2011 Analysis: Chris Schwinden

Due to a predetermined innings limit, Chris Schwinden was supposed to make only one Major League start — which turned out to be a 6-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves on September 8th. Although it was an inauspicious debut, it capped a feel-good story: the pinnacle of success for an overachieving non-prospect.

As it turned out, extenuating circumstances (i.e., shortage of pitching) allowed Schwinden to make three more starts before the end of the season. In each of his appearances, Schwinden provided a so-so performance — not bad, but not great, either. But, with Mets fans so desperate and eager for anything resembling a bonafide, home-grown prospect, Schwinden became something of a darling among the blogosphere. Here was a young man “from the farm”, who fought his way up the ladder despite an ordinary skill set, who displayed a mental toughness, and who proved that you don’t have have a blazing fastball to be a big leaguer. Further, this is an example of the future of Mets baseball in their very own “Moneyball” era: young, inexpensive ballplayers who fly under the radar, are shunned by “old school” scouts for lacking the traditional tool set, and will one day make the Mets the most surprising team in the postseason.

It’s a nice story, it really is. And Schwinden is an extremely likeable guy. Personally, I was rooting for him — because as it turns out, “old schoolers” such as myself actually find the radar gun can be more of a detriment than a positive tool. But the truth is, Chris Schwinden didn’t show me anything to make me believe he should be a candidate for an MLB rotation in 2012 — not even the Mets’ rotation.

Before you get all nutty on me, let me explain why I feel the way I do. Mainly it’s because I saw him pitch only four times, for a measly 21 innings, at the end of what was for him, a long season. It’s a very small sample size, and Schwinden didn’t “wow” me in that short audition. But at the same time, I’m not going to write him off, either, because again, it was a small sample size. I have to throw out his MLB debut because he was clearly nervous and tight; that gives me only three outings and about 15 innings — which, again, were at the end of a long season. In his defense, maybe his lack of velocity and movement was due to fatigue. If so, maybe he’ll look a lot better when “fresh” in February / March. But I can’t see into the future; all I can evaluate Schwinden on is what we saw in September.

And here’s what I saw: a pitcher who threw a flat fastball in the 87-88 MPH range at a level that was usually around waist-high, and often caught too much of the middle of the plate. He didn’t seem to have a true change-up, but rather, altered the speed on his fastball — which can be a good thing, when done expertly. When he did throw a straight change it was only about 6-7 MPH slower than his fastest fastball — and that’s a few MPH too fast. His curveball, to me, was his most encouraging pitch, as it had a tight rotation and 12-6 bite. On the bright side, he didn’t walk many batters, though he was very hittable.

Looking at his minor league stats, Schwinden assembled better and contrasting numbers than what he accomplished in the bigs. In 26 AAA starts, he gave up an acceptable amount of HR (0.9/9IP), allowed fewer hits than innings, struck out batters at a good rate (8.3K/9 IP), yet walked a slightly high amount (3 BB/9 IP). Prior to 2011, Schwinden’s stats are run-of-the-mill — nothing to get excited about. Combine his stats with his ordinary stuff, and he would seem to be nothing more than filler material on a AAA club — though, maybe just a bit better than that. Yet, after taking a step forward in Buffalo and making four OK starts, some people suggest that Schwinden could compete for a spot in the 2012 Mets rotation.

2012 Projection

As much as I’d like to see it, I’m not seeing Schwinden as a viable candidate for the Mets rotation next spring. I need to see another step forward, and I need to see more to be convinced he can retire MLB hitters consistently. Because of his out of nowhere rise to MLB and similar lack of eye-popping velocity, some compare Schwinden to Dillon Gee. Here’s my take: if anything, Schwinden is a “poor man’s Dillon Gee” — and Gee is a “poor man’s Bobby Jones”. That doesn’t mean Schwinden won’t ever again pitch in MLB. Quite the contrary — I fully expect to see him pitch for the Mets again, and likely next year. But that doesn’t mean I think he’s ready to crack into an MLB rotation and make 30 starts. Let’s give him a bit more time to show us what he can do before making any judgment.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. NormE November 21, 2011 at 9:15 am
    I found your Schwinden—Gee—Jones comparison to be very accurate. Probably every franchise has Schwinden-types in the minors. If the Mets had a top notch pitching staff
    Chris Schwinden would never see the big leagues.
    • MikeT November 21, 2011 at 2:24 pm
      The problem with that comparison, Norm, is that Bobby Jones was once a highly touted prospect. Gee and Schwinden both made a name for themselves by proving people wrong. In that way perhaps they are more Rick Reed than Bobby Jones (considerably less productive thus far however). Reed was a 26th round pick by the Pirates in 1986 (Gee and Schwinden were mid-20s), and by the time he got to the Mets he was a league average pitcher at best (also a scab, which is hard to forget). Then he posted back to back 4.1 WAR seasons in ’97 and ’98. Makes you wonder… but I digress.

      Jones and Pelfrey might be the better comparison. Jones had a WAR of 9.7 in his Mets career of 8 years, while Pelfrey has a 5.7 in 6 seasons. Both were 1st round picks and both had a bit of hype around them. I’d love for Pelfrey to be as good as Jones. But it is really obvious that Gee and Schwinden are no Bobby Jones.

  2. MikeT November 21, 2011 at 10:23 am
    I’m not really sure who would be upset by your comments, Joe. Personally I identified him as the next guy to be called up, and I was right, but I never felt he was anything more than Dillon Gee. I’m curious who these folks are that were excited about Schwinden as anything more.

    AAA for him, perhaps a roll in the MLB bullpen as a long man in the future. He’ll get a few spot starts. If he is a regular in the MLB rotation that would be bad. But as a depth guy we should hope he succeeds in AAA and provides capable innings when called upon.

  3. NormE November 21, 2011 at 7:15 pm
    Mike T.,
    I see your point about Rick Reed, but Schwinden, Gee and Jones all came up thru the Mets system. I think that’s why
    Joe J.’s comparison is still a good one.
    I do agree that Jones was a better pitcher than Reed. His
    game against the Giants was one of the best games ever pitched by a Met.
    • Joe Janish November 21, 2011 at 11:38 pm
      Thanks Norm.

      I get Mike’s point. But, when I make the comparison to Jones, I’m not looking at their collective pasts — because frankly, I don’t see anything special in comparing what’s already happened. And to quote Satchel Paige: “don’t look back – something might be gaining on you”.

      Rather, I think it’s more useful and interesting to suggest what might happen in the future. And regardless of where these men started their careers, what I see in the futures of Schwinden and Gee — as an absolute ceiling — is Bobby Jones. Which in my mind, is pretty darn good. If Schwinden and/or Gee can be as good as Jones was, they’ll make a pretty penny during their baseball careers.

      • MikeT November 22, 2011 at 9:07 am
        Actually Joe that was exactly my point. Reed’s peek was higher, and he had a longer career, but Jones was pretty good for a few years. If Gee or Schwinden reach Jones’ level then they will be quite successful overall and I’d take it in a heartbeat.