The almost average Nick Swisher

A second chance at Bill Hall
Draft Links: Oppenheimer, Mocks, Chats, Etc.

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.

A second chance at Bill Hall
Draft Links: Oppenheimer, Mocks, Chats, Etc.
  • Urban

    So Swish hit .243/.313/.382 from August 3rd to September 29th (150 PA), followed up by his 162 PA slumo to start 2011 from April 7th to May 25th? That does not make me feel good!

    • Steve H

      Pretty arbitrary end points, no?

      • Mister Delaware

        Adding in the playoffs, he was .237/.329/.391 from August 2010 through May 2011. Less arbitrary, still bad. And, since it was his most recent stretch, worth a little concern. Not a lot, but more than “Teixeira can’t hit in April”.

      • Urban

        Steve H, not sure what you mean by that, so let me explain what I meant.

        By Joe P’s numbers, Swisher did not hit the last two months of 2010, and he didn’t hit the first two months of 2011. I can also throw in that he hit .175 in October, and now we’re up to five consecutive months of MLB playing time when Swisher was slumping. (I’m willing to throw out the October numbers since it was only 35 or so ABs.) That’s what I meant by it not making me feel good. At what point does something become a slump as opposed to a trend?

        It’s common now to tout Granderson’s strong August and September and April and May (not to mention October) as evidence that Granderson has turned the corner and is now a more complete hitter. During the same months, Swisher became a lesser hitter. That’s why the numbers didn’t make me feel comfortable.

        Overall, I still think it was a slump. Swish is a streaky type of hitter. I’m simply hoping he ended 2010 and started 2011 on negative streaks. His ABs of lately have been more encouraging, but it’s only been a couple of weeks, and for me to believe he’s out of the slump would be picking an arbitrary point, and a small sample at that.

  • CMP

    He seems to be getting into the groove so I think the Yankees have to be patient and just keep running him out there.

    I wouldn’t let him stand in my way, however, of acquiring someone like Carlos Beltran if he isn’t too expensive in terms of prospects as insurance against Swisher sucking the rest of the season plus with Posada looking almost done, there should be ABs at DH too.

  • Guest

    It’s amazing that one plus week of hottish hitting could get Swish back to nearly league average. I really wonder why offense is so low this year. A lot of intriguing theories:

    1. No roids.
    2. As teams are placing more value on defense, we are seeing more all glove no bat guys and fewer all bat no glove guys.
    3. Newer parks are bigger than the newer parks from the ’90s.
    4. Talent enters the majors in cycles, and we have seen a wave of great young starting pitchers enter the game recently.

    I bet its all of the above, but anecdotally, it feels like the new ballparks and new wave of young stud pitchers seem like the biggest reasons to me.

    • CP

      4. Talent enters the majors in cycles, and we have seen a wave of great young starting pitchers enter the game recently.

      I think this is the biggest factor. With the offensive explosion in the late ’90’s and early 2000’s, teams felt they could find offense anywhere and gave bigger money to pitching prospects.

      Then, once the pitchers were signed, they were protected better (or babied, if you’d prefer) so that fewer burned out in the minors.

      • Guest

        Interesting theory re: burn out. I think there might eb something to this.

        In the past, the pool of elite pitchers may have been artificially reduced by arm-injuries due to draconian workloads.

        Now that we know more about protecting young pitchers, maybe a few more excellent arms are making it to the majors rather than being used up before AA.

        I like it. Sounds like an interesting piece for a better writer/researcher than I.

      • Urban

        I can’t disagree that this is part of the equation, although I don’t think it’s the only part of the equation. When hitting really exploded in the 90s, Bill James outlined about six or seven condidtions that changed, which led to an increase in hitting. Teams, drafting, hitting philosphy kept feeding off the trend of more hitting.

        Agreed, that puts a premium on drafting and development of pitching. Just watch what’s happening in the early part of tonight’s draft. Perhaps 20 of the first 30 top prospects are considered pitchers.

