Game 26, Mariners at Padres

marc w · April 23, 2019 at 5:06 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Erik Swanson vs. Nick Margevicius, 7:07pm

I’ve talked a lot about the M’s low-strikeout rotation and how Yusei Kikuchi’s doing perhaps a bit too much to fit in, with his fastball not missing many bats despite solid velocity. Today, though, we get someone who really doesn’t fit in. Erik Swanson’s only pitched in two games, and only one start, but what we’ve seen thus far is essentially the anti-Marco Gonzales. Where Marco mixes his pitches and keeps hitters guessing, Swanson’s gonna throw heaters. Where Marco pitches to contact, Swanson wants whiffs. Where Marco manages contact, Swanson wants to eliminate it.

Swanson’s going to throw high fastballs and if batters don’t miss it, they often hit it in the air. That’s a dangerous game to play in the juiced-ball era, but it’s worked in his first handful of innings. It’s a very on-trend way to baseball. Getting whiffs on fastballs and not worrying too much about ground balls is one of the hallmarks of the Indians’ rotation; Trevor Bauer’s GB% has tanked this year, and Mike Clevinger’s was under 40% in the early going as well (before his injury), and both are racking up strikeouts. Gerald Schifman’s got a great article at BP today talking about pitchers abandoning the sinker en masse, with a large drop from 2018 to 2019, accelerating a trend that’s been underway since hitters learned to elevate low pitches and turn them into long balls instead of GBs. What Clevinger and perhaps Swanson are doing exemplifies the countermeasure from pitchers.

While Swanson’s four-seam looks a bit like Clevinger’s (the guy with the best whiff rate on the pitch in the big leagues), it looks even more like another young pitcher we’ve heard a lot about this year, the Padres Chris Paddack. Both pitches have very good vertical “rise” and thus play well at the top of the zone. Paddack’s has 4+” of armside run and 10.4″ of rise, while Swanson’s at 5″ of run and 10.5″ of rise. Both generate more whiffs than average, but Paddack gets a ton of foul balls. With 94-95mph velo, it’s a very helpful pitch to get batters behind or to catch them when they’re looking out for his actual out-pitch, the change. If Swanson has an out-pitch, it’s probably his slider, but he hasn’t needed to throw all that many of them. It’s sitting on an obscene whiff rate now, but he’s thrown less than 20 of them, so it’s hard to know where it’ll settle in. But what’s clear is that his great fastball sets it up, both as a way to get ahead in the count and to change eye-level (the FB’s thrown all over, but especially up in the zone, and the slider can break down and below the zone).

So, vertical rise, plenty of whiffs…this is about spin rate, right? Noooo, it’s not. Out of the 268 pitchers that have thrown at least 50 fastballs, Swanson’s spin rate ranks 148th. Paddack’s ranks 179th. They’re very efficient, but these guys aren’t lighting up the statcast leaderboards. This highlights that spin rate on its own can be an underwhelming skill. One of the top pitchers in the game right now, and one of the highest raw spin rate AND velocity-adjusted spin rate pitchers is the Angels’ Chris Stratton. The guy who’s sporting an ERA of 7 this year, and was over 5 last year in San Francisco. Meanwhile, Clevinger’s got nearly an identical rate to Swanson, and Bauer and Josh Hader are all in the same, middle-of-the-pack area.


1: Haniger, RF
2: Santana, LF
3: Encarnacion, 1B
4: Beckham, SS
5: Healy, 3B
6: Gordon, 2B
7: Murphy, C
8: Smith, CF
9/SP: Swanson

These games with our natural rival are always intense, but the battle’s taken on new significance this year, as USSMariner founder Dave Cameron is now working for the hated Padres. I’m still reeling from the deception, and while he may make them better (and, you know, that Machado guy helps too), I hope his dark arts aren’t enough. Let this serve as my pledge: I shall not abandon you to go work for another team. The fact that no team is remotely interested in me has no bearing on the weight of this solemn vow. I raise a toast to my own honor and rectitude, and also to the Seattle Mariners baseball club.


8 Responses to “Game 26, Mariners at Padres”

  1. Sportszilla on April 23rd, 2019 5:46 pm

    Hard to say which hurts more: Dave betraying us to work for our mortal enemies, or Jeff betraying us to…make a bunch of trades with us, I guess?

  2. Edward Baker on April 23rd, 2019 6:45 pm

    When Paddack pitched against us in Peoria he was actuallly throwing three fastballs. One was straight ahead with good movement, another tailed in on the hands, and the third was the rising fastball. All three were very effective.

  3. Stevemotivateir on April 23rd, 2019 8:04 pm

    Cheers, Marc!

  4. bookbook on April 23rd, 2019 8:25 pm

    Marc W. Is ours, and you can’t have him.

  5. Stevemotivateir on April 23rd, 2019 9:16 pm

    What should have been an out became a 2-run dinger at the expense of Gearrin.

    Baseball isn’t fair.

  6. Stevemotivateir on April 23rd, 2019 9:37 pm

    At the expense of Swanson as well.

  7. LongDistance on April 24th, 2019 4:14 am

    Never say never. The last time I told someone I would never, ever leave, that I would be there until the bitter or joyful or whatever end, the phone rang three days later and I was whisked away into yet another adventure.
    I’m not wishing that… except if that was a great thing for you…
    This is the first place I come to, when checking up on the M’s, even before going to look at the standings. I find it sweetens the experience (or, more usually, softens the blow).
    Yours, in appreciation…

  8. sankthetank on April 24th, 2019 11:57 am

    @LongDistance — well said! Marc, your work is always appreciated.

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