Does Nick Swisher vanish against good pitching?

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty)

One of the commenters in my post about Nick Swisher last month suggested that Swish’s struggles in the postseason were due in part to the fact that hitters are facing their opponents’ best pitchers, or something to that effect. While it’s probably true that an offensive bludgeoning is less likely to occur during a postseason game than, say, in August, I also think it’s a convenient excuse for teams that aren’t hitting. We’ve frequently seen the Yankee bats run the gamut from laser-hot to ice-cold during the postseason, though we tend to remember the games in which the bats didn’t show up more often than not, given how accustomed we’ve become to fielding a powerhouse offense.

Unfortunately one of the primary issues when judging both a player’s and team’s postseason performances is that the samples are almost always too small, and the very nature of baseball dictates that any player, no matter how good, is going to suffer through a slump at one point or another. That’s not to minimize the impact of facing elite pitching in the postseason; but on the flipside not even pitchers are infallible and even the best ones have less-than-great days. CC Sabathia had a 6.23 ERA in 8.2 innings in the 2011 ALDS; Justin Verlander a 5.00 in 9.0 IP.

The point of all this is that, based on what we know of Nick Swisher’s offensive abilities over the course of a 162-game season, it’s crazy to to assert that he “can’t hit in the postseason.” Unless Swisher has actually demonstrated a distinct inability to hit so-called “good” pitching, the only explanation that really makes sense as far as his struggles have gone is the recurrence of several ill-timed slumps.

Prior to embarking on this post I’d initially hoped to be able to segment batches of “good” (which I would have defined as being 10% better than league average) and “bad” pitchers, and then tally Swisher’s stats against them in an effort to see how exactly he performed against these pitcher types, but B-Ref won’t allow me to export Play Index results to Excel, and there was no way I was going to manually re-enter all of the data.

Instead, below is a table showing all of the starting pitchers Swisher has faced during his three-year Yankee career (including the postseason), minimum 10 PAs. While 10-plus PAs isn’t anywhere near a large-enough sample, if we’re going to castigate Swish for small-sample failure in the playoffs, we also have to accord him respect for small-sample success.

PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP missG
Josh Beckett 40 35 6 0 0 2 6 5 12 .171 .275 .343 .618 0 0 0 0 0
Jon Lester 36 30 9 4 0 1 5 4 9 .300 .400 .533 .933 1 0 0 1 0
Ricky Romero 30 23 5 3 0 0 0 7 4 .217 .400 .348 .748 0 0 0 0 0
David Price 29 22 10 2 0 1 2 7 4 .455 .586 .682 1.268 0 0 0 0 0
John Lackey 27 24 6 0 0 1 2 3 8 .250 .333 .375 .708 0 0 0 0 2
Felix Hernandez 24 23 5 1 0 1 1 1 4 .217 .250 .391 .641 0 0 0 0 2
James Shields 23 23 4 0 0 2 4 0 8 .174 .174 .435 .609 0 0 0 0 2
Brandon Morrow 23 22 3 0 0 1 2 1 8 .136 .174 .273 .447 0 0 0 0 0
Francisco Liriano 23 21 3 1 0 0 1 1 6 .143 .174 .190 .364 0 1 0 0 0
Jeremy Guthrie 22 20 9 3 1 2 6 2 7 .450 .500 1.000 1.500 0 0 0 0 1
Cliff Lee 22 19 4 1 0 2 3 2 5 .211 .273 .579 .852 0 1 0 0 0
C.J. Wilson 21 18 4 1 0 1 2 2 5 .222 .333 .444 .778 0 0 0 1 1
Brett Cecil 21 17 4 0 0 0 1 4 3 .235 .381 .235 .616 0 0 0 0 1
Brian Matusz 19 16 1 0 0 1 1 3 2 .063 .211 .250 .461 0 0 0 0 0
Justin Verlander 19 18 2 1 0 0 2 1 7 .111 .158 .167 .325 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Garza 17 13 7 1 0 3 4 4 5 .538 .647 1.308 1.955 0 0 0 0 0
Jason Vargas 17 14 5 1 0 2 3 2 1 .357 .412 .857 1.269 0 1 0 0 1
Derek Holland 17 14 4 2 0 0 0 3 4 .286 .412 .429 .840 0 0 0 0 0
Brian Tallet 16 13 3 1 0 1 4 3 2 .231 .375 .538 .913 0 0 0 0 0
Kevin Millwood 16 14 4 0 0 1 2 2 5 .286 .375 .500 .875 0 0 0 0 0
Brett Anderson 16 13 3 0 0 0 1 3 3 .231 .375 .231 .606 0 0 0 0 0
Joel Pineiro 15 13 6 3 1 0 3 1 3 .462 .500 .846 1.346 1 0 0 0 0
Andy Sonnanstine 15 13 5 0 0 2 4 2 3 .385 .467 .846 1.313 0 0 0 0 1
Rick Porcello 15 13 3 0 0 1 4 2 3 .231 .333 .462 .795 0 0 0 0 0
Clay Buchholz 15 11 3 1 0 0 1 3 2 .273 .429 .364 .792 1 0 0 0 1
PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP missG
Scott Kazmir 15 12 2 0 0 1 1 2 0 .167 .286 .417 .702 1 0 0 0 0
Fausto Carmona 14 10 4 0 0 2 5 3 0 .400 .500 1.000 1.500 0 1 0 0 0
Gio Gonzalez 14 12 4 1 0 1 5 2 2 .333 .429 .667 1.095 0 0 0 0 0
Brad Bergesen 14 11 3 2 0 0 5 3 2 .273 .429 .455 .883 0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Bard 14 14 3 0 0 1 4 0 6 .214 .214 .429 .643 0 0 0 0 0
Jason Frasor 14 12 2 0 0 0 0 2 4 .167 .286 .167 .452 0 0 0 0 2
Jeff Niemann 14 14 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 .071 .071 .071 .143 0 0 0 0 1
Jake Arrieta 14 13 0 0 0 0 1 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 1 0 0 2
Trevor Cahill 13 9 3 1 0 2 6 3 2 .333 .538 1.111 1.650 0 0 0 1 0
Brian Duensing 13 11 5 2 0 1 4 2 2 .455 .538 .909 1.448 0 0 0 0 0
Ervin Santana 13 8 2 1 0 1 1 3 2 .250 .538 .750 1.288 0 0 0 2 1
Jason Berken 13 10 3 0 0 1 4 3 2 .300 .462 .600 1.062 0 0 0 0 0
Wade Davis 13 10 2 1 0 1 2 2 4 .200 .385 .600 .985 0 0 0 1 0
Mark Buehrle 13 10 4 0 0 0 0 3 1 .400 .538 .400 .938 0 0 0 0 0
John Danks 13 11 3 0 0 1 2 2 1 .273 .385 .545 .930 0 0 0 0 1
Tim Wakefield 13 12 3 1 0 0 0 1 4 .250 .308 .333 .641 0 0 0 0 1
Darren Oliver 13 10 0 0 0 0 0 3 5 .000 .231 .000 .231 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Tillman 12 10 4 1 0 1 2 2 3 .400 .500 .800 1.300 0 0 0 0 0
Marc Rzepczynski 12 10 4 1 0 1 2 1 2 .400 .417 .800 1.217 0 1 0 0 0
Sean O’Sullivan 12 11 3 1 0 1 1 1 1 .273 .333 .636 .970 0 0 0 0 0
Doug Fister 12 11 3 0 0 1 2 1 2 .273 .333 .545 .879 0 0 0 0 1
Max Scherzer 12 9 2 0 0 0 0 3 4 .222 .417 .222 .639 0 0 0 0 0
Joe Saunders 11 10 3 0 0 0 2 1 0 .300 .364 .300 .664 0 0 0 0 0
Tommy Hunter 11 11 2 0 0 1 2 0 4 .182 .182 .455 .636 0 0 0 0 1
Carl Pavano 11 11 2 1 0 0 0 0 7 .182 .182 .273 .455 0 0 0 0 1
PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP missG
Gavin Floyd 11 11 2 0 0 0 0 0 8 .182 .182 .182 .364 0 0 0 0 0
Bruce Chen 10 8 4 0 0 0 1 2 1 .500 .600 .500 1.100 0 0 0 0 1
Matt Harrison 10 9 4 0 0 0 3 0 0 .444 .500 .444 .944 0 0 0 1 1
Mark Hendrickson 10 10 4 1 0 0 1 0 3 .400 .400 .500 .900 0 0 0 0 0
Luke French 10 9 2 0 0 1 2 1 1 .222 .300 .556 .856 0 0 0 0 1
Lance Cormier 10 7 2 0 0 0 2 3 1 .286 .500 .286 .786 0 0 0 0 1
Zach Britton 10 6 0 0 0 0 2 3 2 .000 .300 .000 .300 0 1 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/20/2011.

