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The Schwimer Controversy

The Phillies activated Jeremy Horst from the paternity list on August 23 and demoted Michael Schwimer to Triple-A to make room on the 25-man-roster. The move seemed relatively harmless. Schwimer had been effective over the last few months, but he hasn’t established firm job security. Further, this mess of a Phillies season has enabled the team to call on various relief arms to see which ones figure to pitch out of the bullpen next season. Sending Schwimer down so that Josh Lindblom can continue to work out kinks, or Phillippe Aumont can face some more major league batters is perfectly fine.

It isn’t the bets decision ever made, given that a few other relievers were far more worthy of a demotion, but we’re talking about August 23, eight days away from the September 1 roster expansion.

Schwimer reportedly didn’t take the demotion well, indicating that a disabled list stint made more sense given his elbow soreness. The team didn’t agree and the righty reliever decided to seek a second opinion from a list of Phillies-sanctioned physicians. Teams can’t demote injured players, but injured is a rather subjective term. Schwimer would continue to earn his major league salary while accruing service time if he stayed with the Phillies on the disabled list.

The situation took a turn for the even stranger on Tuesday when it was learned that he hasn’t yet reported to his Lehigh Valley assignment.

We have to be careful not to make judgments or react in a kneejerk fashion, because there are several unknown variables to this equation. From the outside looking in, it’s easy to understand each side’s motivation. It’s also easy to paint either side as the victim or villain. In any event, the bottom line remains that the Phillies shouldn’t take any chances when it comes to injuries.

If Schwimer is hurt and in need of medical treatment from the major league training staff, any type of service time gaming gets thrown out the window. It wouldn’t look too good if Schwimer misses time due to an injury because the team thought him to be The Boy Who Cried Elbow and didn’t want to pay him the pro-rated portion of a relatively measly $480,000 for eight days.

The first question that pops up is whether Schwimer deserved a demotion regardless of the whole service time/salary issue. On the whole, his 4.46 ERA over 34.1 innings doesn’t help matters, especially in a run environment where a 4.46 ERA is more like what used to be a 4.75 ERA. Schwimer has pitched better than that this season, however, and after working with Rich Dubee has effectively turned the corner.

He allowed six earned runs over his first 6.1 innings, implemented Dubee’s changes, and then had terrific months of June and July.

He threw 12 innings with a 1.50 ERA, .284 wOBA against, 21.3% strikeout rate, 6.4% walk rate and 1.08 WHIP in June. The next month, he posted a 3.24 ERA over 8.1 innings, with a .181 wOBA against and a 33.3% strikeout rate.

He was missing bats, limiting baserunners, and working out of jams more effectively.

His elbow soreness has contributed to a relatively poor August, where his run prevention marks belie worse performance than his peripherals. Though he has a 7.04 ERA this month, he also has his best K/BB numbers, with a 14.1 K/9 (32.4% K-rate) and 3.5 BB/9 (8.1% BB-rate). His 3.62 FIP is almost half of his ERA, and the latter metric is fairly fickle when it comes to evaluating relievers anyway; nine consecutive solid performances can effectively get erased by poor results in the 10th outing.

It’s hard to understand why he was the man fingered for the demotion if it was based on performance, because all signs were pointing towards him handling a larger role in the 2013 bullpen. That was obviously still possible with an eight-day demotion in late August, but why even bother?

The plan must have been to demote Schwimer for about a week, and then recall him when rosters expand. While in Triple-A, he wouldn’t make his major league salary or accrue service time. This could help the Phillies delay his arbitration eligibility, but again, eight days. The salary component doesn’t even factor in, as the Phillies aren’t having trouble making payroll every other week. If they were, removing one week of Schwimer’s salary wouldn’t help them much.

Schwimer isn’t really close to becoming arb-eligible anyway, and middle relievers are the most common players non-tendered as they progress through the process. He wouldn’t earn all that much in his first two years either. If the motivation was to demote him in order to prevent service time accrual, it doesn’t make much sense, as he is not going to make more than ~$1.2 million in his first year of eligibility. The team can also non-tender him if they expect that salary to substantially increase the second time through the process.

Hopefully we will know more about the situation soon, but right now it looks like a pitcher thinks he has an elbow injury and the team decided to almost pointlessly prevent him from racking up eight days of service time. This situation probably won’t end well for either side, as neither party will come out looking all that well when it’s resolved. This just seems like a big waste of time. A 61-68 team shouldn’t be worrying about how eight days impacts the service time of a middle relief prospect, and the pitcher, whether angry or not, could have just reported to Lehigh Valley, knowing full and well that everything would be resolved a week later.

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