The Yankees have had one of the league’s best offenses for many years running, but they came into the season with a surprising lack of sure things at the plate. How would Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez continue to decline? Would Curtis Granderson continue to rake after making adjustments with Kevin Long? Would Mark Teixeira’s batting average bounce back? Can Brett Gardner do it again with the wrist injury in the rear-view mirror? How would Jorge Posada take to DHing? Is Russell Martin healthy? The only two players with any kind of certainty coming into 2011 were budding star Robinson Cano and the less hyped Nick Swisher.
Oddly enough, Swisher’s season started with a rather prolonged slump, particularly in the power department. He’d gotten off to hot starts in his previous two years as a Yankee, so this was quite the opposite. Swish didn’t hit his first homerun until the team’s 22nd game of the season, at which point he was hitting just .237/.351/.303 in 94 plate appearances. The slump continued into late-May, and the Yankees right fielder carried a weak .206/.321/.288 batting line into the May 29th game in Seattle, the Yankees’ 51st game of the season.
A second inning solo homer off Jason Vargas in that May 29th game set the stage for Swisher’s turn around. He put together a little six-game hitting streak and socked another homer three days later, then hit another one out three days after that. It’s not much, but he managed to raise his season batting line from .204/.321/.289 to .215/.342/.348 during the nine-game west coast trip, and he was the team’s best hitter during June: .326/.445/.651 with seven homers and more walks (20) than strikeouts (16). From that May 29th game through the end of the season, he hit .284/.397/.519 with 23 doubles and 21 homers in 442 plate appearances.
Swisher managed to raise his overall season line from that sub-replacement level garbage he put up through the first 51 games to a much more respectable .260/.374/.449 after 162 games, a .358 wOBA that was his worst as a Yankee but still 19th best among the 62 qualified outfielders in baseball. Swisher did struggle against righties (.335 wOBA) compared to lefties (.412), but it wasn’t enough to stop him from leading the team in OBP and posting the seventh highest walk rate (15.0%) in baseball. At 3.4 bWAR and 3.8 fWAR, he was either the 19th or 25th best outfielder in the game, depending on your statistical preference.
The sluggish start and dreadful postseason showing (4-for-19 with a walk) sort of puts a damper on yet another fine season for Swisher, who at this point has to be considered one of the best pickups of the Brian Cashman era when considering cost. He’s gotten on base and hit for power every season he’s been in New York, and he hasn’t spent a day on the disabled list. The Yankees are very likely to pick up Swisher’s $10.25M option for 2012, bringing him back to Bronx for at least one more season, a season that will almost certainly be productive.