Erik Swanson was one of the Blue Jays' most reliable relievers during the 2023 season

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees
Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees / Adam Hunger/GettyImages

The Toronto Blue Jays began their 2022 offseason by making a trade with the team that just eliminated them in the Wild Card playoff, the Seattle Mariners. The Jays sent slugging outfielder Teoscar Hernández to the Pacific Northwest for Erik Swanson and Adam Macko, a pitching prospect. 

The front office wanted to upgrade a mediocre relief corps and improve that unit’s ability to generate strikeouts. Coming off a stellar campaign with the M’s, Swanson figured to slot into high-leverage situations and increase the bullpen’s strikeout rate. 

The stout (6-foot-3, 225 lbs) 30-year-old was immediately relied upon in tight, late-game moments, and more often than not, he came through. Through his first 20 appearances, from late March to mid-May, Swanson pitched to a 1.33 ERA and an opponent batting average of just .108. 

Was Swanson used too heavily early in the season? Maybe, but it’s also nearly impossible to sustain numbers like that throughout an entire season. Utilized almost exclusively as a late-game, one-inning reliever, the Iowa Western Community College product didn’t enjoy nearly as sparkling results over his next 20 games. 

From May 16th to July 2nd, Swanson surrendered 12 earned runs over 20 innings (5.40 ERA) with an 0-1 record and a blown save. He did record 11 holds during that span but also gave up four home runs, although his opponents’ batting average was a respectable .237.

A stretch of seven scoreless outings followed before the most painful night of the reliever’s season occurred on July 25th at Dodgers Stadium. He entered the game in the bottom of the ninth inning with a 7-3 lead and a seemingly routine closeout situation. Five hits, a walk, and four earned runs later, it was a tie ballgame in what turned out to be an 8-7 gut-punch loss.

But that game was the exception, not the rule, as Swanson enjoyed scoreless outings in 59 of his 69 appearances, including 18 of the final 20. He reached career-highs in games, innings pitched (66.2), and with 75 strikeouts. 

Advanced stats illustrate the tremendous value Swanson brings to the Jays. He ranked in the 84th percentile in pitching run value and the 99th percentile in offspeed run value. The bullpen catalyst also ranked highly in the expected statistics, placing in the top seven percent in XBA (.199) and the top eight percent in XWOBA (271) and XERA (.304).

He relies primarily on his splitter and fourseam fastball, which helped to produce a 33.3% chase rate, finishing in the 90th percentile. Swanson pitched in both playoff games, got four outs, and walked three batters. He was slightly below average at fielding his position and holding base runners. 

Over the last two seasons, Erik Swanson has established himself as one of the best relievers in baseball. His durability and talent for missing bats have added depth to the bullpen, and he’ll be asked to pitch critical innings again in 2024. 

Grade: A-

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