The importance of a swingman to a bullpen and rotation is often underappreciated, and something the Blue Jays desperately need in 2018
What is a swingman?
Glad you asked.
Remember Brian Tallet?
He was a swingman.
While he was also referred to as Brian No-Talent, Brian Tallet was able to fill multiple roles for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2009 and 2010. During the ’09 and ’10 season, Tallet provided manager Cito Gaston multiple innings when his starter wasn’t on his game or guy that could finish a game when the outcome was well in hand. More importantly, Tallet provided the Blue Jays manager with a 6th starter when needed.
You see, a swingman is a multiple innings reliever and starter rolled into one. He’s a reliever which is called upon to save the bullpen wear and tear when the score is 6-0 in the 4th or 6th, for you or the other guys, to finish the game. He is the guy that steps in for a spot start when one of the regular starters require an extra day or two rest.
The 2017 version of the Blue Jays lacked that ‘swingman’ and I think it’s because they didn’t need it in 2015 and 2016 because of the health of the rotation.
Biagini Could Be One
Now many of you will say Joe Biagini was the Blue Jays ‘swingman’ in 2017 and you wouldn’t be wrong.
Joe Biagini was taken out of the bullpen and used as a starter, this much is correct; however, Biagini never pitched more than 2.0IP as a reliever prior to being removed from the bullpen. He wasn’t being used in a mop up role, rather, he was being used as John Gibbons 7th/8th inning setup man and being used in high leverage situations.
In my opinion, that is not a swingman. The fact that Biagini went from the bullpen to the rotation was more an act of desperation and misuse of a very good relief pitcher.
A Case for Santos
Think the Toronto Blue Jays should explore Luis Santos as a possible swingman in 2018.
Luis Santos first came to the Blue Jays organization as a free agent in April 2015. He was assigned to the Advanced-A Dunedin Blue Jays and has spent the 3 season bouncing around Toronto’s upper minors providing the three levels with relief and starting pitching depth.
In 2015, Santos pitched to a record of 6-6 with a 4.55 ERA. He made 16 starts and 5 relief appearances, pitching 93.0 innings for the D-Jays.
The following season the 6-foot-0 Dominican righty went 9-4 with a 3.97 ERA between Advanced-A and Double-A. Santos made 22 starts and 4 relief appearances that season.
This season Luis Santos made 4 relief appearances for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats before being called up to Triple-A Buffalo. As a member of the Herd’s pitching staff, Santos made 21 starts and 3 relief appearances. Overall, Santos went 3-13 with a 4.16 ERA in 2017.
Santos isn’t an overpowering pitcher. On average, Santos throws a 92 mph FB, an 84 mph change, and an 81 mph curve. His stuff plays up out of the bullpen but his three pitch mix can also be used in a starting role.
A Case For Chris Rowley
While I’d rather have Rowley in the rotation, Chris has more experience as a swingman than Luis Santos. In 2017 alone, the 6-foot-2 right-handed pitcher pitched +2.0 IP out of the bullpen 7 times while making 13 starts.
Through his years in the minors, Chris Rowley appeared in 69 games, making 32 starts. Even this season, his best season, Rowley made more relief appearances (16) than starts (13). As a member of the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons Rowley posted superior numbers as a starter with a record of 3-4 and a 2.27ERA and held opponents to a .236 batting average. As a reliever in Buffalo Rowley posted a record of 0-1 with a 3.78 ERA while holding opponents to a .277 batting average.
Before you poop poop the importance of the swingmen or make some blanket statement like, “all swingmen are failed starters, one step away from heading back to the minor leagues.” Remember Marco Estrada. During his years in Milwaukee, Estrada struggled as a starter and ended up as the Brewers swingman before shipping off to Toronto for Adam Lind.
While it doesn’t need to be Luis Santos or Chris Rowley or Joe Biagini. It is obvious, the Blue Jays will need to fill the swingman role in 2018. Toronto can decide to use one of their top pitching prospects in this role as a way of assessing their development while getting them some experience at the major league level.
Lastly, the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen is a fairly young group. Something I referenced in a piece I wrote in late August, Blue Jays Bullpen Future Looks Great (full article). The Blue Jays front office could decide to add more experience by signing a veteran long man or provide the organization with some starting pitching depth by signing a veteran swingman.
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