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Regression sets in for Anthony Swarzak

With Matt Albers burned into the White Sox’ recent memory, the question is how long it will last

Boston Red Sox v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Every so often, I’m reminded that Anthony Swarzak inherited Matt Albers’ old number.

One such occasion was Sunday, when Swarzak gave up back-to-back hits — and the go-ahead run — after relieving James Shields in the sixth inning. He then came out for the seventh and made a wacky play on a comebacker before giving up a single, which ended up scoring on Dan Jennings’ watch.

Like Albers, Swarzak started his season with an impressive scoreless innings streak that came out of nowhere.

Like Albers, Swarzak is now battling a fierce regression.

Anthony Swarzak’s season to date

Timeframe IP H BB K ERA Line IR/IS
Timeframe IP H BB K ERA Line IR/IS
First 15 games 19.2 4 2 22 0.00 .068/.097/.085 9/1
Last 12 games 12.2 22 6 8 7.82 .400/.452/.545 9/4
Total 32.1 26 8 30 3.06 .228/.274/.307 18/5

There’s nothing wrong Swarzak’s numbers for the season, especially given that he was a spring training non-roster invitee. The problem is the one Albers encountered: When will regression decide it’s had enough? With Albers, the slide never stopped. He had a 0.00 ERA through April, and an astounding 8.17 ERA after it. Even as he approached the end of that 46-game stretch, it showed no signs of abating.

Beyond the Box Score took a snapshot of Swarzak’s hot streak just as it came to an end, and Ryan Romano saw a pitcher who threw a slider with above-average velocity and above-average command at an above-average frequency, which allowed his otherwise ordinary fastball to play up. What’s particularly useful is that Romano showed his work, so we can use the links and data Romano provided to chart Swarzak after regression/normalization.

  • Slider velocity: Holding steady at 87 mph, although it now ranks 34th highest instead of 23rd.
  • Slider frequency: Down from 55.2 percent to 52.4 percent, which is fourth-most instead of third-most.
  • Slider command: From sixth-highest frequency of down-and-away sliders to 19th (or 40 percent before, 35 percent after).

What does that last point look like visually?

That’s about a 12-percent jump in sliders for strikes, which is not ideal for a pitch he’d been using for swing-and-miss purposes. As one might expect, the more sliders he throws for strikes, the fewer swings and misses it gets. Through May 19, 48 percent of swings on his slider were whiffs. That number is down to 25 percent.

Another way to explain it visually is by looking at the rolling average of hitters chasing his stuff:

With his slider not working as well, he’s tried shifting a little of the load to his fastball, but hitters haven’t had much of a problem connecting with it.

The question from here is which version of Swarzak is closer to his true talent, and that’s more difficult to know. He didn’t start throwing a slider until a few years ago, and he didn’t start throwing it as his primary pitch until last season with the Yankees.

As luck would have it, he’s just about matched his sample from last year at this point in the season. His peripherals across the board are nearly identical, with one huge exception:

Anthony Swarzak, 2016 to 2017

2016 26 31 28 19 19 10 7 31 42.9 27.8
2017 27 32.1 26 11 11 1 8 30 40.7 2.9

If Swarzak had a longer track record, one would assume that he’d settle into a quality roughly equidistant between his most effective and least effective selves. Given the novelty that surrounds Swarzak’s situation -- a relatively new approach, a new organization and a fresh season — we’re left with questions that only time can answer, such as:

  • Can Swarzak recapture some of his early-season command, or was he merely unconscious for six weeks?
  • If his recent form is more indicative of his future form, are the home runs coming in bunches?

I’d assume that Swarzak will reverse the downswing, and with Nate Jones and Zach Putnam out and Jake Petricka still pitching into shape after his lengthy DL stint, Swarzak’s probably going to get his share of chances to pitch his way out of this funk. Albers shows that a team can get burned when that assumption never materializes.

At least the wild card isn’t in play this season. The only thing riding on Swarzak’s performance is his trade value. He’s 31 years old and a free agent after the season, so the Sox should be able to flip him for something of Yency Almonte-like interest. Seeing what Almonte turned into for the White Sox, maybe Swarzak should let somebody else have No. 34.