I was going to do a write up on Matt McSwain, but I stumbled on to this game report from back in May, and unless I flat out plagiarize, there’s no way I could do as good of a job. So check out the link to find out about McSwain’s history, and I’ll add a little bit of my own analysis below.
Here’s every pitch that McSwain threw on Sunday night.
Final Numbers for McSwain:
Total Pitches: 87
1st Inning Pitches: 7
2nd Inning Pitches: 14
3rd Inning Pitches: 10
4th Inning Pitches: 13
5th Inning Pitches: 9
6th Inning Pitches: 13
7th Inning Pitches: 21
First Pitch Strikes: 16/24 batters
Fastball Speed: 85-88 MPH
McSwain did a great job of pounding the strike zone. 14 of the 24 batters he faced saw three or fewer pitches. He only went to a three ball count twice in the game. He only went to a two ball count six times out of 24 batters. Only five batters saw more than four pitches, and three of those at-bats ended in strikeouts. That’s efficiency.
McSwain came in to the season ranked as the 12th best right handed starting prospect in the Pirates’ system, according to Baseball America. In 24 starts this season he has a 3.50 ERA, and a 63:23 K/BB ratio with three homers in 136.1 innings pitched. The strikeouts aren’t much, but he doesn’t walk a lot of guys, and doesn’t allow a lot of home runs.
This was my second time seeing McSwain. I’ve noticed that he’s not afraid to pitch to contact, letting the defense do the work. Four of his first five outs could have easily been hits, depending on how they were played. He got several line drive outs by Matt Hague, Jordy Mercer, and Chase d’Arnaud.
It doesn’t always work that way though. When I saw him on the 15th of August, he allowed seven hits in 5.2 innings pitched, with four runs allowed. McSwain has 12 quality starts in 24 starts this season. Four of the non-quality starts have been good, just not with enough innings to qualify. The other eight starts have yielded an individual game ERA of 5.00 or higher.
It’s hard to project him, mostly because he’s 24 years old and still in high A ball, although he just turned 24 last week. If we assumed a level a year, that puts him in the majors in the 2012 season at the age of 26, turning 27 later in the season. That’s also assuming he advances through AA and AAA with the same success that he’s seen in Lynchburg this season.
I don’t really see the odds of that happening. One thing that is going against McSwain is his fastball, which was around 85-88 MPH on Sunday night. He pounds the strike zone, and has a good mix of pitches, but it’s harder to get by with that type of approach the further you climb up the ladder. The biggest thing he has going for him is a high ground ball ratio: 51.1% for his career, including 52.6% this year. Since he’s a pitch to contact guy, it’s good to have a majority of that contact come in the form of what normally is an easy out.
If I had to project him out, I’d say he could become a Jeff Karstens type guy: a bullpen arm who can pitch a few innings of relief, and do the occasional spot start. The only drawback to that is that McSwain is actually better as a starter, with a .272 BAA in the minors as a starter, and a .307 BAA in the minors as a reliever.
Overall I’m not saying it’s impossible for McSwain to continue this success all the way to the majors, but I am saying that the odds are stacked against him. Then again, for a guy who went through Tommy John surgery in college, went undrafted, signed as a free agent, and bounced back and forth between the bullpen and rotation for two seasons, having the odds stacked against him seems to be the norm.