I led this week off talking about Jorge Posada and his atrocious beginning to the year, using his batted ball data, plate discipline data, and pitch value data. I think it’s high time to do the same for one of my favorite players, Nick Swisher.
Ever since the Yankees traded for Swisher, I’ve been a big fan of his. He plays adequate defense in right (though he has a bad reputation for whatever reason), is a switch hitter, and does what every good hitter does: he hits for power and he takes his walks. That’s perfect for the Yankees as he slots right into the number two spot in the lineup due to his patience and can bat lower in the order, usually sixth, so that his power can be utilized to drive in runners. 2009 and 2010 were highly successful for Swisher, as he posted the two highest wOBAs of his career (.375 and .377 respectively). This year hasn’t been great, as you well know.
Going into last night, Swish’s triple slash was .217/.336/.296 with a wOBA of .291 and a wRC+ of 79. The .336 OBP is encouraging, but nothing else there looks pretty, especially the .296 SLG (just five extra base hits all year). What’s going on with Swisher this year? Is it something in the batted ball data? His swing/plate discipline data? His pitch value data? Let’s find out.
Again, the .336 OBP is encouraging. It means he’s taking a walks and isn’t just automatically making outs when he’s up there. This is oddly similar to 2008, when Swisher ended with a .219 average and a .332 OBP. That year, Swisher had a 13.9% BB rate and a 27.2% strikeout rate. This year, he’s walking 15% of the time and striking out 22.6% of the time. He is swinging at 23.3% of the out of zone pitches he’s seen, up from his career number (19%), but down from last year (25.7%). His in zone swing percentage is 68.1, down from last year’s 68.4, but still higher than his 62.8% career mark. Swish’s overall swing rate is 42.2%, again, down from last year, up from his career number. This is indicative of the new, more aggressive approach he started using in 2010. There isn’t anything here that’s too alarming; let’s move on to the pitch data.
Like most Yankees, Swisher has struggled with the curveball this year; he’s sitting at -5.36 runs below average per 100 curves, though Nick has never been particularly strong against breaking balls. The difference, like Jorge Posada, is that Swisher’s been weak against fastballs this year. For his career, he’s been 1.02 runs above average per 100 fastballs; this year, he’s down against them: -0.97 per 100 fastballs. To his credit, Swisher is hammering sliders (+2.51 per 100) and changeups (+3.24 per 100), so he’s got that going for him. Nothing else, it seems, is going for him.
The first thing that pops up in Swisher’s batted ball profile is his .256 BABIP. That’s not good. That could help explain the .217 average. Again, this mirrors 2008 (.249 BABIP), but his power was there in 2008 (.191 IsoP) and it’s not there this year (.079 IsoP). His contact rate is at 77.5%, right in line with his career numbers and the last few years. His out of zone contact percentage is at a career high, though, at 62.7. That could be leading to weak contact, but last year he had what was then his career high O-Contact% and managed to produce a .335 BABIP. So if he’s not making weak contact, what’s happening?
Also eerily similar to 2008 is the fact that Swisher again has a line drive percentage over 20, but a microscopic BABIP. In 2008, he just squeaked over that mark at 20.9%. This year, it’s pretty damn high at 23.9%. On the flipside, though, Swisher’s infield fly ball percentage is at a career high 12.8%. Everything else is right around his career norms (aside from HR/FB%, of course). Finally, we’ve got something we can latch on to: as much of a cop out as this may seem, Swisher’s getting at least a little unlucky. His line drives are finding gloves instead of grass and that should stop soon…at least we hope.