Mar
15

2010 Season Preview: Can Swish do it again?

By

About a month before the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira to the fourth largest contract in baseball history, GM Brian Cashman fooled White Sox GM Kenny Williams into giving him outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher in exchange for three of the sparest of spare parts. Swisher was slated to begin the season as the every day first baseman, but once Teixeira signed on the dotted line, Swish was moved into an outfield platoon role with Xavier Nady. He was a man without a position, but he ultimately became a very important part of the 2009 Yankees.

Swisher took over rightfield on an every day basis after Nady tore an elbow ligament barely more than a week into the season, and went on to enjoy his finest season in the big leagues. He hit .249-.371-.498 with a career high .375 wOBA while batting mostly out of the six-seven-eight spots in the lineup. His 29 homers were the third most on the team behind Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, and his 97 walks were second in the league. A weak postseason performance (.128-.255-.234, .282 wOBA) left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, but he basically carried the offense in April (.312-.430-.714, .473 wOBA) while Tex slumped and A-Rod was on the DL.

We know Swish is a valuable offensive player, but most fans are in disagreement about his defense. He makes the occasional goofy play in the outfield for sure, but his three-year UZR of +3.0 is rock solid. The components that make up UZR (range, errors, arm) tell us that Swisher has no problem getting to balls (+11.7 range runs), but that his arm (-6.6 arm runs) dragged him down. His 2009 UZR (+3.5 range, -1.1 arm) bears out that relationship as well. This is completely subjective on my part, but Swisher’s throwing appeared to improve considerably after working with pitching coach Dave Eiland and the since departed Phil Coke last summer, so I’m hopefully he continues that progress and the defensive metrics are a little kinder to the Yanks’ rightfielder in 2010. Either way, Jeff Zimmerman’s age-adjusted UZR projections have Swish as perfectly average defensively at right next season (meaning a UZR of zero), so let’s roll with that.

Baserunning is another aspect of the game that Swisher can make interesting. He’s not a basestealer, just seven successful steals in 15 attempts during his career, and EqBRR says he was worth -0.9 runs on the bases last year. Believe it or not, that’s the first time Swisher has been below average on the bases since 2006, though even in a best case scenario, we should be happy if he’s just league average. Brett Gardner, he is not.

So now let’s turn to offense, and the question is can he repeat what he did last season? The quick answer is yes because his 2009 performance was in line with his 2005-2007 performance, and also because he’s in the prime of his career at 29-years-old. However, there’s evidence out there that suggests Swisher might be in for a bit of a step back offensively.

Greg Rybarczyk’s great site Hit Tracker Online keeps track of every homerun hit in the big leagues going back to 2006, and sticks each one into one of three categories. “Just Enough” homers are those that cleared the fence by less than ten feet vertically or that landed past the wall by less than the fence height (so if it’s an eight foot wall, it landed no more than eight feet deep). “No Doubters” are those that cleared the fence by at least 20 feet vertically and landed at least 50 feet deep, the true monster shots. Everything else goes in the “Plenty” category.

As you can imagine, Just Enough homers are the most volatile year-to-year because they’re so close to the fence. As Rybarczyk chronicled at ESPN’s TMI blog, players who’ve hit 30 total homers in a season with at least 40% of them qualifying as Just Enoughs have seen their homer totals fall 23% on average the next season. That’s a problem for Swisher and the Yankees, because he led the American League with 14 Just Enough homers, 48.3% of his total big flies.

This isn’t the first time Swisher has been in the Just Enough danger zone either. His 14 Just Enoughs were second in the league back in 2006, exactly 40% of the career-high 35 homers he hit for the A’s. What happened in 2007? Swish regressed back to just six Just Enoughs and 22 total homers, a 37.1% drop. This isn’t to say Swisher is guaranteed to see a drop off in his homerun – and thus overall offensive – production in 2010, but it’s not looking good. Let’s see what the various projection systems say…

So yeah, the five freely available projection systems do see a slight regression for Swish, back basically to his career average with a .358 wOBA. The homer total is plenty respectable, and represents just a 13.8% decline from his 2009 total. If Swisher were to suffer the average 23% drop, he’d instead hit just 22 homers, which would further reduce his projected batting line to .236-.355-.430 with a .349 wOBA assuming those three missing homers became outs. A .349 wOBA hitter is still above average, but a far cry from what Swisher provided the Yanks with in 2009.

Okay, so combining that projected .358 wOBA with +0.0 runs defensively and say -1.0 runs on the bases, and Swisher would be a 2.6 WAR player next season, a decline of exactly one win. If we use the further reduced .349 wOBA projection, he would be a 2.1 WAR player. Those three extra homers are worth half-a-win to the Yanks.

