
He also showed trust in his changeup, which is a forkball-type pitch in the 79-82 mph range. Overall, Schwimer uses his fastball around 40% of the time, with the breaking ball at 40% and the changeup 20%–a rather unique approach for a reliever. As one might expect, he leans more heavily on the slider to righties and the fastball/change to lefties, but he will deploy any of the three pitches in almost any count to anyone.
Against righthanders, his fastball isn’t particularly effective. Just two of the 60 heaters he threw to righties were swung on and missed, although he had a 25% called strike rate, suggesting that his height made it tough for hitters to pick up the plane on his fastball. Most of his called strikes with the pitch came down in the strike zone.
Schwimer didn’t hit the corners with the fastball to righties very much, but he did usually keep it either up or down in the zone:
Against lefthanders, Schwimer was more all over the place with the heater:
He keeps the heater down more to lefties, but is also out of the zone more, which is problematic because he leans on the fastball more heavily to lefties than righties. His fastball strike rate (58.1%) was thus much lower than it was to righties (65%), although he got more whiffs (9.3%).
A large part of Schwimer’s viability as a high-leverage MLB reliever rests of how effective he can be with his breaking ball to righthanders. Early returns are rather interesting on that front. Here’s a look at where he puts the pitch to righties:
Not particularly encouraging, is that? Sure, he hits the zone, but seems to hang a ton of sliders. He doesn’t favor throwing the pitch low, nor does he favor throwing it outside.
Schwimer’s strike rate with the slider to righties is 62.9%, which is somewhat expected. What’s less expected is that batters have only swung at 35.5% of these pitches.
Indeed, of those 62 sliders:
39 have been called strikes
17 of those have been looking
22 have been swung at
9 of those swings have missed
5 swings have fouled the ball off
8 swings have put the ball in play
That means that 26 of the 62 (42%) of these sliders resulted in an unequivocal strike (called or swinging), 8% were also a fairly positive result (fouls), 37% were a small negative (balls), and just 13% were the actual dreaded ball in play.
What this indicates to me is that Schwimer’s height and delivery are making the ball difficult to pick up and track, so he’s not getting hurt by his iffy location as much as other pitchers would. That’s the sort of thing that may not hold for him, but we’ll have to see what sort of adjustments hitters make in mid-2012 once Schwimer’s been around the league a couple of times.
As for the changeup, here’s what he does with it to lefthanders:
I can’t complain about this location–he keeps the ball generally away, and when he’s out of the strike zone, the ball’s usually tantalizingly close. Of the 25 pitches in that chart, 16 have gone for strikes, and five of the eleven swings at the pitch have come up empty.
Therefore, it does seem that Schwimer’s got enough to retire batters from both sides of the plate. His location is a bit of a roller coaster, and he’s not going to blow the ball by people, but his size and diverse patterning still make him a tough pitcher to hit. We’ll need to see him sustain it for a few months in the majors before Schwimer will be a definite high-leverage guy, but he certainly looks like he could be a very effective MLB reliever from day one of the 2012 season.
For more on the Phillies, check out That Balls Outta Here!