Anthony Swarzak’s tenure with the Atlanta Braves in 2019 was a bit of a rollercoaster ride...well, one of those rollercoasters that starts off with a giant loop and then turns into a health hazard shortly thereafter.
What went right in 2019?
For starters, Swarzak actually became a Brave which was a big step up from the current situation out in Seattle. The Mariners sent Swarzak to the Braves in exchange for a struggling Jesse Biddle and injured Arodys Vizcaino towards the end of May. Considering that the Braves went on to win the NL East and the Mariners finished in last place and 39 games back, that was a plus.
Swarzak was also quite good to start his time in Atlanta. During the month of June, Swarzak posted a 0.00 ERA in 12 innings while striking out 12 batters against three walks. Opposing batters had just a .409 OPS against him during the same span. That is an incredibly small sample size, but he was one of the Braves’ better relievers nonetheless which was a really good value considering that Viz was out for the season and Jesse Biddle forgot how to throw strikes and get guys out.
What went wrong in 2019?
The good feelings from that strong start to his time with the Braves pretty much ended after June, unfortunately. On June 30th, Swarzak was placed on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation. While not always a big deal, when one factors in that Swarzak had an issue with a shoulder impingement early in the season, the signs were not great.
The bad news is that the warning signs were correct insofar as that Swarzak was not good after the All-Star break (whether or not it was injury related is unknown). In the second half of the season, Swarzak posted an ugly 7.25 ERA and not as ugly (but still bad) 6.25 FIP in 22.1 innings. His strikeout rate dropped to an abysmal 5.64 K/9 which nearly matched his walk rate. That combined with a bit of a propensity for giving up hard contact was...not a recipe for success. By the end of the season, Swarzak was used almost exclusively in situations where the Braves were behind or so far ahead that it didn’t matter who they put out on the mound.
On top of all of that, there was a bit of off field drama for Anthony as his wife ended up in the news for espousing some less than enlightened views on the world including seemingly promoting the virtues of white nationalism.
What to expect in 2020?
Swarzak is a free agent this offseason and it is hard to envision a world where the Braves bring him back. He has a couple of recent shoulder issues and that, combined with the fact that he is 34 years old and was actively bad in the second half, seems to indicate that the Braves will look elsewhere for their relieving needs.
All of that said, Swarzak will at least get a look in spring training from clubs in need of filling out their bullpens even if a non-guaranteed or minor league deal seems like the most likely outcome. Just a couple of years ago, Swarzak was a really good reliever and will be a buy-low candidate for clubs. However, the Braves HAVE to improve their bullpen and have high aspirations for next season, so taking a chance on a guy like Swarzak given their up close look at him makes far less sense.