A visible difference from Swisher

Rivera's walk-off blast gives Trenton 2-0 series lead
Searching for a left fielder and finding one
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Nick Swisher is like a different hitter this year. In 2009 he was the same old Swisher, taking pitch after pitch in hopes of either running into one or drawing a walk. It worked out well, as he produced a career year. But he wasn’t satisfied with that. During the winter he worked with Kevin Long, which apparently resulted in a new stance and a new approach. Swisher is no longer the guy who finds himself with multiple full counts per game.

This year Swisher’s walk rate is a career low 9.3 percent after it was a career high 16 percent last season. Yet this doesn’t mean that he’s necessarily swinging earlier in the count. He has still seen 4.04 pitches per plate appearance this year, which, while worse than his 4.26 P/PA last year, still ranks 19th in the AL. The difference, it seems, is that Swisher is taking fewer pitches inside the zone, as evidenced by his 26 percent strike-looking rate, easily the lowest of his career. That means he’s swinging at more pitches in the zone, which are presumably better pitches.

You can see this in his strike zone plots. For 2009 I stopped at September 10 so we’d have a similar number of plots on each. Here’s 2009:

And 2010:

There’s a lot more white inside the zone this year. Most of his takes come around the edges, which is the way it should be. Last year he let a lot of hittable pitches pass him by. This year he’s taking advantage of those opportunities.

The result, by most measures, has been a smashing success. Swisher’s batting average currently sits at .292, even after a mild slump. He has never hit higher than .262 in any season. His wOBA is at a career high .383, thanks to a career-high .521 SLG. He’s hitting breaking balls much better than he has in the past as well. This has led to a much evener batted ball distribution. Here’s his 2009 spray chart:

And 2010:

There are more plots on the 2010 chart because he’s clearly put more balls in play this season. But the 2010 chart looks fuller, too. Swish has hit the ball to every part of the ballpark, while in 2009 he tended to put the ball into left field. He has used the right field line much more in 2010 and his doubles total, 31, just four fewer than last year, thanks him for it.

We’ve seen a new Nick Swisher in 2010, and it’s one that I think we can get used to. It’s amusing to recall that shortly after the Yankees acquired him that he was designated as fourth outfielder. Now he’s the right fielder of the forseeable future. Given the year he’s putting together, I think that’s something we can live with.

Rivera's walk-off blast gives Trenton 2-0 series lead
Searching for a left fielder and finding one
  • vin

    Nick looked so over-matched in the playoffs last year. Seemed like he would chase any breaking ball. Looked like the type of guy who can’t hack it against good pitching.

    It’s really good to see him re-work his swing and be committed to improving even after a good season. It’s a little hard to tell as a tv viewer like myself, but it seems like he’s done a good job in RF as well. I don’t really recall any problems with his throwing or route taking. Last year was a different story (especially in the 1st half).

    Like it or not, this “4th OFer” will help form the core of the team over the next couple years (at least) with Tex, Granderson and Cano. And he seems like a great guy to boot.

    Cashman should have won the Nobel Prize for this heist.

  • Carlosologist

    I’ve enjoyed Swish’s season as well. My parent’s have even gotten around to liking him (During the 09 playoffs, they called him cara de viejito (which is Spanish for Old Man Face) for whatever reason). He’s done so much better this season in the Stadium. I believe he performed poorly in the Bronx, and mashed everywhere else.

    I think that Swisher has become the new Paul O’Neill. He’ll be the long time Yankee right fielder who came to the Boogie Down in exchange for a bench player.

  • PaulF

    I just hope Swisher’s BB% rebounds next year if the hits aren’t falling as often.

    • BigBlueAL

      Yeah that is my only concern with the “new” Swisher. If his average drops to around .250 but his walk rate doesnt rebound to past levels it wont be a good thing.

      • http://twitter.com/iiKeane JobaWockeeZ

        His BB rate would obviously fall if he’s racking up more hits. Getting more hits and walking at the same rate is a pretty hard thing to do. His OBP is around his career average. I don’t think it’s a concern.

        • Cecala

          His slugging is also up .025 points which is a career high for him.

        • BigBlueAL

          Right, the fact he is putting more balls in play right now is reducing his walk rate obviously.

          To be honest Ill take the 2009 or 2010 Swisher w/o blinking an eye.

          • http://twitter.com/iiKeane JobaWockeeZ

            Same here.

    • Rob in CT

      I’d only worry if his out-of-zone swing rate spikes, or his line drive rate craters. If he does the right things and ends up with a lower BA due to BABIP randomness, that sucks but shouldn’t scare you going forward.

  • Cecala

    This is how I judged the difference in Swish’s swing. During last years playoffs, my grandpa (a man who doesn’t watch baseball) was over and the game was on. Swish came up and his comment was hahaha look at this guy he looks like hes dancing. This year he watched a game and didn’t say a word.

  • seimiya

    Whenever Swisher does anything, I feel so bad about all those really, really mean things I said to/about him in the playoffs.

  • David in Cal

    I’ve seen Swisher get some big hits swinging on 2-0 and 3-0 counts this year. I don’t recall whether he tended to take pitches on those counts lasts year, but that may be part of the difference.

  • Jerkface

    Swisher has gotten on base about 20 less times in a similar amount of plate appearances in 2010 compared to 09. He also has a little less raw power, as evidenced by his ISO.

    On the other hand he is hitting .290 and over .300 with RISP. If these changes allow Swisher to hit around .300 with RISP with some kind of consistency and helps him against tough pitchers in the play off it will be more than worth it.

    Hopefully he settles in next year, walks a little more, and maintains his high average.

  • jim p

    And he’s a better outfielder too, it looks to this eye. Not sure if the stats bear it out, but he certainly looks smoother out there.

