Are Gardner and Swisher equals at the plate?

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The season started slowly for both Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher, but both have managed to turn it around. Gardner got an earlier start, hitting his stride in late April and continuing through the present. It took Swisher another month to get into a groove, but now he’s resembling the player we saw the last two years. Right now Gardner and Swisher share an OPS, both at .779. That might make them appear equal in production, but they’ve gotten there in different ways.

Gardner, as it’s easy to imagine, has produced his numbers mostly one base at a time. Of his 91 times on base, 72 have been a walk, hit by pitch, or single. This gives him a .281/.360/.420 line, which is excellent for a guy with Gardner’s speed. Swisher, on the other hand, has used his normal combination of walks and extra base hits to accumulate his line. He has been on base 111 times, which includes 23 extra base hits, 48 walks, and three hit by pitches.

Is the fact that they share an OPS and indicator that they’ve been equals at the plate? Yesterday at FanGraphs Matt Klaassen examined the usefulness of AVG/OBP/SLG when we have better stats. OPS was fine for its time, but there are other measures, such as wOBA or Baseball Prospectus’s True Average, that put offensive events into better context. To that they’re also essential equals, with just one point of wOBA separating them.

So done deal, right? At this point they’ve produced nearly equal value at the plate according to both OPS and wOBA. But for the moment I’m not exactly satisfied with the answer, because wOBA does take stolen bases and caught stealings into account. That is not production at the plate (and I desperately wish for FanGraphs to move SB/CS to their baserunning stat next year and leave wOBA to plate production only). Stripping out baserunning, Gardner has a wOBA of about .341, while Swisher is at .348. Why the difference? Because at a time when offense is on the decline, Swisher’s power — a .167 ISO to Gardner’s .138 — has rendered him the superior hitter to this point, even though he slumped for the first two months.

At this point it might seem as though Gardner has been the better producer at the plate, since he turned around his season at an earlier point. But Swisher’s skill set has allowed him to make up the difference rapidly. It reveals a truth that we all know: Swisher is more valuable at the plate than Gardner. But it also reveals the further value in Gardner’s skill set. When we take stolen bases and caught stealings into account, Gardner’s wOBA is nearly equal to Swisher’s. When we add in UBR, FanGraphs’ base running stat, it becomes even more apparent that Gardner can compete with Swisher on an complete offensive level. Taking his batting and base running totals (from here), he’s four runs better than Swisher overall, 7.1 to 3.1.

Going forward, Swisher’s OPS figures to rise a bit, while Gardner might be near his peak. Maybe he adds some OBP, but Swisher has plenty of room to grow, given the skills he’s shown throughout his career. From an at-the-dish standpoint, by season’s end Swisher will almost certainly be the better hitter. But when we take into consideration the other part of offense, the bases, Gardner will make up some, if not all, of the difference. Different player provide value in different ways. The Yankees are lucky to have a good balance in this regard among their outfielders.

(And that doesn’t even mention defense, which is a completely different animal.)

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Trade season starting early for the Yanks
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  • TheEvilUmpire

    There’s only one way to settle this argument- Thunderdome!

    “Two men enter, one man leave.”

    /Mad Max’d

  • CP

    Because at a time when offense is on the decline, Swisher’s power — a .167 ISO to Gardner’s .138 — has rendered him the superior hitter to this point,

    Why does a change in the league offense impact Swisher’s (or anyone else’s) wOBA?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      The run value of events (singles, walks, homers, reached-on-errors) changes each year based on the run environment, which is reflected in wOBA. Power is getting tougher to find, so it has more value.

      • CP

        But with offense down, a home run (for example) would tend to be worth fewer runs since there are less likely to be men on base.

        • CP

          Taking that a step further, I can see why the difference between Swisher and Gardner would change as offense changes since the relative value of a HR vs a single changes. For example, a HR will always produce at least one run, while you would need 3 singles in a row to produce a run.

          What I don’t understand is why a collection of hits, walks, etc would produce a higher wOBA when offense across the league is down.

        • 28 this year

          each home run is more important because the number of runs that teams score is down. Therefore, the value of a HR goes up because they are harder to get. Its like economics, supply and demand. kinda.

  • Brian

    So what you’re saying is that we should platoon Gardner?

  • nsalem

    Coincidentally (or maybe not) Swisher and Gardner are ranked 9 and 10 in the AL in P/PA at
    4.20 and 4.22 respectively (Swisher with the better number). Number one in the league is our own Curtis Granderson at 4.43. I think that P/PA combined with OBP reveals interesting information on both players and teams in their abilities to run up a SP’s pitch count. A starting pitcher would have to throw app.
    137 pitches to get 21 outs (7 innings) to get through a line-up of Gardners and about 146 pitches for the same 21 outs from Granderson.

  • Cobra

    Seven thousandths of whatever wOBA measures is enough to determine one a “superior hitter”?

    Also, no link to the NoMaas interview with Newman?

    • Ted Nelson

      I’m not sure exactly what you’re referring to, but I think the point is that Joe doesn’t expect it to be merely 7 points by the end of the season. If their OBP #s are similar and Swisher has more power… his wOBA should be higher. So far this season Swisher isn’t hitting for power. Last season they were about 20 points across, which does start to get relatively significant.

      • Ted Nelson

        across = apart

  • Evan3457

    It’s the old Pesky/Stuart argument from the 1st Bill James Baseball Abstract. Who’s the better offensive player? Depends where you are in the rally.

    You’d want Gardner to start the rally, and Swisher to try to get the big multi-run EBH. (Clutchness hitting stats notwithstanding.)

    It also depends who the pitcher is at any given plate appearance.

  • Evan3457

    A summary of the Pesky/Stuart argument can be found in this review of the 1st mass market BJBA at the Baseball Analysts:

  • Evan3457
  • Guest

    Brett Gardner. Elite Player.

    (I know he’s not quite “elite”, but I love the meme.)