The Extremes Of Pitching: R.J. Swindle and Juan Morillo

Nathaniel StoltzSenior Analyst IJune 25, 2009

Pitchers come in all shapes and sizes. There are big power pitchers, and small finesse pitchers. There are overhand pitchers, and sidearmers. There are guys with good curves, guys with good splitters, and even a few knuckleballers. There are groundball pitchers, and flyball pitchers.

There are many other categories, but I'll bet you'd close this article before reading all of them.

Not only are there many ways to pitch, but there are also many ways to pitch effectively. However, if you really condense it down, there are two major skills pitchers should have: the ability to throw high-quality pitches (fast fastball, curvy curveball, deceptive changeup, etc.), and the ability to locate them well.

Pitchers who have excellent stuff and excellent command usually are superstars. These are the Johan Santanas, Zack Greinkes, and C.C. Sabathias of the world.

But sometimes pitchers have a lot of one and only some of the other, so you get two categories; power pitchers who throw just enough strikes to get by, and strike-throwers who have just enough stuff to get by.

Perhaps no two pitchers illustrate the extremes of these two categories better than R.J. Swindle and Juan Morillo.

Swindle and Morillo are similar in a few ways. They're both 6'3" and 190 lbs. They both have a few innings of major league experience, including a couple of big league appearances this year. They both are in Triple-A right now. They both have been designated for assignment by a team that gave up on them.

They both pitch for teams in the north central U.S. (Swindle is a Brewers prospect, Morillo is a Twins prospect). They're both pitching well in Triple-A right now.

But any and all similarities end there.

R.J. Swindle is a very unique pitcher. He's a left-handed reliever from Canada who was released by both the Red Sox and Yankees and had to pitch in independent ball for all of 2005 and parts of 2006 and 2007.

He has struck out over a batter per inning in his minor league career, and his minor league K/BB ratio is 5.34.

Swindle has also allowed just five homers in his minor league career. He has as 0.86 ERA for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds this year, and it was at 0.29 two days ago, before he allowed two runs in a game

So why isn't Swindle in the majors? He's as extreme of a finesse pitcher as it gets.

Swindle has an odd sidearm delivery reminiscent of Randy Johnson's, but Swindle's fastball is slower than anything Johnson throws. Swindle's fastball comes in between 81-84 mph.

The only pitchers in the majors who throw that slow are knuckleballers like Tim Wakefield, and sinkerballing submariners like Brad Ziegler and Chad Bradford. Swindle's arm angle is fairly low, but his fastball isn't a sinker, and he's a pretty flyball-oriented pitcher.

Swindle's pitches fall in velocity from there. He has a high-70's cutter, a mid-70's slider, and a low-70's changeup. Therefore, Swindle can throw at any speed between about 70 and 84, which is nice.

But that's not all he throws. He also throws a 47-57 mph curveball.

The pitch has Barry Zito-like action on it, but it averages 54.4 mph. One would think hitters would be able to crush it (like David Wright did on the second one Swindle threw in the majors), but minor league hitters can't hit the pitch, and Swindle memorably ended his first big league outing last year by striking out Carlos Delgado with the curveball.

Delgado was so badly fooled by the pitch he actually lifted up his back leg and spun around like a six-year-old just learning to hit.

It's worth noting that Swindle has a 7.88 FIP in 7 1/3 MLB innings. He's walked four and struck out eight, but allowed three homers.

Then there's Juan Morillo, who, if you ask me, is the hardest thrower in organized baseball. The White Sox reportedly clocked him at 104 mph when he was in the low minors. Morillo's velocity sits at 98, and he can hit 101 easily when he needs to.

On top of the electric fastball, Morillo throws a plus slider with good sweeping break. It comes in around 89 mph. He also throws a high-80's changeup that rates as fringe-average. All of Morillo's pitches come in much faster than anything R.J. Swindle throws.

Hitters obviously have a difficult time facing Morillo, and he's struck out 40 in 28 2/3 innings of work in Triple-A. His 8.8 K/9 over his minor league career is just shy of Swindle's 9.1, and Swindle has the advantage of being a reliever for most of his career.

Relievers see their stuff play up (one has to wonder how soft Swindle threw as a starter!) in shorter stints, so they get more strikeouts. Morillo wasn't converted to relief until 2007, and his strikeout rate since is actually just above Swindle's. 

So what's the problem with Morillo? He has no clue where the ball is going!

Morillo's career minor league walk rate is 5.4 BB/9, which is almost okay, given his stuff, until you realize he's trending backward.

Last year in Triple-A, Morillo walked 56 batters in 59 2/3 innings. He struck out 55. That's a K/BB ratio of .98, and 8.4 BB/9, which is unplayable no matter how hard you throw. In Minnesota earlier this year, Morillo had an outing against the Red Sox where he threw 17 pitches. Only four found the strike zone.

Morillo's career MLB FIP is 10.29 in 10 2/3 innings. There are position players who could do better than that. Morillo has walked 18 in his 28 2/3 Triple-A innings this year, which is the best he's done in two years, and is good for a 2.22 K/BB ratio, but is still measurably sub-optimal.

Both pitchers are 25, and their windows of opportunity are closing. My question to you is: if you were a major league team, and you had to carry one of these two pitchers, which one would you take?

It's not an easy decision.

It seems like Swindle is better; he has the stronger track record and is less likely to completely blow up on you. At the same time, Morillo's problem at least can be helped. Good coaching may get Morillo to throw an acceptable number of strikes. No amount of coaching will get Swindle to throw 90 mph.

Then again, I've seen Morillo pitch before, and it's not like he has an obvious delivery problem. In fact, he's got pretty simple mechanics. He lifts his lead leg a couple of inches of the ground, loads his weight onto his back leg, takes what more or less amounts to a slidestep, and throws.

Because of this, I wonder what exactly can be done (from a pitching or bullpen coach) to help Morillo. Then again, I'm no pitching coach; I can spot obvious delivery problems like throwing across your body, but stuff like which side of the rubber to pitch from is lost on me.

These two obviously are interesting pitchers. Maybe both have good careers ahead of them, maybe both wash out, but they certainly do a good job of illustrating the extremes of a stuff guy who can't locate, and a location guy who has no stuff.

For entertainment's sake, I wish them both the best in their careers, and hope they stick in a big league bullpen soon.

So, who would you rather have: Swindle and his big 50-mph curve, or Morillo and his wild, 104-mph (that's over twice as fast!) fastball?


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