Michael Schwimer Has Been Okay Lately

Pulling a Dick Allen? Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

I understand that Michael Schwimer didn't exactly cover himself in glory in this afternoon's game (which I missed), but nevertheless, he deserves to have someone in this cruel world notice that he hasn't pitched too badly over the past few months.

Not that this should be terribly surprising. As everyone here already knows, Schwimer was acquired in the 14th round of the 2008 draft after playing four seasons at the University of Virginia. Despite excellent college stats, he wasn't a great prospect because (1) he was a senior, (2) he was just a relief pitcher, and (3) he didn't throw unusually hard. But once he got into the system, he was dominant at just about every level until he finally reached the majors with a late-season call-up in 2011. Over the offseason, John Sickels gave him a C+ prospect grade, which was pretty good for a reliever and more-or-less in line with what other experts thought of him.

Then, after starting 2012 at AAA, he was called up again in late April, and he stunk. In five appearances (6.1 IP, 30 TBF), he walked 5, struck out 3, and gave up 6 runs for a sterling 8.53 ERA (~4.5 FIP, ~6.6 xFIP). This earned him a quick trip back to Allentown.

But since returning, he's been better. Combined stats: 28 G, 27.0 IP, 111 TBF, 12 R, 11 ER, 11 BB (2 IBB), 31 K. ERA = 3.67, FIP ≈ 3.6, xFIP ≈ 3.9. Not exactly lights out, but it's a competent performance level, either at or close to the league median.

While we shouldn't overinterpret those numbers, they should remind us of a few hoary old truths.

1. Beware of small sample sizes. Think about it. If those 6.1 disastrous innings from April and May had never happened and all we could see on the cumulative 2012 stat sheet next to Schwimer's name was a 3.67 ERA, nobody would bat an eyelash. It would be entirely in line with what you'd expect from a decent-but-not-great RP prospect in his rookie season. Now, obviously, those 6.1 innings did happen: you can't just throw them out. But if a mere 6.1 innings are skewing the overall numbers and popular perceptions that much, then that probably means that the overall numbers and popular perceptions are meaningless. The point is not that the Schwimer is "really" a league-average pitcher: his league-average post-recall stats are also from a small sample (27.0 innings). Rather, the point is that whatever your opinion of Schwimer was on April 1, nothing much has happened since then that should have changed that opinion. If you liked him then, you should still like him now. If you disliked him then, you shouldn't dislike him any more now. If you knew nothing about him then, you still know nothing about him now.

2. The calendar year plays too big of a role in the interpretation of baseball statistics. In his cup of coffee last September, Schwimer pitched 14.1 innings and posted a 5.02 ERA, 4.28 FIP, and 3.87 xFIP. If Schwimer's April/May disaster had happened in September and his so-so September outings had happened in April/May, his 2012 stats would look a lot better and a lot of fans would have a much better impression of him. But why? Just because his bad stretch would have been sequestered on a different line of his baseball card? That would be silly, because there would be no change in substance: Schwimer's total career numbers would still be below-average-but-not-terrible, and the sample size would still be too small for us to draw any firm conclusions about him.

3. First impressions are overly influential. I'm sure we have all observed how difficult it is for human beings, especially those who are Philadelphia sports fans, to put aside their first impressions. Once they form, they tend to set like concrete. I heard people refer to Raul Ibanez as a "consistent" player well into his second season as a Phillie. Why? Because he'd been consistent for his first six weeks in a Phillies uniform. The truth is that first impressions are as likely as not to be wrong. Unless you correct for that bias, it will probably lead you into a lot of mistakes. If Jose Contreras hadn't gotten hurt in June, there's a fair chance that Schwimer would never have seen the light of day again: he was brought back only because the Contreras injury left the Phillies with basically no other options. If he had gotten buried based on a first impression from 6.1 innings, that would likely have been a pointless waste of cheap talent.

4. Rookies get better. Playing in the majors is hard. If you've never done it before, chances are you won't immediately perform up to your maximum capabilities. Every player is different, and of course, there are some who actually play better when they first start out, only to regress downward later. But it's more typical for young players to improve as they gain more experience.

I have no idea whether Schwimer will become a good reliever in the future, or even whether he'll continue to pitch adequately. He clearly still has a problem with walking too many guys (although he didn't walk anyone today). But he's as likely to be good in 2013 as most of the schmoes on the free agent market are.

(By the way, did anyone know that Schwimer has a huge reverse split this year? Against LHB: 12.1 IP, 2.93 FIP, 3.43 xFIP. Against RHB: 20.1 IP, 4.37 FIP, 5.12 xFIP. That's weird. Also, his FB velocity has gone up lately.)

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