David Price and Jon Lester are two of the best pitchers in the American League. Swisher has killed ’em both. Cliff Lee? .852 OPS against. Matt Garza doesn’t stand a chance against Swisher. Gio Gonzalez, arguably the most-sought-after pitcher on the trade market, may as well be throwing Swish batting practice. Same with Trevor Cahill and Ervin Santana. RAB favorite John Danks? Swish has hit him to the tune of a .930 OPS in 13 PAs.

The naysayers in the audience will undoubtedly point out Swish’s struggles against Josh Beckett and James Shields (though among the Yankees that’s far from a Swisher-only issue), but on the whole, I’m not sure one could reasonably conclude that Nick Swisher routinely struggles against good pitching.

(Ed. Note: Keep in mind that while .641 OPS against Felix over the last three seasons looks bad, Hernandez has held all hitters to a .616 OPS during that time. We’re referencing a very different baseline when talking about top pitchers. Context is everything.)

For the folks who want to pin his postseason struggles on something tangible, there really is no better explanation than Swish happening to slump on three separate occasions, with each unfortunately coming at one of the worst possible times for the Yankees. This doesn’t make his regular season contributions — which have helped the team get to the playoffs in each of his three pinstriped years — any less valuable, nor does it mean that he is forever doomed to postseason failure (see Rodriguez, Alex).

Fan Confidence Poll: January 23rd, 2012

2011 Record: 97-65 (855 RS, 657 RA, 102-60 pythag. record), won AL East, lost to Tigers in ALDS

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Sunday Open Thread

Hooray for charity baseball in Panama City. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

Ready for some foobaw? I’m posting this a few hours earlier than usual because of the NFL playoffs, which start with the Ravens and Patriots at 3pm ET (on CBS). The Giants and 49ers follow at 6:30pm ET (on FOX). The two winners meet in the Super Bowl two weeks from today. The Nets are also playing a little later. Talk about whatever you like here, go nuts.

Pineda speaks for first time since trade

Jesus Montero is finally in Seattle for his physical, meaning the four player trade that will bring Michael Pineda to the Yankees should become official within a day or two. Christian Red of The Daily News caught up with Pineda in the Dominican Republic recently, the first time the young right-hander has spoken publicly since the two sides agreed to the deal.

“It’s a tremendous team,” he said. “It’s very exciting for me … I’m not scared. I’m always focused, working very hard every day. I don’t think about anything else on game days. I’ve never pitched in New York or at Yankee Stadium, but I’m dying to. We’ll see what happens. I’m going to work very hard to do my job.” Pineda said he feels “good about [his] changeup,” and is well aware of the short porch in the right field at Yankee Stadium. “I’ll just keep it low. Keep it low and everything will be fine,” he said. Easier said than done, my friend. Check out the entire article, it’s worth your time.

A Sigh of Relief For Mo

Last night, the Red Sox traded incumbent starting shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Rockies, presumably to free up the $6 million dollars he was slated to earn. While Red Sox fans debated what the move meant for the likes of Roy Oswalt, Mike Aviles, Nick Punto, and The Gloved Wunderkind Who Hits Worse Than Ramiro Pena™, Yankees fans breathed a sigh of relief. You see, Marco Scutaro is the David to Mariano Rivera‘s Goliath. He is a middling hitter, more of a pest than anything, with a career OPS+ of 93. Against the Yankees overall, he has a thoroughly unimpressive .697 OPS. But when he digs in against the Great Rivera, the nondescript, unspectacular Scutaro, for no identifiable reason, turns into Edgar Martinez.

