Erik Swanson's season has gotten even worse since his demotion to Triple-A

From premier set-up man to struggling minor-leaguer, what's been up with "Swanny"?
Chicago White Sox v Toronto Blue Jays
Chicago White Sox v Toronto Blue Jays / Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages

After being acquired in the 2022 off-season for Teoscar Hernandez, Erik Swanson proved a valuable role in the Jays bullpen as set-up man to closer Jordan Romano. While fans initially frowned the trade as Hernandez was a fan favourite, Swanson quickly captured the hearts of fans with his unhittable splitter and sub-3.00 ERA. What looked like a solid lock for Toronto's bullpen has turned into disaster as Swanson has struggled immeasurably to start the 2024 season.

Swanson's sophomore year was immediately derailed after his son, Toby, was in a near-fatal car crash in late February and needed ICU support. Unable to attend Spring Training as a result, Erik struggled as a result and gave up three earned runs in only a third of an inning in his season debut against the Yankees.

Things didn't get better for Swanson, as he had a series of outings that would result in a 9.22 ERA after 17 appearances. Nothing was looking good for the righty, as he started nearly double the amount of hits and triple the amount of home runs as he did in the previous year.

As a result, Swanson was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo to recuperate- but it hasn't been looking good. In 13 appearance with the Bisons, Swanson has accumulated a horrendous 16.03 ERA complete with a 2.81 WHIP.

So what gives? Why is Swanson performing so poorly after being one of the league's most solid relievers going into the year? Unfortunately, it can be attributed to his bread-and-butter splitter. His fastball has performed well, accumulating a 3 RV despite his inflated ERA and remaining at a steady 94 MPH.

His splitter on the other hand? -8 RV. In 2023, where his splitter graded in the 99th percentile at 14 RV, it averaged 32.4" of vertical drop (-1.1 vs. league avg.) and 12.3" of horizontal drop (+1.2 vs. league avg.). In 2024, those values look extremely similar, sitting at 33.6" of vertical break (-0.7 vs. league avg.) and 12.6" (+2.9 vs. league avg.).

The issue lies in location. Swanson, unlike last year, has been unable to properly locate his splitter, leading to less strikeouts and more extra-base contact. While he held batters to a .233 xwOBA and 34.9K% on his splitter in 2023, those numbers have skyrocketed to a .516 xwOBA and a menial 16.7K%. For reference, Aaron Judge currently has a .482 xwOBA on the year, meaning hitters are hitting Swanson's premier-pitch better than Aaron Judge is hitting on the year.

While things may seem bleek for Swanson right now, there is no reason he can't turn it around. A few outings in the minors may help swing Swanson's mechanics back in check and help what has been a struggling Blue Jays bullpen- it all starts with the splitter, though.