Everything Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert does this year will receive a great deal of fan and media attention, which is understandable. Both highly-touted rookies represent a potentially bright future for the Seattle Mariners and the team’s exasperated fan base. Still, it’s plausible other, less-familiar names will have a breakout season for the Mariners in 2021. Could Erik Swanson be one of those players?

Before this year, Swanson was probably best known to Mariners fans as one of the two players acquired by Seattle with top Yankees pitching prospect Justus Sheffield in the 2018 deal sending James Paxton to New York. The other being minor-leaguer Dom Thompson-Williams. Sheffield remains the more recognizable name in the Emerald City, but Swanson is also making his presence felt this season.

The versatile Swanson has served as opener twice for the Mariners, while also pitching in high-leverage situations for manager Scott Servais. Regardless of his role, Swanson is delivering outstanding results in 2021.

Better Outcomes For Erik Swanson In 2021
2020
2021
Batters Faced
37
41
ERA
12.91
0.77
AVG
.344
.083
OBP
.405
.195
SLG
.688
.167
wOBA
.448
.178
WHIP
1.696
0.686
K%
24.3
29.3
BB%
5.4
12.2
LOB%
27.8
100

Swanson’s recent surge in production is making him one of the most dynamic and reliable arms in Servais’ bullpen. The 27-year-old’s strikeout rate and opponent AVG leads the team. Only Seattle’s other breakout reliever – Kendall Graveman – is ahead of the North Dakotan in ERA, WHIP, OBP, SLG, and wOBA.

When we look a little closer, it’s easy to see what’s driving the early-season success in Swanson’s conventional numbers. Hitters have been unable to square-up the right-hander’s pitches in 2021, which was a huge problem last year.

Less Quality Contact vs Erik Swanson In 2021
2020
2021
Exit Velocity
93.5
87.7
SwSp%
45.8
12.5
GB%
33.3
41.7
LD%
33.3
0
FB%
29.2
41.7
PU%
4.2
16.7
xwOBA
.430
.225
Hard Hit %
58.3
33.3
xERA
8.92
1.98

For those not acquainted with sweet spot percentage (SwSp%), it quantifies how often batted balls have a launch angle between eight and 32 degrees. Balls within this “sweet spot” range usually lead to highly productive line drives. This year, big-league hitters have a .654 AVG on liners.

Fun Fact: Erik Swanson has yet to allow a line drive in 2021.

While we’re discussing types of contact, it’s worth noting Swanson’s 16.7-percent pop-up rate is significantly better than last year. Moreover, it’s pacing the Mariners ahead of Keynan Middleton (16.1-percent) and top-15 in the majors among pitchers with 20-plus batted ball events. The current MLB AVG on pop-ups is .019. Not quite as low as a strikeout, but pretty close.

I know what some of you are thinking: “it’s early.”

Yes, it’s only May and the data is immature – Swanson has faced just 41 hitters. But the product of Iowa Western Community College has been a revelation for the Mariners, which has been particularly important this week with three relievers – including Graveman – on the COVID IL.

Is Swanson’s early success sustainable? Time will tell. But a breakout season requires a player delivering tangible, positive improvements in results. The former eighth round pick of the Rangers has checked those blocks thus far. Considering the circumstances, Swanson’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time for the banged-up Mariners’ bullpen.

My Oh My….

Got a take on what you just read? Talk about it here!

Image courtesy of Ted S. Warren / AP Images
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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins

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