Michael Schwimer: Pitch-by-Pitch Stat Geek

Michael Schwimer wasn’t happy with his performance last Friday. The 26-year-old right-hander threw a scoreless ninth inning when Triple-A Lehigh Valley beat Scranton Wilkes-Barre. He also earned a save. But the Phillies’ stat-geek pitching prospect looks beyond the numbers that can be found in a box score. After each game, Schwimer charts his pitches and grades them with a plus-minus system.

Schwimer broke down his April 5 outing, pitch-by-pitch, when Philadelphia’s Triple-A club visited Pawtucket a few days later.

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Schwimer, on charting his outings: “After the game, I look at the film and chart every pitch that I threw. The first thing I chart is my intent. For instance, the intent could be a fastball away. I give it either a plus or a minus depending on whether I was able to physically do what my mind intended it to. That’s a piece of data that FanGraphs or Pitch-FX can’t be helpful with, because they don’t know my intent on the pitch.

“I also read the hitter’s movements and reactions. I chart every pitch and every reaction I get on that pitch. From that information, I formulate a game plan as to how to approach that same hitter in the future.

“When I do the charting, I try to take out baseball’s traditional-result goals. As a reliever, if you give up a few hits and a run, that’s considered a bad outing. I take that out of consideration and put into consideration how many times I was able to make the pitch I wanted to make. In the long run, the more often I’m able to make the pitch I want, the more often I’m going to get good results.

“Obviously, the best result for me is a strikeout. That eliminates any possible chance of a runner reaching first base. The worst result is a walk, because that eliminates any chance for me to get the batter out. A home run is obviously worse than a walk, but home runs can be tricky. Some of them could be outs in certain ballparks.”

On pitch selection: “Every single pitch I throw is driven by me. You can ask the catchers I’ve played with. I shake off a lot. There is one specific pitch and one specific area I want to throw. I’m responsible for that pitch.

“The way I get better is by learning from mistakes. If I’m convinced about a pitch and it’s the wrong pitch — I get beat on it — I learn from that. If I’m a yes-man pitcher and always just throw what the catcher calls, it’s harder for me to tell why I gave that hit up. I have a game plan for every single pitch that I throw.

“That frustrates some catchers, but other catchers love it. Their attitude is, ‘You’re thinking the game and that’s great.’ I’m fortunate enough to have two catchers here, Tuffy [Gosewisch] and [Erik] Kratz, that are on board with that. Kratz caught me the majority of last year, so with him I probably shake off less than I ever have in my life. But I still shake off.

“The organizational philosophy is that you’re in charge. You’re responsible for your pitch. They like it when the pitchers call their own games. Of course, at the big-league level with Carlos Ruiz and Brian Schneider there, they know the hitters. They have scouting reports and far more advanced data, from FanGraphs and [internally], that I don’t have access to. I also haven’t faced most of the hitters up there.

“I also read on the run. I have my game plan, but hitters change. While they’re creatures of habit, they’re not always going to do exactly what they did last time. When I was [with the Phillies] last year, I shook off at times because I read something in the hitter and wanted to go to a certain pitch. The [big league] catchers also don’t know my stuff as well as they know the starting pitchers they’ve worked with for the last five years.”

On his outing against Scranton Wilkes-Barre on April 5: “When I came in, we were ahead 3-0 and it was the ninth inning. I was looking to throw strikes and get weak contact, and I was looking to throw my sinker to get ground balls.

“The first batter I faced was Francisco Cervelli. My first pitch was a sinker down and away, just out of the zone. That’s a pitch I was working on a lot during spring training. Before, I had been throwing all four-seams. My second pitch was another sinker away, again a ball. I followed that with a four-seam fastball. At 2-0, I just wanted to throw a strike, but I missed high and inside to make it 3-0. I threw another four-seam fastball, this time for a strike. On 3-1, I threw a sinker away — which is how I had started the at bat — looking to get a ground ball. I just missed, down out of the zone again, and walked him.

“The second batter I faced was Doug Bernier, another right-handed hitter. I fell behind on a first-pitch sinker, trying to get a double play. It was ball one and the way he took it showed me that he was probably taking all the way. He was either taking a first-pitch strike or, because the batter before him walked, he was waiting for me to throw a strike. Expecting him to be taking again, I then threw a slower four-seam fastball, aiming right down the middle. I threw a strike, making the count 1-1. Having just thrown an effortless 4-seam fastball I decided to gear up and throw him my best fastball. Just as planned, I executed the pitch and he took a very late swing and missed the ball. The count was now 1-2 and I decide to go right to a put-away slider. I end up yanking the pitch for a ball. With the count 2-2, I wanted to go with either a ground-ball pitch or a strikeout pitch. I went with my slider, which I threw exactly how I wanted to throw it, he took the pitch and the umpire called the ball low.