In a way, Swisher’s 2009 season was the best case scenario for the Yankees. He provided a ton of pop and on-base skills near the bottom of the lineup, and he played basically every single day. He’s likely to improve after famously struggling at home last year (.226-.382-.394, .349 wOBA), though chances are his road performance (.268-.361-.585, .399 wOBA) will come back down to Earth as well. I like Swisher as much as the next guy, but I’m not going to be surprised if his performance declines a bit next season. You’ll see lots of people play it off as Swisher getting complacent or whatever, but now you know there’s a real baseball reason for it. Dude straight up got lucky with some homers last season.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Categories : Players

104 Comments»

  1. pete says:

    great post – yeah i see basically the same OBP, but a slight dropoff in HRs, though I think more like 27 than 22 because you’ve gotta figure he’ll hit a few extra at home this year. Damn, though, I remember swish being good last april, but i forgot just how good. wow

  2. Gary says:

    For some reason I just can’t remember any of his homers just clearing the walls.

  3. Evan NYC says:

    Looking forward to the ‘Swisher Salute’.

  4. I think in 2010, Swish will hit only 21 homers.

    Per month.

  5. Nice find on the “just enough” home runs. What motivated you to think of that?

  6. Mike Axisa: Can Swish do it again?
    Andy (as David Caruso in Jade): I don’t know… Can Swish… do it?

    Again?

  7. Mike Pop says:

    Very good post. It’s amazing all the info they have now, gives you so much more insight. But yeah, I think we can all agree Swisher definitely exceeded expectations last year.

    I’d say be very happy with Bill James projection for Nick. The Yankees got plenty of value out of this trade since Cash swindled Williams. Crazy.

    • Bo says:

      Swindled is a little rough. It was a salary dump for them. If they struck gold with Marquez it would be even better. They saved a ton of dough on that.

  8. Hey ZZ says:

    In most of these projection systems the past 3 years of a player’s career plays a prominent role in the calculation, correct?

  9. radnom says:

    Maybe he can offset the likely homerun regression by taking better advantage of Yankee Stadium this year. Although, if my memory serves me correctly Swisher has always been a better hitter on the road.

  10. king of fruitless hypotheticals says:

    Phil Coke

    That’s awesome. I knew Coke some intangible lying around somewhere.

    I’m going to bet Swish does BETTER this year…his road numbers regress, but so do his home numbers, having him hit one more HR this year than last.

    If only he didnt try to steal those 8 times he got caught, his stealing would have been perfect–he should just stop trying when he can’t make it.

    • Steve H says:

      If only he didnt try to steal those 8 times he got caught, his stealing would have been perfect–he should just stop trying when he can’t make it.

      Reminds me of the time, after a missed Vinatieri field goal, my dad got pissed and said “why not just get a touchdown instead if you’re going to miss the field goal attempt”

    • Riddering says:

      That’s my advice to everyone attempting to steal bases: only do it when you know you can make it or when Varitek is behind the plate.

      • Steve H says:

        only do it when you know you can make it or when Varitek is behind the plate.

        A little redundant, no?

        • king of fruitless hypotheticals says:

          was it crawford that said ‘hey y’all watch this!’ against tek last year?

          I’d really like to see BG try that–wont he be hitting in front of Swish?

          seems like with guys like Swisher (ones who take lots of pitches) it would give you more chances to steal–i’m no baseball genius, but there will be pitches and situations that favor stealing and those that dont (duh!).

          Is a Nick Swisher-type good for stealing in front of? (ending a sentence in three prepositions…when you’re going to be wrong, be wrong with authority.)

          • yeah and victor martinez isnt much better

          • bexarama says:

            Yeah, Crawford had six steals against Varitek/the Sox in one game last year. Also, can I just say that I loved the first game of that last three-game series against the Sox, when the Yankees just utterly HUMILIATED Varitek by running around pretty crazily any time they were on the bases. A-Rod stole like three bases. If ‘tek even slightly tried to get any of the guys who were stealing, the throws weren’t even CLOSE. It was awesome.

            • JGS says:

              They had four stolen bases before Lester got knocked out in the third inning. Even Cano stole one

              • bexarama says:

                that game was awesome, because going into it, I was like, “Lester vs. Joba? :|” Then, even before Lester got hit with the line drive, he clearly did not have it at all, Joba actually pitched well, and we made the Red Sox look stupid, after the hype of about a week prior about how the Red Sox were gonna catch up and win the division or whatnot. So… yeah. Awesome.

  11. Gardimentary says:

    Swisher had a pretty good year. Maybe he can improve. Hopefully, he can do better than a .249 average. He seems to always hit to good power, but he’s a homer or a walk.

    On a team with 7 or 8 all stars, he fits in, but we’re slumping, his troubles really stand out.

  12. Riddering says:

    I’ve been very curious about this post ever since you hinted at it on Twitter. Great job looking into not only the category of his home runs last year but in previous years too. It’s pretty comforting to see that a regressed projection for Swish still brings quality power and OBP to the lineup.