        Another aspect, difficult to prove, is MLB may have changed the baseballs. Everyone always like to talk about juiced baseballs, but no one ever wants to consider the opposite, or the idea that MLB has the ability to impact the level of offense. Offensive explosions in the game have been timed to periods of great unrest, such as post the 1919 Black Sox scandals and post the 1994 stike and lost World Series. Offense brings people in, and let’s not put it past MLB to try and spike interest at times. On the opposite side, with the great steroid controversy, perhaps they’ve gone the other direction to take attention away from what they view as a negative to the game. I’m not saying it’s the case, but it’s something to consider.

        Last, there is some evidence that the strike zone has been altered the last few seasons, shifting more control to pitchers. It’s happened before. After Maris and 1961, Commissioner Frick basically instructed umpires to call what he viewed as the text-book strike zone. Unfortunately, they misread the rules and expanded the strike zone to levels never seen prior. It wasn’t immediately obvious, and it took pitchers a few years to really begin to master the larger strikezone, but eventually both the pitchers and the umpires began to further expand the strike zone, ultimately leading to the collapse of hitting in 1968.

        While MLB took action to bring offense back by lowering the pitching mound (really, who wants a .301 batting champion and a ton of 1-0, and 2-1 games?), MLB teams began to value pitching even more, defense even more, stolen bases, OFers with speed to track down baseballs, and more defensive style of hitting. When George Brett first came up in the 1970s, he was a student of the Charlie Lau style of hitting, which was contact based, line drives to take advantage of wider ballparks, artificial turf, lower strike outs. Hit the ball and run. That style of hitting began to move away in the 1980s, including with Brett himself, who began to drive the ball more for power.

        Anyway, lots of rambling on my side, but if indeed the strike zone has been altered, even slightly, pitchers will begin to master it more and more, and thus begin to widen the strike zone even further, and hitters will start to become even more defensive, while at the same time hitters’ walk rates will decrease as they will be more inclined to try and put the ball in play, as opposed to being called out. We may be seeing that trend right now.

        Best end it there before I have to open my own blog!

    • Mike HC

      I think it is just more of a cyclical type thing. Pitching will have the upper hand for a while, then hitting, then back to pitching and so on for the rest of time.

    • Mike HC

      5. The Yankees have not called up Montero yet.

    • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

      newer parks are larger–wouldn’t we be able to see an uptick in doubles and triples and a drop in homers? for somebody that knows what they’re doing at bref or (etc) that should be pretty easy to see no?

  • CP

    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.

    Not exactly. His wOBA rose from .375 in 2009 to .377 in 2010 because he traded walks for singles. In 2009 he had 97 walks and 59 singles while in 2010 he had 58 walks and 98 singles (total of 156 both years). Since a single is valued at .461 runs while a walk is valued at .308 runs, trading roughly 40 walks for 40 singles causes the increase in wOBA.

    The reason that his wOBA didn’t go up even more than the counting stats would suggest is that he had more PA in 2010 (635 vs 607). So despite getting the same number of hits+walks in both years, his rate for those dropped.

    • AndrewYF

      Yeah, I don’t think wOBA is league-adjusted.

      • Mister Delaware

        I’m pretty sure it is since its linear weight based and those change each year. And, time on my hands, I tried to find similar batters with very similar slashes and got this …

        1982 Chet Lemon (Tigers): 512 PA, .266/.368/.447, .364 wOBA
        2002 Corey Koskie (Twins): 576 PA, .267/.368/.447, .351 wOBA

        I can’t imagine that doesn’t factor in the different offensive environments.

        (Unless I’m totally misunderstanding the debate here.)

    • Joe Pawlikowski

      But a single wasn’t .461 last year, and a walk wasn’t .308. They all fluctuate based on run environment. The numbers I used for this post were current as of last Thursday, and they have a single at .894. Since then it has decreased fractionally, but it’s still way up there.

      • Mister Delaware

        Did you mean .494?

        • Joe Pawlikowski

          No, .894. I think there is sometimes confusion between the scales for wOBA. I’m just using the strict inputs that lead to the formula (.696*BB)+(.728*HBP)+(.894*1B) etc./PA

          • CP

            Where are those numbers coming from?

            • CP

              To clarify, where do you get the up to date linear weights values for the various events?