Swindle Proves Himself Through Numbers

A lot of times, scouts get caught up in over analyzing and putting labels on individual players. If a guy isn't 6-3, 210 and can't touch the nineties on the radar gun, he's tossed aside. We get too caught up in how big a ceiling a guy can have, and overlook the most basic way of evaluating a player- his performance on the field. (Free Preview!)

Look at a guy's stats before you look at a guy's physique, after all, as Athletics GM Billy Beane says, "We're not selling jeans here." Charleston RiverDogs relief pitcher R.J. Swindle is a classic example of putting possibility over performance. After a solid career at Charleston Southern, in which he won Big South freshman of the year in 2002 and Big South Player of the Year in 2003, Swindle was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 14th round of the 2004 amateur entry draft.

Swindle signed quickly and was assigned to Short-Season A Lowell where he excelled in a new role in the bullpen. The lefty's final numbers were 5-1 with a 1.94 era and struck out 56 batters against just 4 walks in 51 innings. Pretty impressive for a guy who would just turn 22 that October.

The average Joe would expect the Red Sox to reward Swindle's success with a promotion to Low A Greenville the following season. But instead he was cut. The only logical reason would be that the scouts won out in the argument of who has a future in the organization against who is expendable. One could just imagine the conversation between the powers that be when Swindle's name came up during that all important meeting.

Red Sox Farm Director: Swindle, R.J. Pretty good numbers and he's left handed, could be a specialty guy.

Grizzled Scout Number 1: Eh. The guy can barely touch 85 and he certainly doesn't wow me with his potential.

Grizzled Scout Number 2: Yeah. I've seen this guy a couple times. He gets guys out in A ball but there's now way he can use the same stuff with the same result above that.

Grizzled Scout Number 1: Yeah. I agree with that assessment, plus the guy's got a back injury that has been nagging him the past year. He may be damaged goods. I say cut him.

Grizzled Scout Number 2: Yeah. I say cut ‘em too.

Now this is strictly coming from the mind of a mere journalist who writes for a Yankees' fan website, but there were definitely some doubters when Swindle's future came up in that meeting.

"It was a setback that I wasn't really prepared for after doing so well," Swindle explained. "It was unexpected in spring training the next year. I had had a back injury the year before that didn't get properly documented. I came into Spring Training still with it and they decided as an organization to move past that. They thought that I couldn't pitch still. It's been a long road coming back, but I'm glad to be back with an organization, especially one like the Yankees."

After being released by the Red Sox, Swindle joined the Schaumberg Flyers of the independent Northern League. Swindle went 6-4 with a 3.27 ERA in 18 games, starting 16 of them, last season and was off to a 2-2 record with a 3.41 ERA with the Flyers in 2006. His numbers weren't as astonishing as before but the experience in the independent league was definitely a good one.

"Independent ball was a lot of fun," Swindle recanted with PinstripesPlus.com. "I really enjoyed Schaumberg and enjoyed the guys I played with and the manager I played for. It was a pretty high level of play. I was one of the youngest if not the youngest guy in the league.

"It was a big challenge for me in facing a lot of veteran guys, even some guys who played in the major leagues before. It's a little bit different atmosphere, but there are still great crowds and great fans. A lot of travel as well. We would have 10, 12, 15 hour bus rides all the time."

Swindle, a 6-3, 190 left hander from Vancouver B.C., Canada, gets hitters out with a variety of pitches that include a fastball that sits in the 80s, a changeup, curveball, slider, and a cutter. One could refer to him as a junk pitcher but a more appropriate label would be crafty.

"I have a bunch of pitches that I like to throw," the 22 year old explained. "I really have to throw a lot of different stuff because I don't throw all that hard. I picked up a curveball about two or three years ago. I was throwing it in the low 60s to mid 60s. I honestly have had about a million people ask me how I throw it, but I can't really explain it to anyone or teach it to anyone. It's just a weird arm angle and a weird release point and I'm able to fool some guys. I got to have that to make up for the speed that I lack with the fastball."

Swindle's wide variety of pitches has allowed him to rack up 15 Ks in just 11.2 innings with the R-Dogs so far. He was also able to pick up a win on June 26th when he had to pitch long in relief of a struggling Erick Abreu.

Swindle's success so far might be attributed to his friendly surroundings. He spent three years in the low country at CSU and has many family and friends coming to support him.

"I love Charleston," Swindle commented. "I loved going to school here for three years. I have a lot of family and friends coming to see me so far. It's been great to be back and it's a great town."

Whatever it may be that helps Swindle put up his solid numbers, as long as he keeps it up, scouts are going to have a tough time ignoring him. There's still always going to be doubters, but all fans have to remember is that when we want to sum up how good a player is, the easiest and most fool-proof way of going about it is to look at his stats and performance.

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