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Bill Swift, Mariner

Proof that Bill Swift, or perhaps an alien disguised as Bill Swift and obsessed with crotches, was a Seattle Mariner
Proof that Bill Swift, or perhaps an alien disguised as Bill Swift and obsessed with crotches, was a Seattle Mariner

Bill Swift ended his career as a Seattle Mariner in 1998. I have absolutely no memory of that happening. As a 36-year-old, he made 26 starts on the team that traded Randy Johnson and relied on Ken Cloude to make 30 starts. I vividly remember watching Randy that season and I desperately hoped he would stay. I draw a complete blank on Bill Swift. Perhaps because his season was rather bad, but he did pitch nearly 145 innings so maybe I just didn't see those games. Any of them. Or maybe that was the year aliens landed in my town and I kept getting my mind blanked by Tommy Lee Jones. Anyways, more important than potential alien invasions is that Swift's final year was not a good one. He struck out 77 and walked or hit 59 over just near 145 innings.

Bill Swift began his career as a Mariner as well. Technically, I don't remember that either since it happened before I was born. Swift was a Mariner because in 1984 the Mariners drafted him second overall. That is fact number two about Bill Swift that I would not have gotten correct had you quizzed me. Really, Bill Swift was a number two overall draft pick? Wow.

Of course there's no saying who the Mariners should have selected instead. The Mets took Shawn Abner first that year and he never amounted to much. I don't know the scouting consensus pre-draft or even if such knowledge is findable on the web archives somewhere. I do know that Mark McGwire and a few other choice talents were taken later in the draft. Three more of them will play a minor part later in this story.

Swift, a college senior (he'd been drafted by the Twins in the second round a year prior) spent almost no time in the Minors before entering the Seattle rotation. He wasn't amazing with the strikeouts and walks, but despite the Kingdome's reputation for surrendering home runs, Swift did well avoiding them. We don't have a breakdown of batted balls back when Swift debuted, but starting in 1988 we do and for the next four years as a Mariner, Swift did post crazy good ground ball rates.

However, his ERA was quite outsized and starting in 1989, Swift was moved more and more to the bullpen until by 1991, his final season as a Mariner, Swift made zero starts. By now his strikeouts had risen and his walks decreased and Swift was a bona fide good reliever.

1985 23 SEA 23 21 532 120.2 8 10.3 9.0 4.77 88 110 N/A
1986 24 SEA 29 17 534 115.1 5 10.3 11.2 5.46 78 109 N/A
1988 26 SEA 38 24 757 174.2 10 6.2 9.2 4.59 91 98 60%
1989 27 SEA 37 16 551 130 7 8.2 6.5 4.43 92 111 67%
1990 28 SEA 55 8 533 128 4 7.9 4.1 2.39 166 125 62%
1991 29 SEA 71 0 359 90.1 3 13.4 6.4 1.99 207 127 70%

nBB = unintentional walks + batters hit by pitch

And then in the winter after the 1991 season, the Mariners traded Swift to San Francisco in a five player deal that brought back Kevin Mitchell. Kevin Mitchell had recently been really good, winning the 1989 MVP with a legitimately outstanding season. Candlestick Park had a neutral home run park factor for right-handers and Mitchell knocked 47 out of the park in '89, followed by 35 and 27 the next two years. That appears to signal a downward trend, but Mitchell's home run rate shows some drop off, but less than his raw totals indicate.

1989: 47 home runs, 640 plate appearances, 7.3% HR
1990: 35 HR, 589 PA, 5.9%
1991: 27 HR, 423 PA, 6.4%

As a Mariner, Mitchell hit well enough, but the awesome home run power turned into less impressive doubles power. He hit just nine home runs in 402 trips to the plate (2.2%) and played only 99 games for Seattle that season as injury problems continued. The team traded Mitchell to Cincinnati for Norm Charlton (1984 draft pick) and Mitchell became another example (foreshadowing) of a player getting better after leaving the Mariners. With Cincinnati in 1993-4, Mitchell still didn't play full time but over those two seasons got 733 plate appearances and posted a 1.048 OPS (172 OPS+). In 1993 Charlton pitched 34.2 innings. He didn't pitch in 1994 and wasn't a Mariner anyways. Don't worry, he'd come back twice more.

While all that transpired up north, the San Francisco Giants returned Bill Swift to the starting rotation and he kept right on with his newfangled getting hitters out way. He led the National League in ERA in his first season with the Giants. In the next, Swift made 34 starts, hurled 232.2 innings and had a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio. He finished second in the Cy Young voting to Greg Maddux (1984 draft pick) and ahead of third place Tom Glavine (1984 draft pick).

Swift left the Giants after the 1994 strike season and signed with the Rockies. He never found success or health there though, working just 189 innings over three seasons. That set the stage for his farewell tour with Seattle in 1998 which ended his career as it began, as a Mariner starter with an inflated ERA.