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Top 100 Indians: #66 Greg Swindell

A look at one of the few bright spots from the dark days that were the late 80s and early 90s.

Forest Gregory Swindell

Starting Pitcher, 1986-1991, 1996
Height: 6'2" Weight: 225 lbs
Throws: Left Bats: Right
Acquired (1): First Round Pick, 1986 (2nd overall)
Left (1): Traded to Cincinnati for Jack Armstrong, Scott Scudder, and Joe Turek, November 15, 1991
Acquired (2): Free Agent, June 15, 1996

Left (2): Free Agency, October 3, 1996

Swindell is #66 in Let's Go Tribe's ongoing countdown of the greatest players in franchise history.

Greg Swindell was born on January 2, 1965 in Fort Worth, Texas. He was the youngest of four children in a family that soon moved to Houston. He credited his initial interest in baseball to serving as bat boy for his brother’s Little League team when he was six**. Swindell was a star in high school and accepted a scholarship to pitch for the University of Texas. In 1984 he won Baseball America’s "Freshman of the Year" award that and as a sophomore he won Baseball America’s "National Player of the Year" award. He was a finalist for the same honor as a junior. Swindell had been selected as an All-American each of his three seasons as a Longhorn, and ended his collegiate career with a 43-8 record and a 1.92 ERA. He still holds the school’s single-season records for wins (19), strikeouts (204), innings pitched (172.0), and shutouts (6), as well as the career records for strikeouts (501) and shutouts (14, tied for the NCAA record). In June of 1986, the Indians made him the #2 overall pick in the MLB draft.

Swindell signed on July 31st and was sent to Waterloo, the Tribe’s Class A team at the time, where he made three successful starts over the next couple weeks. On August 21st, The Indians, 9.5 games out of 1st place, decided to call up their new arm and throw him at the Red Sox. Swindell was roughed up for six runs and didn’t survive the 4th inning, but they kept him on the big league team anyway. He made another eight starts over the rest of the season, and he rewarded them by going 5-1 with a 3.88 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 58.0 innings, including his first MLB complete game on September 23. To Swindell’s chagrin, he acquired the moniker "Flounder," due to what teammates felt was a little extra padding on his frame**.

Swindell had an up and down beginning to the 1987 season, after a couple bad starts, he pitched his first Major League shutout on April 19, striking out 9 Orioles in a 3-0 win. Other highlights include striking out 15 Royals in a complete game victory on May 15, one of three 10+ strikeout games for Swindell that season. Unfortunately, his season ended on June 29, when he was pulled from the rotation after ligament damage was discovered in his pitching elbow. Swindell later said of the injury, "It was a lifelong dream to be a big-leaguer, so initially it came as a big shock. The toughest part was watching the team struggle and not being able to do anything about it**." And struggle the team did, stumbling to a 61-101 record, the worst in baseball.

Swindell was cleared to throw long before the 1988 season opened, but there were serious questions about how he would pitch upon his return. Swindell responded by throwing complete games in each of his first two starts, allowing just three total runs between the two games, and striking out sixteen. In his third start he went one further, pitching ten shutout innings. By the end of May Swindell led the league with a 10-1 record and had a 2.11 ERA in 89.2 innings. He hit a wall in June and by the All-Star break his ERA had climbed to 3.62. Good, but not good enough to land him the All-Star spot that seemed a foregone conclusion only a few weeks earlier. Swindell turned things back around after the break, ending the season with 18 wins, a 3.20 ERA, and 180 strikeouts in 242.0 innings, all of which led the Indians. He finished among the top ten in the American League in wins, ERA, strikeouts, WHIP, BB/9, K/9, complete games, shutouts, and (while no one knew it at the time), WAR for pitchers.

Swindell was given his first Opening Day start in 1989. He pitched into the 9th inning while allowing just 1 run in a victory over Milwaukee. He continued to pitch well throughout the season’s first half. By the All-Star break, he was 11-2, with a 2.75 ERA in 134.1 innings. Swindell was named to his first All-Star team. He pitched 1.2 shutout innings in a 5-3 American League win. In his second start after the break, the Cy Young candidate left the game after seven shutout innings, due to discomfort in his elbow. He made his next scheduled start, but exited early and was placed on the disabled list. He missed five weeks and didn’t pitch as well after his return, though he did end the season with a still very solid 3.37 ERA.

Swindell was able to make it through the 1990 season without missing a start, but he was throwing fewer innings, his strikeout rate dropped, he gave up more hits than he ever had before, and his ERA for the season wound up at 4.40, more than a full run higher than each of the previous two seasons. He did manage to lead the team in innings pitched and strikeouts, and his BB/9 was 2nd in the American League, but his ERA+ of just 89 was the worst of his career to that point.

Before the 1991 season, the Indians offered Swindell $1.4 million, he countered with $2.025M. The two sides couldn’t reach a deal, and went to an arbitration hearing, which Swindell won, making him one of the highest paid pitchers in baseball (it was also the last time the Indians went to a hearing with a player). Swindell earned his keep. Between April 24 and June 16 he threw 92.2 innings over 11 starts, with an ERA of 1.65 and a stellar K/BB ratio of 10.14. The only reason he wasn’t chosen for the All-Star team was a lack of run support, He’d allowed two or fewer earned runs ten times, but won just 3 of those games and was 5-7 at the break. Swindell ended the season with an ERA of 3.48 in 238.0 innings, both of which led the team. He also led the American League in BB/9 and K/BB, but he still wound up with 16 losses on a team that scored 98 fewer runs than any other A.L. squad, an average of just 3.6 per game. At 57-105, it was arguably the worst season in franchise history, not that Swindell was to blame.

