It hasn’t been too long since we last checked in on Nick Swisher. He used the start of the road trip to boost his then-abysmal season numbers, going 6 for 20 and hitting .300/.462/.650 in the first six games out west. In Anaheim he went 2 for 9, but with a double, a homer, and three walks. That brings his season numbers to .215/.342/.348. It might not look good, but you’ll be surprised at how close he has gotten to league average.
This caught me off guard, too, since Swisher stumbled for most of the season until last week. But lost in the downturn of his numbers is the downturn of offense around the league. The league average wOBA right now is .316, down from .321 last year and .329 in 2009. That changes the expectations somewhat, since Swisher can provide the same production while producing lower traditional stats. We can see this in last year’s numbers, when Swisher had an OBP 12 points lower than in 2009. Despite that, and despite a lower ISO, he still managed a higher wOBA. That’s because league-wide production dropped, as you can see in the average wOBA.
Right now Swisher has a .311 wOBA, putting him just five points below league average. What would it take for him to reach that average mark? If he goes 2 for 4 with a walk and a double against the Red Sox on Tuesday, his wOBA will jump to .319. Even if he’s 2 for 4 with two singles and a walk, he’ll be at .317. Hell, if Franklin Gutierrez doesn’t reach over the wall and pull back his homer in Seattle, he’d be on the border of league average right now. With a decent series this week against the Sox, he’ll almost certainly return to that level. All won’t be right with the universe, but it will be a lot closer.
Of course, for Swisher to be of value to the Yankees he has to be more than a league average player. The baseline, really, is league average right fielder. In that regard, he has a long way to go. The league average right fielder this year has a .348 wOBA. If he repeats the road trip on the current homestand — 8 for 29 with two doubles, three homers, and nine walks — he’ll only be at .336. If we give him a few more singles he’ll be up over .340. In any case, unless he goes on a monstrous tear, he’s going to be below the average right fielder for at least the next four or five series.
At this point in the season, though, getting Swisher’s numbers back to the average right fielder is a mere formality. It’s something that will look a bit nicer in retrospect, and perhaps help put the slow start behind him (and us, as fans). What matters is that he continues producing. If his numbers grade out just barely above average by season’s end, we know that he’ll have produced at an above-average for the last four months of the season. That is, he probably won’t produce enough to reach his normal numbers, but we can forget about that now. What matters is that he continues doing it. That might mean it takes him a while to reach the level of a league average right fielder. Thankfully, it also means that he’ll have been hitting like an above-average one for a while once he gets there.
Something else to keep in mind is how Swisher’s slump looks worse due to its place during the season. We’ve seen him get off to good starts in the past, and so his numbers tend to look better at this point. This slump essentially covered 162 PA, from April 7th to May 25th. He’s had similar slumps in the past. For instance, last year he hit .243/.313/.382 from August 3rd to September 29th (150 PA). In May of 2009 he hit .150/.311/.275, and for May and June that month he hit .201/.343/.390 (200 PA). Yet he ended both of those seasons with excellent numbers. We might yet see a torrid streak from Swisher.