Nick Swisher swinging at everything

HOPE Week expanding to minor league affiliates this year
Russell Martin and pitches down
Yep. He really just caught that. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Nick Swisher hasn’t been very Swisher-like at the plate this season. Sure, he’s hitting with his typical power, slugging 13 doubles and eight homers. He’s also seemingly been robbed more frequently than usual. There have been at least a few games where he’s hit three or four rockets, only to have fielders snag them — sometimes in spectacular fashion. But there has been something about Swisher’s game that just doesn’t add up, given his history.

When the Yankees acquired Swisher before the 2009 season they pretty much knew what they were getting: a low-average, high OBP player with some power. In his first season he met expectations almost precisely, hitting .249/.371/.498, slugging 29 homers and 35 doubles while walking 97 times. They got much of the same in 2011 as well: .260/.374/.449 with 23 homers, 30 doubles, and 95 walks. Maybe it has become an odd-year thing with Swisher, because in 2010, and now in 2012, he’s been a bit different.

In 2010 Swisher talked about becoming more aggressive at the plate. That worked out for him well. While his walk rate dropped to 9.1 percent, the lowest of his career by more than a full point, he made up for it by hitting .288, by leaps and bounds the highest of his career. He still added the power, with 29 homers and 33 doubles. Replacing the walks with hits worked out well for him, as he produced the highest OPS+ of his career.

This year Swisher has again shown a free-swinging tendency. The difference is that it’s not quite working to his advantage. We can start with his tendency to swing at pitches out of the zone — 27.2 percent, which is higher than even his then-career-high of 25.4 percent in 2010. Even worse, he’s actually swinging at pitches out of the zone at a rate higher than the league average; he’s never done that previously. In general he’s swinging more, with the highest rate of his career at this point. That’s just not what we’ve come to expect from Swisher.

Even more concerning is his swinging strike rate: 12.5 percent, which is far, far above his 8.9 percent career rate, and even more alarmingly above his average as a Yankee. While it’s difficult to make definitive conclusions from batted ball data, we can combine this with the eye test to make the following assertion: Swisher has been taking some terrible hacks this year, and his overall game is suffering from it.

While we can examine the problem, the solution is completely out of our grasp. Is Swisher swinging more often due to frustration over having his hard-hit balls land in fielders’ gloves? Is he trying to be more aggressive, as in 2010, but failing to recognize pitches? The most important question, though, is of whether he’ll eventually round into form. Given his history of only one below-average season, and his increasing production into his prime years, it seems as though he will.

In an offense riddled with problems, Swisher has at times seemed a savior. He’s had plenty of big hits. At the same time, he’s been floundering in many spots where his team needs him to be patient and wait for his pitch. Getting him back to his normal production levels will provide another boost to an offense that needs all the help it can get right now.

HOPE Week expanding to minor league affiliates this year
Russell Martin and pitches down
  • Frank

    Agree. For whatever reason, he’s not showing the plate discipline he’s demonstrated in the past. Seems very anxious, like he wants to hit everything out of the park. I love the guy but I suspect, like Martin, he’s playing himself off next year’s team.

  • forensic

    Maybe he’s just struggling and pressing under the pressure of his contract year and his numbers will continue to drop closer to his postseason levels.


    • Mike Axisa

      He was playing for a contract last year.

      • Dan

        True, but I think he is smart enough to realize that it was highly unlikely that the Yankees were not going to pick up his option especially when considering other free agent options and potential replacements at the minor league level in addition to the pretty reasonable salary. This year he knows there is a greater likelihood that he ends up somewhere else based on the Yankees 2014 budget plan, and if he can put up big power numbers he might view himself as deserving of a 15-20 mill contract.

    • Need Pitching

      284/355/617 .406 wOBA, 157 wRC+ in April

      so no contract year pressure in April, but it suddenly exists in May?

      also, last year was essentially a contract year as well

  • Bam

    But he has a great attitude

    • DJ4K&Monterowasdinero

      And every 3rd word out of his mouth is “man”

      You know, man! He’s awesome, man. Jeet’s awesome, man!

      • RI$P FTW

        Stop stealing my bit.

  • DJ4K&Monterowasdinero

    Maybe teams have studied Swisher’s post season at bats.

    That’s what I would do.

    • LiterallyFigurative

      Teams are killing him with breaking balls.

      • DJ4K&Monterowasdinero

        He swings over these and is pretty much a dead red hitter. The difference against quality pitching-now and in the post season is they will throw off speed in hitter’s counts. Swish needs to lay off and take a few more walks and a few less swing and misses. Easier said than done. Swish has good job security with our AAA outfield unless we decide to roll the dice with Mustellier who I haven’t seen.

      • Mike Axisa

        He’s seeing the exact same number of breaking balls as the last few years…

  • Voice of Reason

    That playing-for-a-contract-so-he’s-pressing argument makes zero sense. For one thing he’s always walked a lot in the postseason (less power and a miniscule BABIP is what’s killed him there), and not drawing walks is what’s making him a fairly ineffective player right now.

    It’s sort of a frustrating thought, but the truth is that baseball players are kinda in their own world and they may not necessarily be aware of what makes them succeed. Very possible that Nick Swisher is just an idiot and thinks that being drastically more aggressive is a positive thing for him. As odd as it seems for a player whose calling card has always been drawing walks to do so, I’d guess it’s as simple as not wanting to be patient anymore.

    • Mike Axisa

      It’s sort of a frustrating thought, but the truth is that baseball players are kinda in their own world and they may not necessarily be aware of what makes them succeed.

      Joe Morgan spent years in the broadcast booth talking about baseball in a way that made him sound completely oblivious to what made him one of the 25 best players in history.

      • Voice of Reason

        of course I was thinking of him as I wrote that, but I wouldn’t want to compare my worst enemy to Joe Morgan

      • eephus_pitch

        This continues to be one of the strangest stories in the history of baseball.

    • cr1

      I was having a similar thought the other day about Hughes — from the way he talks about what he does it would appear he just isn’t very bright.

      Doesn’t necessarily stop a guy from being good at what he does, but does make me scratch my head.

    • RI$P FTW

      Wait! A clod that hits or throws a ball for a living might not be bright? Impossible!

  • RI$P FTW

    You can’t walk your way off the island…

    (He’s Dominican, right?)

  • Cuso

    (Crickets chirping)

  • http://riveravenueblues thescooter

    swisher has his own theme music playing in his head. he sees himself as this larger-than-life figure and consequently tries to make the spectacular play or have a memorable at bat instead of playing solid baseball. his throws from the outfield are ridiculous… he thinks he’s carl furillo but launches big high floaters to nowhere. the concept of the cut-off man is completely alien to him. he’s also the worst 3-2 hitter i’ve ever seen. he’ll swing at ANYTHING with a full count. he just attempted an inexplicable sacrifice bunt with two on and nobody out. of course he got alex forced out at third. i do like the guy, but he has to stop taking stupid pills..