After several days of anticipation, Phillies fans finally got to see highly-touted relief prospect Michael Schwimer make his MLB debut yesterday against the Washington Nationals. The right-hander averaged nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, helping him maintain a 1.88 ERA. A rain delay shortened Roy Halladay‘s outing, opening the door for Schwimer to get his first taste of the big leagues, starting the bottom of the sixth inning.
While fans were hoping for a storybook start to his Major League career, Rookie of the Year candidate Danny Espinosa had other things in mind. The Nationals’ second baseman drove Schwimer’s second pitch, a fastball down the middle, well beyond the fence in right-center field. Quite the inauspicious start, given the hype. However, Schwimer quickly rebounded and retired the next three Nationals for an otherwise easy inning.
As the Phillies will play 23 games in the next 24 days, giving the rest of the bullpen a breather was a goal for Charlie Manuel — after winning the game, of course. So, Schwimer was called upon to pitch not just one but three innings, a yeoman’s effort as the late Harry Kalas would say. Schwimer’s second inning of work in the seventh went much more smoothly — he struck out the side, the #1-3 hitters in the Nationals lineup. The eighth inning was nearly as smooth: he got two quick outs, including a Jayson Werth strikeout, and worked around an Espinosa single to end the inning.
All told, the rookie’s line in his Major League debut: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HR. Quite good.
Schwimer showcased a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a slider, and a change-up. You can see a .gif for each pitch after the jump, a warning to those of you with low bandwidth or otherwise slow computers.
Pitch F/X labels it as a change-up, but some scouting reports note that Schwimer throws a splitter, so this may just be a case of a mistaken categorization. For now, I will refer to the pitches as PFX sees them.
Overall, Schwimer threw 43 pitches: 17 fastballs (39.5%), 20 sliders (46.5%), and six change-ups (14%). He induced three swinging strikes (7%), two with the slider and one with the fastball. 63% of his pitches went for strikes. He seemed to have good command of his slider once the butterflies went away, as he threw those for strikes 75% of the time. Meanwhile, he was only able to throw one of his six change-ups for strikes.
Schwimer’s fastball averaged 92 MPH and maxed out at 94; the slider averaged 83 MPH and maxed at 86; and the change-up averaged 82 MPH and maxed out at 83.
While Pitch F/X only shows Schwimer throwing one fastball, it appears he actually throws both a four-seam fastball and a two-seam fastball, as shown above. His two-seamer is more of a tailer than a sinker, similar to that of Cliff Lee.
The 10 MPH separation between fastball and change-up is useful. As another example, Cole Hamels has 9.5 MPH separation between his fastball and change-up on average. The better the pitcher is at making the two pitches look similar, and the more velocity differential there is between the two pitches, the faster (and better) the hitter must be at differentiating them.
This chart, via Brooks Baseball, shows the spin of each pitch along with the release point. Notice that the “change-ups” are grouped with the fastballs — this is a good thing, telling us that Schwimer does a good job making his change/split look like a fastball in every way possible aside from speed.
Schwimer’s slider is his strikeout pitch. Each of his four strikeouts ended on a slider. Given his prodigious strikeout rates in the Minors, look for the right-hander to continue to rely on it for his success as he continues to learn the ropes in the Majors.
All told, it looks like the Phillies have yet another gem of a reliever. He may yet join the ranks of Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes as both became key cogs in the Phillies’ bullpen despite a relative lack of experience.
Many thanks to Lucas Apostoleris, who provided tremendous assistance with the pitch data. You can follow him on Twitter @DBITLefty and find his work at FanGraphs, Beyond the Box Score, The Hardball Times, and his blog Don’t Bring In the Lefty.