It’s not unattainable to get better from a nasty first impression, however it does elevate the problem stage to “professional.” Knock over a glass of water when the waiter is midway by reciting the specials, run into your new boss whereas on a sweats-and-unbrushed-hair grocery retailer run, confess your distaste of anime on a primary date solely to have your companion elevate their shirtsleeve to point out a lovingly detailed Goku tattoo; all these items can possible be overcome, with ample effort and time. The issue for a serious league reliever is you’re not all the time given the time you’ll want to come right, and typically irrespective of how a lot effort you expend, it’s not all the time sufficient.
Erik Swanson got here to Seattle as part of the James Paxton commerce that signaled the start of Seattle’s don’t-call-it-a-rebuild within the 2018-2019 offseason, and Mariners followers’ first impressions of him—past being the price of their beloved Large Maple—was Swanson coming into a sport in early April towards the Royals assigned to guard a one-run deficit and as a substitute giving up back-to-back doubles and a single to let the Royals pull forward by three. The Mariners would come again and win that sport in ten innings due to some Vogelbachian heroics, however the first-impression injury was accomplished. The Mariners tried shifting Swanson into the rotation, because the back-end starter he was projected to be, however his stuff merely didn’t idiot main league hitters a number of instances by the order, and by the tip of the season, it was fairly clear the bullpen could be Swanson’s long-term residence. Even a seven-game scoreless innings streak to shut out the season wasn’t sufficient to undo the bitter first style of his early-season struggles, touchdown Swanson with an FIP pushing 6 and an ugly HR/FB charge of 23%.
Swanson solely tossed seven innings within the COVID-shortened 2020 season, coping with a forearm pressure, and though he was in a position to enhance his strikeout charge modestly (to a good 24.3%) whereas sustaining strong command of his walks, the homer concern endured. Sufferer of a small pattern dimension, maybe, however three homers allowed in beneath eight innings is unhealthy irrespective of the way you slice it. Swanson was additionally held off the sector in 2021, coping with a groin pressure that saved him shelved from late Might till early July. Encouragingly, over a barely bigger pattern dimension of 35 innings, Swanson’s 2020 numbers normalized; he struck out precisely the identical proportion of batters he did in 2020, though walked fairly a number of extra (nonetheless a reasonably reasonable 7%), and noticed his ERA regress right down to a single digit quantity (and one which begins with a 3, even), with an FIP of round 4. Most significantly, that noisy HR/FB% fell all the best way right down to beneath 10%, suggesting a pitcher who should still be homer-prone, however not unplayably so.
However the injury to Swanson’s repute was accomplished in by these early outings—simply verify Mariners Twitter when he enters a sport late and shut, a veritable sea of NOOOOOO response photos—and hasn’t been helped out this spring by a current look towards the Rangers the place he surrendered a double and two residence runs to nearly blow what ought to have been a simple Mariners win. It might seem that no less than this spring, the homer monster is again, and it’s hungry.
Since shifting to the bullpen, Swanson has adjusted his pitch combine since his days as a starter, and much more so lately. He ditched his changeup and launched a break up finger in 2020, which he threw about on par along with his slider in 2021, giving him a mixture that’s roughly 20% sliders, 20% splitties, and 60% fastballs. It’s that fastball, although, that’s the issue. In 2021, batters hit .250 towards his four-seam, which is middling-good, however they slugged .500 towards it, which is moredling-bad, and particularly when that’s the pitch you’re throwing nearly two-thirds of the time. It’s irritating, as a result of it must be a greater pitch; Swanson’s four-seam has elite, near-perfect 99% active spin, giving it wonderful driving motion. It ought to work. It ought to work! And but, for no matter motive, batters see this pitch and their eyes come out of their heads just like the Pizza Hut employee simply put out a contemporary dessert pizza on the buffet (#90sKidsThings):
It seems that good, however not elite, velocity + elite driving motion solely does a lot when the pitch winds up in the course of the plate. Ah, however when it’s on the high of the plate however curls in a bit? Welp, it also gets punished (and that is Martín Maldonado, not precisely often called an offensive risk). Okay, however what if it’s on the high of the zone however away from a batter, and in addition that batter is Pull King Joey Gallo? Effectively seize a Duff and a donut, as a result of we’re still in Homer Country, buddies. And okay, it’s not a excessive fastball within the zone, it’s only a straight-up shitty pitch, however remember when Jonah Heim walked it off twice in a row against the Mariners? That second time was additionally a Swanson meatball particular, and sure, I’m nonetheless mad about it.
One attainable offender for these crummy outcomes is that although the fastball has elite traits, it doesn’t play good with the remainder of his arsenal. Pitches pair most properly as mirror photos of each other, so ideally the slider would come in additional on the 7 or 8:00 a part of the dial, holding the hitter guessing later about whether or not the pitch could be driving up or tailing out, and hopefully inducing some uglier hacks. Because it appears, batters can both ambush him early within the rely or wait till he falls behind and sit fastball after which take their greatest reduce towards it.
So as a substitute of that includes the fastball, perhaps what Swanson wants is an effective quaint case of pitching backwards. Sooner or later, much less unhealthy fastballs please, extra hoisting Shohei along with his personal petard:
Familiarity breeds contempt, and no different relationship is identical because the strained intimacy a fan feels with a middling-to-bad reliever most likely no different baseball fan acknowledges however who creates such a visceral distaste that you simply catch your self being a bit meaner to individuals who share the identify (“you certain you bought all that, Bobby?” “Have an amazing day, Brandon”). Swanson’s poor first impression, for a group with no reliable hopes of constructing it to the post-season, might be papered over if he adjusts and turns into the pitcher he’s proven flashes of over the 2021 season, serving to the new-look Mariners lock away wins late into video games. If he continues down the trail of mop-up man with an unlucky propensity to surrender homers, although, not even queen Olivia Pope herself might rehabilitate his picture.