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.
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.