This isn’t the Nick Swisher you used to know. When you started following him in Oakland because of his Moneyball appearance, or if you just started watching him last year, you could have easily pegged Swisher as a certain type of player. He doesn’t hit for high average, he strikes out a lot, he hits for power, and he takes a ton of walks. The value in the latter two compensate for the former two, which makes Swisher a pretty valuable player. I’m sure that if he continued that way the Yanks would have kept him around through 2012, when they’d have to pick up his $10.25 million option. Now, though, Swisher has changed the equation with his uncharacteristic first half.
In the past Swisher has always carried a low BABIP. He peaked in 2007 at .301, but has mostly been down in the .270 to .280 range. This year he’s up at .341, which might have some thinking that it’s a bunch of luck. Yet that is not what a high BABIP necessarily means.
Different players carry different BABIPs. It’s all about the hitting style. We usually reference a player’s career BABIP because, well, it’s the same player. But when that player changes his approach we should be cautious when making statements about his BABIP. Swisher has changed enough that we might see him sustain a number far higher than he has before in his career.
So what should we expect from Swisher? Clearly his approach has changed. His strikeout rate is down and his contact rate is higher than any previous year. His swinging strikes are slightly down, though not significantly so. He’s also swinging a ton more, 44.2 percent against a 39.2 percent career average. He’s hitting more line drives than ever, and he still has 15 home runs despite 13.3 percent HR/FB ratio, which is below his career average. So there are some factors that suggest that he’ll continue hitting well.
How well? According to xBABIP Swisher is still hitting a bit above his head. That calculator, which takes into account homers, strikeouts, stolen bases, line drives, flyballs, pop ups, and ground outs, peg him for a .309 mark. That would still be above his career average, but not quite to the level he’s hitting now. The good news is that he’s outpacing that now and theoretically could in the second half. The bad news is that regression can strike at any time. If it does guide Swish back down to earth, hopefully it has the courtesy to raise up some of the underperformers.
As Mike noted before the season, Swisher showed signs that he was playing above his head last year. Yet he made adjustments and has exceeded expectations this year. There is a good chance that he continues to outperform his expected numbers because, well, he’s a changed player. He has tightened up his stance and is displaying a more aggressive approach at the plate. This could lead to even more good things in the second half, even if the projections suggest otherwise.