  13. Mattingly's Love Child says:

    Swisher only hit so many “just enough” homers because he didn’t want to crush the pitchers’ morale. He also didn’t hit as many homers at home because he didn’t want people attributing his greatness to the smallness of YS III. I assume now that it has been discussed ad-nauseum, Swisher will hit just as many at home as on the road. But he may reduce his total number of homers(just as the “just enough” data indicatess) to be more charitable and increase the RBI chances for his teammates. Passing the baton if you will.

  14. MattG says:

    But how many “just missed” fly outs did he have? He needs to eat two or three more bites of his Wheaties, and he’ll hit 40.

  15. mryankee says:

    Another unflattering projection. Lucky with home runs? Is anyone on the Yankees projected to have a monster season?

  16. A.D. says:

    The big thing is will Swish be able to maintain ERA, WHIP and K rate out of the pen.

  17. pete says:

    one thing that this doesn’t take into account is that Nick Swisher doesn’t like to embarass the pitchers, he likes to let them feel like they got a bit unlucky. Which of course they did, just by having had to face nick swisher. But a Nick Swisher “just enough” home run is only a “just enough” home run because he wants it to be. I’m 100% certain that if NS wants to hit 74 home runs next year, he will.

  18. Matt :: Sec 105 says:

    how is the ‘arm’ part of the uzr determined?

    • http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/glossary

      ARM (outfield arm runs): Outfielder’s get credit (plus or minus) depending on what the runners do on a hit or a fly ball out. A runner can stay put, advance, or get thrown out. A fielder will get credit not only if he throws out more than his share of runners, but also if he keeps more than his share of runners from advancing extra bases.

      Also,

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/of-arms

      So, here are the leaders in ARM over the past three years:

      Alfonso Soriano – +25.6 runs
      Jeff Francoeur – +23.4 runs
      Ichiro Suzuki – +12.5 runs
      Nick Markakis – +10.8 runs
      Michael Cuddyer – +10.4 runs

      and now the trailers over the same time period.

      Brian Giles – -19.5 runs
      Juan Pierre – -16.3 runs
      Jermaine Dye – -13.5 runs
      Shawn Green – -12.3 runs (and he didn’t play in ‘08!)
      Adam Dunn – -12.2 runs

      As you can see, the spread in value of a strong arm versus a weak arm is significantly smaller than it is with range. The very best arm is +45 runs compared to the very worst arm over a three year period. In range, the spread is almost 100 runs from best (Carl Crawford) to worst (Brad Hawpe). So, while arm strength is nice, it is simply not as important as range.

      That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have any impact, though. Over the last three years, Soriano is averaging +8.5 runs per season with his arm. That’s almost a win per year in value. Likewise, Francouer, Markakis, Ichiro, and Cuddyer get significant value from their ability to gun down runners and hold runners from advancing.

      Hope that helps.

      • Matt :: Sec 105 says:

        realizing it’s a small factor, but do they consider speed of the runner? Like if a slow guy stays put vs a fast guy staying put?

        I’m not fighting it, just curious, and it seems that it’s a very arbitrary (yet interesting) part of UZR.

        • Meh, I bet the speed of the runners on base probably evens itself out as the sample size increases, so any variation therein is pretty slight. It’s not like Rightfielder X is constantly making throws to hold Carl Crawford at 2B every single time while Rightfielder Y gets nothing but Gregg Zaun at 2B. Over a season (or two or three), every outfielder gets about the same variation of fast baserunners and slow ones.

          Also, while there’s a big difference between elite basestealers and the rest of baseball, the spread of awesome baserunners to crappy baserunners is like OF arms — it’s a much smaller statistical spread than we assume it is. Once you’re standing on a base, the best (fastest) baserunners and the worst (slowest) baserunners aren’t all that dissimilar, all things considered.

  19. Matty Ice says:

    very nice post. The thing that interested me the most were the “Just Enough” Home runs.

    I wonder if there’s a converse stat, but even if there was I doubt anyone would keep track of it. For example, how many “Just missed” fly balls did he have, that were just short of the fence or to the left/right of the foul pole?

    Would be interesting to see, because that might rebalance his HR number.

  20. Bo says:

    He better not lose the power numbers with LF bringing nothing to the table in regards to power. And it might not being anything offensively if Gardner cant get on base. Cant lose offense at 2 power positions.

    • (Psssst… Hey, RAB board: I don’t think Bo knows that we upgraded CF from Melky to Granderson, and that upgrade is more than enough to compensate for any downgrade in LF AND any regression from Swisher. Let’s not tell him, let’s just wait and see how long it takes him to start thinking intelligently and figure it out. I’m setting the over/under at 50 years.

      Put me down for the over.)

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals says:

        seriously, i think that’s a legit concern.

        now, if there were a way we could compensate for that loss of LF power by having a power stud somewhere else, like at 3B/C/1B/DH, then, well, we’d be in good shape.

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