“That made the count 3-2, in a 3-0 game, and I had just thrown a slider after he had swung through a fastball. One of my biggest strengths is that I can throw any of my pitches on 3-2 — either a fastball, changeup or slider — which a lot of these hitters know from having faced me before. I elected to throw a four-seamer away. It ended up being inside and he hit the ball pretty well to center field. Fortunately it was a line-drive out.

“The third hitter I faced was Ramiro Pena. He’s a switch hitter, so he was up left-handed against me. I got ahead 0-1 on a sinker away, then went straight to a changeup, hoping to end the game with a ground ball. My changeup is a four-seam changeup, so it looks just like my fastball. I missed again, up and arm side. It was a bad miss. Now I’ve thrown two changeups and both of them were bad misses, up and arm side. I like my changeup a lot, but it just wasn’t coming out of my hand right. It was a release point issue that I thought I could correct, so I threw it again. The location wasn’t good — it was up in the strike zone — but he fouled it straight back. Now the count is 1-2, so I try to bury a slider down and in, to his back foot. I started it down the middle and it cut really in on him. He got the barrel out and pulled it hard, and way foul. Now I’m a little confused. I had just come off back-to-back changeups, and his bat speed was on fastball, on a 1-2 count.

“Now I’m thinking that he’s thinking with me. He’s on my wavelength, so I decide I’m going to throw a 1-2 fastball. I threw a four-seam, inside, and got it by him. He just barely fouled it off. It was a perfect pitch, exactly what I wanted to do with it. I’ve sped him up, so now I’m going to slow him up with a nice little changeup away. I wanted it down — again, I’m looking for a ground ball — but it went way high, above my catcher’s mask. He swung through it for a strikeout. I made the right pitch, badly executed, and got away with it. In my book, it was a lucky strikeout.

“The next hitter was Raymond Kruhl, a left-handed hitter. My first pitch was a fastball for strike one. My second pitch was a changeup, for a ball. Again, it was up. At this point I’m stubborn and thinking to myself that if I can throw a good changeup, the game is over. This time I finally throw a good changeup and he’s way out front. It’s a strike — down and away — and he hits an easy pop-out behind second base. That was the game.”

On grading his performance: “I was very upset with my outing. The box score read, ‘one inning, no hits, one walk, one strikeout, save.’ Looking beyond those numbers, it was very disappointing. I threw 20 pitches and executed 10 of them. If I continue executing pitches on a 50-percent basis — and my sinker only one time out of six — I’m not going to get those results. Over the long haul, I’m going to do much worse. Execution-wise, that game was very frustrating for me.

“In a game like that, because I didn’t execute very well, I learn less data-wise. I do, however, learn a lot about myself as a pitcher. In this case, I learned a fix for my changeup. With all of those changeups, each time I tried a little tiny something different. It didn’t work, didn’t work, four straight times. Finally, the fifth time it worked. I moved my right index finger a little up on the seam and got the pitch down. The next time, if I miss up to the arm side, I can move my finger on the seam.

“Every outing, I learn from. In this particular game I learned more about making faster, quicker adjustments. When I’m doing a better job of executing all of my pitches, I learn a lot about the hitters. That’s the data side of learning how to get hitters out. ”




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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA


19 Responses to “Michael Schwimer: Pitch-by-Pitch Stat Geek”

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  1. mko says:

    That’s awesome, very interesting. Thank you for posting the interview.

    Also, thanks to Michael Schwimer for sharing his thought process with us.

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  2. Dan in Philly says:

    Schwim has been great posting over at Phuture Phillies over the years, and this is typical of what he writes. I also very much appreciate the fact he pointed out the obvious: that at fangraphs and PitchFx they don’t know what the pitcher intended to do, and what the plan is, and therefore are looking at the results with one eye shut, as it were.

    Wonderful article, thanks for posting.

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  3. cable fixer says:

    great interview and topic!

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  4. Hosehound25 says:

    Great article and perspective from Schwimer – though I’m not surprised. I actually went to school with Michael at UVA and had a class with him. Based on his attendance/performance in the class I could tell early on that he wasn’t your average college jock. I’m encouraged that players are beginning to look more at execution and less at results. I believe Daniel Bard made a similar comment after his outing the other night. In short, that if you looked beyond the standard results/accounting statistics you’d see he actually pitched a bit better than advertised.

    Great piece – I hope to see more like it in the future.

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  5. DD says:

    Looks like Schwimer is the only sabermatrician the Phillies employ.

    Great detail into the thought process of a pitcher, this was an excellent read.