It all started in April of 2007. To that point, Scutaro had 6 career at-bats against Rivera, and was hitless with 2 walks. One of those walks came around to score a winning run, but the final score was 6-3 and the walk did not seem to be all that important. But on Sunday, April 15th, Andy Pettitte and Scott Proctor handed Rivera a 4-2 lead on a nice afternoon in Oakland. With 2 outs, Todd Walker singled and Jason Kendall walked, bringing the light-hitting Scutaro to the plate. On an 0-2 pitch, Scutaro turned on a cutter up in the zone and drove it off the foul pole in left, turning a certain Yankees win into a painful loss.

For a few seasons, it seemed as if Scutaro’s success against Mariano would prove to be a one-time event, a fluke that would make him the answer to a trivia question one day but nothing more. In 2008 and 2009, Scutaro faced Mo six times and reached base once, a single that was rendered meaningless by Rivera retiring the subsequent hitter. And then Scutaro signed with the Red Sox.

Marco faced Mo four times in 2010, but only twice in vitally important situations (Mo retired him in the two lower leverage spots). Scutaro reached base the first time he faced Mo in a Red Sox uniform, doubling to bring the tying run to the plate, but Mo retired the next two Sox in order to end the game. Later that season, after Joba Chamberlain blew a 5-1 lead by allowing 4 runs in the 8th, Rivera allowed 2 runs in the 9th, with a blooper off the bat of Scutaro that was ruled an error being the turning point of the inning. Marco was starting to reveal himself as a pesky hitter who could at least make contact off Rivera, but it was not until 2011 that he established himself as a true annoyance to the great Mo.

On August 7th, the Yankees played the Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball, looking to win their first series from the Sox in 4 tries. Behind homers from Eduardo Nunez and Brett Gardner, as well as solid pitching from Freddy Garcia, Cory Wade, Rafael Soriano, and David Robertson, the Yankees carried a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 9th. Alas, Marco Scutaro was poised to strike, doubling off the Green Monster to start the inning and eventually scoring on a sacrifice fly. The Yankees lost the game one inning later.

When the teams met again on the first day of September, Scutaro and Rivera matched up in similar circumstances. The Yankees were once again trying to take their first series from the Red Sox, with the entire country watching the two clubs clash on ESPN. They took a lead late in the contest against Daniel Bard, and handed Rivera a 4-2 advantage. After Jed Lowrie walked to start the frame, Rivera retired the next two batters before walking Jacoby Ellsbury. In stepped Marco Scutaro, already feared as Rivera Kryptonite, with a chance to extend the game and bring up Adrian Gonzalez. Marco did just that, lining a hard single to RF and setting up the Yankees for more heartbreak. However, Rivera struck out Gonzalez looking, and the Yankees finally celebrated a series victory over their rivals from Beantown.

When the Yankees faced the Red Sox late in September, Joe Girardi decided not to take any chances with Scutaro. With the game tied at 4 with 2 outs in the top of the 9th, a runner at 3rd, and the struggling Jarrod Saltalamacchia on deck, Girardi finally gave in to the Myth of Marco and had Rivera intentionally walk Scutaro. Salty struck out to validate the decision, but the Yankees eventually lost the game.

Scutaro’s resume against Rivera is a bit thinner than I thought it would be, but it is important to remember that not many hitters get to Mo at all, and that notching multiple successes against him is notable. Of hitters with at least 20 PA’s against Rivera, Scutaro’s OPS of .988 (.294/.400/.588) is 5th highest, trailing just Edgar Martinez, Aubrey Huff, Rafael Palmeiro, and Vernon Wells. As William Juliano noted, Scutaro is one of 5 players to have a walk-off homer off Rivera, and one of 8 to have at least 3 extra-base hits against him. And his IBB against him last season makes him one of the 33 hitters (36 walks) to be given a free pass by Mo, and 17 of those walks came with runners on 2nd and 3rd to load the bases and create a force play. I’ll let the WSJ contextualize that:

Since 2001, the legendary Yankees closer has issued 20 intentional walks. Thirteen were to load the bases and set up a force at home, but the rest of the list consists of the greatest sluggers of this generation: Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Evan Longoria and Carlos Delgado (twice). Now add Scutaro, and his .387 lifetime slugging percentage, to that group.

