I project Comcast SportsNet’s scouting report to look like this tonight:
- Exceptional command, strikeout stuff
- 92-94 mph fastball, low-70s curve
While CSN has mercifully gotten away from the third-line exclamation points in recent weeks, their scouting reports leave a bit to be desired. So, without further ado, let’s get to know Roy Oswalt on the field and off…
Holmes Community College
Ah, the prestigious HCC. Located in Goodman, Mississippi, I’d imagine this is the equivalent of a player for Bucks County Community College being drafted.
Oswalt was drafted and followed by the Astros in 1995, after his freshman season. The team offered him $50,000 to sign, but he took a chance and decided to return to school. Oswalt’s tough decision paid immediate dividends, as he proceeded to grow two inches, put on fifteen pounds, and pick up three miles per hour of life on his fastball.
That $50,000 signing bonus turned into $500,000 the next year, when Houston selected him in the 23rd round of the 1996 draft.
Five Years Later
On May 6, 2001, a sub-six foot-righthander from Weir, Mississippi made his major league debut in Montreal. He pitched one inning in relief, giving up two hits and a run, and striking out one batter named Vladimir Guerrero.
Aside from Oswalt and Guerrero, only six players remain from his debut: Julio Lugo, Lance Berkman, Octavio Dotel, Geoff Blum, Milton Bradley, and Guillermo Mota. Phillies minor leaguer Andy Tracy batted third for the Expos.
Eight days later, Oswalt picked up the first win of his career in Cincinnati, a place he would dominate for the next decade.
Oswalt was dynamite in his rookie season, going 14-3 with a 2.73 ERA, and compiling 144 strikeouts against 24 walks in 141 innings. He finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting to some guy nobody ever heard from again, Albert Pujols.
Success Becomes Mediocrity
In Oswalt’s first five seasons as an Astro, the team was 445-365, a .549 winning percentage. They made the playoffs three times in that span, getting swept out of the 2001 NLDS by the Braves, losing in seven games to the Cardinals in the classic 2004 NLCS, and losing four in a row to the White Sox in the 2005 World Series.
From that point, everything went downhill for the ‘Stros.
Houston is 357-391 since the 2005 World Series, and has finished in the bottom half of the NL Central standings more often than not.
According to his agent, Bob Garber, as well as ESPN writer and idol, Jayson Stark, Oswalt was just bored. He was bored with mediocrity, bored with half-filled stadiums and two-thirds worth of meaningless games. There’s no adrenaline in that, even for a major leaguer facing top competition.
Oswalt makes his Phillies debut tonight against the Nationals in DC. What will we see from him?
- Oswalt throws a 92-94 mph fastball that he used almost 70% of the time from 2001-08, but that dropped to 60% last year and 55% so far this year
- His curveball, widely regarded as one of the game’s best, is his out-pitch. The twenty mile per hour drop between his fastball and curve, combined with huge break, buckles knees with regularity.
- Oswalt also features a mid-80s slider and a low-80s changeup.
- Just by looking at the degrees to which he changes speeds, you can see why Oswalt has had so much success – it is very hard to sit on anything when you have to be ready for mid-70s, mid-80s, and mid-90s.
Oswalt is a strike-throwing machine, and, this season, he has had command of his best swing-and-miss stuff since the first three years of his career. From 2005-to-2009, batters made contact with roughly 82% of Oswalt’s pitches. This year, it’s down to 79%. His swinging strike rate of 9.5% is the highest it has been since 2004.
As for the dimensions of Citizens Bank Park, Oswalt should fit in fine. You cannot forget that Minute Maid Park in Houston is one of the most hitter-friendly stadiums in all of baseball. We’re not talking about a PETCO-to-CBP change of scenery, here.
Oswalt has career ground ball-fly ball-line drive percentage splits of 47-32-21. In the last two years, his groundball numbers have dropped four percentage points while being substituted with flyballs, but home runs have never really been a problem. Oswalt’s career high in home runs allowed is 23 (2008), and his 0.8 homers allowed per nine innings since ’01 is right on par with Roy Halladay’s 0.7-per-nine in that same span.
In Oswalt, the Phillies have found a strike thrower and a quality innings-eater with swing and miss stuff that would be the ace on thirteen National League teams.
Tonight should be fun.