  • Rob

    As much as I love all of Gardner, Granderson, and Swisher – their games and their persons – I just don’t see how the Yanks can continue to expect what they’ve gotten this year. Only Granderson has room to improve, but given the three-year trends, that doesn’t seem likely. Swisher is sporting a BABIP almost 50 points higher than his career averages. Sure, his new approach may stick, but then given the variances we’ve seen from him in BABIP I’m not convinced he’s not going to regress next year. And Gardner had a lot of question marks before this season for a reason. He’s answered them at times, but he’s at .236/.377/.324 in the second half. With the IsoP, of course he’s valuable but far from irreplaceable. Of the bunch, he looks like the 4th OF as we expected all along. And with Granderson’s vulnerabilities against lefties – yeah, yeah, let’s see the swing changes stick – the Yankee are looking at an OF that’s really half full.

    Given the uncertainties of A-Rod and Jeter and Jorge going forward, and an OF that could easily regress in 2011, the Yankees need another bat. Jayson Werth, from the right side, seems like a perfect fit most especially because he won’t kill you in CF either. Put Werth in LF given how much bigger it is in NYS, and let Gardner and Granderson fight for playing time when the DH spot has it’s share of the old and infirm.

    • MattG

      For me, with the way Gardner works pitchers, plays defense, and (to a much lesser degree) runs, he’s a starter anytime his OBP is over .360. Even the slash stats you cite have me thinking he’s helping the team.

      At least while he’s pre-arb, there should be no thought of replacing him in the line-up. There will be other FA outfielders to consider once Gardner gets expensive.

      I would trade him, and replace him with a FA, if someone valued him even more. Like you said, he’s not irreplaceable. But he’s cheap and good, and thus very valuable.

    • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

      Werth has 155 Ks and a .266/.379/.442 line away from CBP. Be careful of thinking the grass is always greener on the other side.

  • vinny-b

    even withstanding his walkoff the other day, Swisher has been as important to this team as Robinson Cano. Co-MVP’s

    (tips cap)

  • MattG

    What jumps out at me from the take pitch plots is all the purple down the middle that Swisher took in 2009. This leads me to many questions:

    To what pitches is Swisher now swinging? Did pitchers replace those change-ups with fastballs, and that’s why he’s swinging, or did the changes to his stance make him less susceptible to change-ups?

    I looked at fangraphs to try and answer these questions, and I just got more questions. No, they are not throwing him less change-ups. He was good against change-ups last season, but he is actually struggling against the change this year. They are throwing him less fastballs, as that is the one pitch he really excels at hitting.

    The big difference is his success against the slider. He’s struggled with that pitch his whole career, and he really struggled with it in ’09, but this year, he’s actually above average.

    Going back to the plot, I can’t see how this is evident–it’s too hard to see the little pink triangles.

    How can I make my own plot of only sliders? Do you pay for this service, or is it available somewhere for free?

  • Klemy

    I was curious if the spray chart difference had anything to do with a shift in the number of plate appearances on each side of the plate.

    The spray chart and plate appearance at each side of the plate do hold to the story, because he’s on pace to be very even with 2009’s number of plate appearances from each side of the plate.

    2009 PA by side of plate:
    398 as L, 206 as R

    2010 PA by side of plate (so far):
    366 as L, 191 as R

    So, that does indicate there is a change as the article says. Good show.

  • larryf

    Swish’s walk off homer to the opposite field bullpen was tremendous. Hitting fastballs for power the opposite way and pulling offspeed stuff instead of swinging and missing is a big step forward. Easier said than done but…good stuff

  • Wave Your Hat

    It has become fashionable to attribute to Swisher a big increase in his offensive effectiveness due to a modification of his stance and swing in the off-season.

    The problem is, he isn’t more effective than last year offensively outside the bounds of normal variation from one year to the next.

    The article stresses Nick’s 2010 current wOBA of .382. Indeed that is his career high. But his wOBA last year was .375. You can’t convince me .382 is a significant increase over .375 or due to anything other than normal variation. And his wOBA in 2006 and 2007 was .368 and .361, respectively. Not shabby.

    When you start looking closely at Nick’s performance this year, the picture clouds. The first thing that you notice is all of Nick’s “improvement” this year is batting average related. His batting average is indeed way up – .292 so far this year vs .249 last year, .252 lifetime.

    But, the BA improvement is all singles. His HR% is down, his double rate is down slightly. So the increase in SLG is all batting average driven. His isolated power is actually down – .231 vs .249 last year.

    And, when we look at BABiP, something a bit disturbing emerges. This year, his BABiP is .337, vs .272 last year and .285 lifetime. Yet, the increase in BABiP has not resulted in more doubles, and hasn’t been accompanied by more HRs. The increase in BABiP – 65 points worth – is all singles. Can that be all due to his improved swing? An improved swing that hits singles, but not doubles? At a clip 65 points better than last year? Count me unconvinced.

    At the same time, his walk rate has plummeted – down to 9.7% vs 16% last year. This year that hasn’t hurt – I’m sure it has actually helped – because of all the extra singles.

    But, walk rate is more constant over time than batting average and BABiP. If Nick’s BABiP were to drop 30 points next year – which would still put it well ahead of 2009 and his career BABiP, Nick’s offense would not be as valuable in 2011 as it was in 2009. And IMO, the BABiP number in 2011 will be lower than it is in 2010.

    So, if the “new” Nick is permanent, he may in fact be less valuable offensively in the future than he was in 2009, or even 2006 or 2007.

    Nick is having a great year. I love it. But, we shouldn’t get carried away with a narrative and jump to unwarranted conclusions.