After the season, the Indians offered Swindell, who was entering his last season of team control, a three-year deal that would have made him the highest paid played in team history. Swindell declined, and GM John Hart made the surprising decision to trade him away. Swindell was sent to Cincinnati for three young pitchers, Jack Armstrong, Scott Scudder, and Joe Turek. Armstrong and Scudder both performed poorly for the Indians in 1992 and pitched a total of four innings for the team after that season. Turek never made it to the Majors. Meanwhile, Swindell threw 213.2 innings for the Reds, with an ERA of 2.70 in 1992. The following off-season he signed a big four-year deal with his hometown Houston Astros.

Swindell was never able to recapture his success in Houston, his ERA was never as good as even league average in three and a half seasons there and in June he was released. The Indians signed him to a small deal just nine days later. He made two starts for them over the rest of the season, exiting before the 4th inning both times. He made eleven relief appearances, but was scored upon in most of them. He did not appear in the playoffs and at season’s end he moved on again. He pitched for another six seasons, turning himself into a left-handed relief specialist and splitting time between Minnesota, Boston, and Arizona. In 2001 he appeared in three games of the World Series for the Diamondbacks, allowing no runs to score and earning a ring. Swindell retired following the 2002 season.

In 1996 Swindell was inducted to the University of Texas’ Hall of Honor, the #21 both he and Roger Clemens worse for the Longhorns has since been retired. Swindell was also inducted in the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Since retiring, Swindell has done some coaching at the collegiate level for his alma mater in Austin and has also done broadcasting work with ESPN and Fox Sports. Swindell and his wife live in Texas, they have four children.

1986 21 CLE 5 2 4.23 9 1 0 61.2 46 99 1.168 8.3 1.3 2.2 6.7 3.07
1987 22 CLE 3 8 5.10 16 4 1 102.1 97 89 1.456 9.9 1.6 3.3 8.5 2.62
1988 23 CLE 18 14 3.20 33 12 4 242.0 180 128 1.153 8.7 0.7 1.7 6.7 4.00
1989 24 CLE 13 6 3.37 28 5 2 184.1 129 118 1.199 8.3 0.8 2.5 6.3 2.53
1990 25 CLE 12 9 4.40 34 3 0 214.2 135 89 1.360 10.3 1.1 2.0 5.7 2.87
1991 26 CLE 9 16 3.48 33 7 0 238.0 169 120 1.143 9.1 0.8 1.2 6.4 5.45
1996 31 CLE 1 1 6.59 13 0 0 28.2 21 74 1.360 9.7 2.5 2.5 6.6 2.63
CLE (7 yrs) 61 56 3.86 166 32 7 1071.2 777 107 1.235 9.2 1.0 2.0 6.5 3.32

Selected Awards and American League Leaders:

American League All-Star: 1989

WAR Pitchers: 5th, 1988 (5.7)
ERA: 9th, 1988 (3.20)
Wins: 4th, 1988 (18)
WHIP: 7th, 1988 (1.153); 7th, 1991 (1.143)
BB/9 IP: 1st, 1991 (1.172); 2nd, 1988 (1.674); 2nd, 1990 (1.971)
K/9 IP: 9th, 1988 (6.694)
Innings: 7th, 1991 (238.0)
Strikeouts: 7th, 1991 (169); 8th, 1988 (180)
Games Started: 5th, 1990 (34)
Complete Games: 4th, 1988 (12); 6th, 1991 (7)
Shutouts: 2nd, 1988 (4); 7th, 1989 (2)
K/BB: 1st, 1991 (5.452); 2nd, 1988 (4.000); 4th, 1990 (2.872); 9th, 1989 (2.529)
ERA+: 8th, 1988 (128)
WPA: 6th, 1989 (3.1)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader:

t-43rd Pitching WAR (5.7, 1988)

6th BB/9 IP (1.172, 1991)

33rd BB/9 IP (1.674, 1988)

18th K/9 IP (8.531, 1987)

t-33rd Strikeouts (180, 1988)

t-43rd Strikeouts (169, 1991)

t-38th Shutouts (4, 1988)

2nd K/BB (5.452, 1991)

8th K/BB (4.000, 1988)

29th K/BB (2.872, 1990)

48th K/BB (2.622, 1987)

Cleveland Indians Career Leader:

24th WAR Pitchers (15.6)

t-35th Wins (61)

50th W/L Percentage (.522)

t-19th WHIP (1.235)

8th Bases on Balls/9 IP (1.965)

12th Strikeouts/9 IP (6.525)

33rd Innings Pitched (1071.2)

17th Strikeouts (777)

26th Games Started (154)

t-40th Shutouts (7)

t-11th Bases on Balls (583)

t-30th Hits (1090)

33rd Losses (56)

t-37th ERA+ (107)