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  6. Mario Mendoza of commenters says:

    How does he translate the analysis into actually improving execution?

    From the little I played, I found the more I stressed and focused on executing a pinpoint action, the worse it got. In fact, this whole intent/results thing could have a negative effect on a lot of pitchers, though it obviously hasn’t held Schwimer back any.

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    • Slacker George says:

      Schwimer mentioned that he adjusted in-game on his change-up by moving his finger. He didn’t mention what the other adjustments that he tried (and that failed). I’d guess that limiting any in-game change to sequencing and non-muscle-memory type stuff would be the better course.

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  7. Cookierojas16 says:

    Great piece sharing insights from another eminent Wahoo. I would point out that beyond the subtle and true point that a pitcher’s performance can be evaluated vis a vis his intention, there is also a question of evaluating his intention. By saying that he shakes off catchers more than most pitchers, Schwimer seems to be saying that catchers (or bench coaches) are typically calling the game, at least at the minor league level. I wonder at what point ability to call your own game is perceived as an asset to a pitcher rather than an example of “independent thinking”, so hated by many ole ballplayers in the front offices.

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  8. CircleChange11 says:

    I love this stuff. If he and I were teammates, we could probably drive everyone else crazy in a very short time period.

    I take that out of consideration and put into consideration how many times I was able to make the pitch I wanted to make. In the long run, the more often I’m able to make the pitch I want, the more often I’m going to get good results.

    I threw 20 pitches and executed 10 of them. If I continue executing pitches on a 50-percent basis — and my sinker only one time out of six — I’m not going to get those results. Over the long haul, I’m going to do much worse. Execution-wise, that game was very frustrating for me.

    I do love the focus on the individual pitch execution rather than the final results.

    I also agree with Mario …. thinking like this may harm as many pitchers as it helps if they cannot keep it in perspective . I certainly would not advise every pitcher to do this.

    I also like that he saves his analysis for AFTER the game.

    But, really, when you think about it … his conclusion is that he needs to hit his spots to be successful. I love the stuff he does, but we shouldn’t consider it a real benefit to him or think that others should do it … because the result is obvious … pitchers need to hit their spots, and when they don’t sometimes they get lucky.

    We strongly prefer stats because that’s our preference and nature. I strongly prefer the stuff this guy does because it’s my kind of crazy. But, we shouldn’t suggest that it’s for everyone. I’m sure there are time when MS significantly overthinks situations, and creates problems for himself. If he doesn’t, then good for him.

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    • Slacker George says:

      Eventually, intent % (execution) and the stats have to converge. Therefore, if the long-term stats are bad, then either the execution is bad or the plan is bad or the arm is bad; any way you look at it, the pitcher is bad.

      In the short term, I can see where this is a much better input into a feedback loop than baseball statistics.

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  9. mikal says:

    Awesome article. Thanks for writing this.

    Now get on making a pitcher intent stat.

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  10. bill says:

    Interesting quote in there -
    “Of course, at the big-league level with Carlos Ruiz and Brian Schneider there, they know the hitters. They have scouting reports and far more advanced data, from FanGraphs and [internally]”

    So the Phillies do have advanced data…

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  11. Fletch says:

    Many thanks to Mr. Laurila for writing this up. I found this to be one of the most fascinating articles I’ve ever read on this site, and that’s saying something in my opinion. Getting into the head of a pitcher with this kind of brain is just way too cool.

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  12. Dingbat Charlie says:

    Sweet. I picked Savery over Schwim in the late rounds of a DMB rookie draft. If I’d read this beforehand I might’ve done otherwise (it was a tough choice).

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  13. Brian says:

    Cool article. I’d think knowing he’s up 3-0 in the 9th, though, he wouldn’t focus so much on a located sinker with a 1-0 and 3-1 count on the leadoff hitter and just throw strikes until he got up in the count. He seems to be aware of the situation (WPA on a walk is not that far off a HR in that situation), but he’s still nibbling at the corners instead of challenging the hitter to hit himself on base. Maybe he’s got better control than he displayed there, but I tend to think walking the leadoff hitter in the 9th inning with a multi-run lead is inexcusable.

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  14. @Nik

    I’m sure neither the MLB or MiLB clubs favor a pitcher nibbling on 3-1 with a 3-0 lead just so the P can refine his skills.

    I’m certain the manager, whose job does depend on W-L, doesn’t favor walking batters because you’re trying to make a perfect pitch.

    MS himself stated the downside of a walk, so I’d guess he understands context and risking walks with a lead. No baseball boss is going to frown on a pitcher giving up a hit on 3-1 with a 3-0 lead. A walk and then giving up a hit is a completely different story. 3-run saves are supposed to be gimmes, not time to try and refine skills for future use.

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