Small sample or not, Scutaro was one of the few players who made me a bit uncomfortable when he dug in against Mariano Rivera. That unease may have been based on one swing from 2007, but I know many other Yankees fans shared it and are glad to see him head off to Colorado. If you asked him, Mariano might tell you that he feels the same way.

Touring ballparks in 2012

The Yankees acquisition of Michael Pineda and signing of Hiroki Kuroda couldn’t have come at a better time. While the weeks and months leading up to the moves were filled with frustration, they were still filled with discussions of the team’s direction. Those discussions usually end in mid-January, when we hit the ultimate lull. Two and a half months removed from live baseball and a month and a half away from the first spring training games, mid-January is the worst time of year for baseball fans.

Dreams of warmer climates can help us pass the time. Lately I’ve been lamenting my relative lack of ballpark experience. Outside of Yankee Stadium and CitiField, my personal ballpark experience is basically nonexistent. It consists of a game at Petco Park, and once, while in high school, standing outside of Fenway Park, behind the green monster. It’s time for that to change this year. Thankfully, it’s easier than ever to make your way to other parts of the country. And it doesn’t even require a time-consuming summer road trip.

One thing the internet has brought us is an abundance of cheap flights and hotels. Where before we’d have to pay fees to middlemen, or we wouldn’t have easy access to the best prices, now we have automated middlemen and the ability to constantly check prices. Plus, the best time to book is several months out, so now is the right time to be thinking about any summer ballpark trips. Here are some shortish trips that a Yanks fan could take in 2012.

Nationals: June 15th through 17th

You can bet the RAB crew is going to make the short trip down to DC for this three-game weekend set. It’s a chance not only to see an up-and-coming team, but also to experience their new ballpark. Friend of RAB Rob Iracane led a group outing down to Washington last year, and it was a smashing success. While this trip might not be an organized one, we hope to see plenty of Yankees fans in DC that weekend.

Red Sox: July 6th through 8th

It’s the last series before the 2012 All-Star Game, which is always nice. Nothing better than watching some live baseball before we’re deprived for a few days. It’s also way better than taking the April trip up to Boston. Who wants to travel North in April, anyway?

A’s and Mariners: July 19th through 25th

With two brothers in California, my family tries to find a West Coast series every year where we can meet up. Last year I missed the Anaheim trip due to a wedding. This year, since there aren’t any weekend series in Anaheim, we’re going to Oakland for a four-game set in July. That’ll be nice, if for no other reason than the cheap tickets. Plus, Hannah will be there. Oh, and Bartolo.

The Yanks go up the coast to Seattle directly afterwards. While the whole trip would require a week, it could be worth it to see Jesus Montero in his new digs.

White Sox: August 20th through 22nd

Spending a few days in Chicago is never a bad time. The Yanks will have just come off seven straight games against the Rangers and Red Sox, so it will be nice to see them in a slightly less intense environment. Plus, there’s the possibility of heading to Cleveland, following an off-day, for a weekend three-game set.

Orioles: September 7th through 9th

An Orioles trip is pretty standard for any Yankees fan. That it’s not in the summer heat and humidity is even nicer. The O’s always work it well for Yankees fans. There’s a night game on Saturday and day game on Sunday, so you can drive down during the day Saturday, spend one night in a hotel, and catch two games. It’s easy enough to get home in time for work Monday. Plus, since it’s after Labor Day there won’t be massive shore traffic on the Turnpike.

These are just a few examples. There are plenty of road trips worth taking this year — even ones that don’t involve the Yanks. Which ones are you planning to take?

Snowy Saturday Open Thread

(click to embiggen)

A couple inches of snow isn’t bad, and in fact I actually heard the plow drive by a few times today. That’s a rarity here. The snow is a big slap in the face though, reminding us baseball fans that we’re still weeks away from anything remotely resembling meaningful baseball. On the other hand, it sure is bright and sunny down in Tampa. Pitchers and catchers are 29 days away…

(Photo via @Julie_Stone)