Thursday, August 7, 2014

Anthony Swarzak, low-leverage ace

Anthony Swarzak pitches in the 10th inning Wednesday.
He surrendered the game-winning homer to Seth Smith
and took his first loss of the year.
(Note: Stats updated)

Anthony Swarzak got the call for the 10th inning of a tied game Wednesday afternoon. He gave up a home run, and the Twins lost.

It fits a multi-year pattern for Swarzak. Bring him into a game that's been decided, and he pitches well. Use him in a winnable game, he fares ill.

That the 2004 second-round draft pick has fared better as a reliever than as a starter over the years is no secret. For his career, Swarzak has a 5.66 ERA in 29 starts, a 3.72 ERA in his 136 relief outings.

But Swarzak's problems in close, winnable relief outings is almost as strong. Baseball Reference splits relief outings into three categories: High Leverage, Medium Leverage and Low Leverage, based on win expectancy. For his career, Swarzak has allowed a slash line of .320/.368/.487 in high leverage situations, .282/.338/.429 in medium leverage situations, and .262/.309/.401 in low leverage situations.

Swarzak's splits for this year: .333/.467/.667 in high leverage, .349/.391./465 medium, .232/.269/.318 low. He has faced 31 batters in high leverage situations and walked six of them; he has faced 160 in low leverage situations and walked eight of them.

There are two alternative interpretations available. One is that this pattern is a fluke -- a multi-year fluke. It's possible. Even his career splits involve less than 230 batters in high leverage situations.

The other is that there is a legitimate difference in his abilities in tight situations. Perhaps the moment gets to him, the adrenaline rush is too much, and he grips the ball too tightly or something of that nature.

Swarazk's success in long relief and mop-up chores has prompted Ron Gardenhire to test him occasionally in set-up situations, and those have frequently gone awry. (For his career, Swarzak has seven holds, no saves and four blown saves, which means he's been brought into 11 "save situations" and coughed up the lead in four of them.)

Wednesday wasn't a save situation, but it was an important situation -- tied in extra innings is high leverage indeed. And, once again, Swarzak didn't get it done.

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