What Went Right: Nick Swisher

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

Since coming to the Yankees four years ago, Nick Swisher has been a model of consistency. He’s played between 148-150 games each year with New York, hit between 24-29 homers, posted a .359-.374 OBP, hit to a 120-129 OPS+, produced a 124-135 wRC+, and has been worth 3.2-4.1 fWAR. It’s been the same thing year after year, and outside of the postseason, that’s been very good for the Yankees.

The 31-year-old Swisher opened the season by coming to camp in noticeably improved shape — “It’s the best-looking I’ve ever been,” he joked — and he mashed in Spring Training (.323/.344/.710). He carried that over into the start of the regular season, going 17-for-60 (.283) with four homers in the team’s first 15 games. By the end of the month he owned a .284/.355/.617 batting line with six homers in 21 games. May was rough, but by the All-Star break he had his season line at .262/.336/.477.

By Swisher’s standards, that actually wasn’t all that good. He was hitting for power and a not horrible average, but the walks just weren’t there. Walks are a Swisher trademark, and he got back on the horse and became a free pass machine in the second half…

The Yankees were fading in the standings but it wasn’t because of their right fielder. Swisher hit .298/.392/.510 in the first month after the All-Star break and carried a .272/.356/.485 batting line into the season’s final month. While everyone focused on the Orioles, the rejuvenated Ichiro Suzuki, and the molten hot Robinson Cano, Swisher quietly hit .407/.521/.661 with more walks (14) than strikeouts (12) in the final three weeks of the season to help the Yankees keep the Orioles at bay. He capped the year off with a 7-for-11 series against the Red Sox, singling with the bases loaded in his final at-bat of the season.

Swisher got painted with the unclutch brush a long time ago, but he was (by far) the team’s best hitter with runners in scoring position in 2012. He put up a .301/.406/.589 batting line in 181 plate appearances with men on second and/or third, a 164 wRC+ that ranked fourth among all hitters in those situations this year (min. 150 plate appearances). His docket of big hits included this extra innings homer against the Orioles, this huge game against the Red Sox (the 15-9 comeback win), and this go-ahead homer against the Braves.

When Mark Teixeira went down for more than a month with a calf injury, Swisher stepped in at first base and the Yankees didn’t miss a beat. He started 27 games at first and played 41 games at the position overall, his most since 2008 with the White Sox and more than the first three years of his Yankees career combined. Swisher avoided the DL for the seventh straight season — he did miss a week with a hamstring issue in May and another week with a hip issue in July — though he did dip below 150 games played for the first time since 2005. He only made it into 148 games in 2012.

Swisher’s season ended with another poor postseason showing (5-for-30, .167), something that unfortunately became a trend during his four years in New York. The Yankees will probably never come out and say it, but I think the playoff struggles are at least part of the reason why they’re comfortable letting him walk as a free agent this winter. His Yankees career will likely come to an end this winter with a .268/.367/.483 batting line (128 wRC+) batting line in 498 games and 2,501 plate appearances. Swisher’s performance this year — .272/.364/.473 (128 wRC+) with 24 homers — was one of the team’s three best offensively and a big reason why they held off the Orioles to win the AL East.

Yankees make qualifying offers to Swisher, Kuroda, Soriano

As expected, the Yankees have made qualifying offers to Nick Swisher, Hiroki Kuroda, and Rafael Soriano, the team announced. The offers are worth $13.3M this offseason and the players have until next Friday to accept or reject. Making the offer allows the Yankees to receive a supplemental first round draft pick if the player signs elsewhere.

Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte did not receive qualifying offers since it’s basically Yankees or retirement for them. Russell Martin was always a long shot for the offer and it’s not surprising the Yankees passed.

Twelve Yankees hit free agency

A total of 137 players around the league officially hit free agency today, including a dozen Yankees: Eric Chavez, Pedro Feliciano, Freddy Garcia, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Hiroki Kuroda, Derek Lowe, Russell Martin, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Ichiro Suzuki, and Nick Swisher. Rafael Soriano can join them if he opts out of his contract by Wednesday’s deadline, which seems likely. Feliciano’s inclusion in the list of free agents is an indication that the Yankees have already declined his $4.5M club option. That is not surprising at all after the left-hander threw zero meaningful pitches during his time in pinstripes.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, players don’t even have to file for free agency anymore. They just hit the open market. I never understood the point of that anyway. Players are free to sign with new teams starting Saturday. Click here for the full offseason schedule.

What Went Wrong: Postseason Offense

Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

There is still baseball being played but the Yankees are not involved in any of it. They were bounced from the postseason in an embarrassing four-game sweep by the Tigers in the ALCS last week, a very one-sided series that featured little offense by New York. They scored six runs in the four games and never once held a lead, which is unthinkable for an offense that led the AL in homers (245), ISO (.188), OBP (.337), SLG (.453), OPS (.790), wOBA (.342), and wRC+ (113). Everything that could have gone wrong offensively did.

All told, the Yankees hit just .188/.254/.303 in their nine postseason games, the lowest batting average in history by a team who played at least seven playoff games. It wasn’t just the ALCS either, they had a hard time scoring in the ALDS even though they won the series. The so-called Bombers scored just 22 runs in the nine games, and nine of those runs came in two innings — five in the ninth inning of ALDS Game One and four in the ninth inning of ALCS Game One. After scoring those four runs off Jose Valverde in Game One last Saturday, the Yankees scored just two runs on ten hits in the final 30.1 innings of their season.

Offensive ineptitude of this caliber requires a total team effort. Ichiro Suzuki was a singles machine in the postseason and Derek Jeter did is part before going down with a fractured ankle in ALCS Game One, plus Raul Ibanez hit enough jaw-droppingly clutch homers to avoid any criticism. The rest of the lineup? Not so much.

Robinson Cano
Of all the offensive failure, Cano’s miserable postseason was by far the most surprising. He was once again the team’s best hitter during the year and he finished the regular season on an insane hot streak (24-for-39, .615), but he was invisible in the playoffs. Cano doubled in two runs in that big ninth inning off Jim Johnson in ALDS Game One and he doubled in a run in the first inning of ALDS Game Two, and that was pretty much it. He fell into a hideous 0-for-29 slide that featured weak grounder after weak grounder, and it wasn’t until the ninth inning of ALCS Game Three that he got off the schneid with a line drive single to left.

Robbie reached base four times in 41 postseason plate appearances, adding an intentional walk to those two ALDS doubles and ALCS single. His .098 OBP is the lowest in playoff history (min. 35 PA) while his .075 AVG is the fourth lowest. Cano has had an up-and-down playoff career but this kind of ineffectiveness was unthinkable. He was, by far, the biggest drain on the team’s offense. There’s no doubt about it.

(Alex Trautwig/Getty)

Alex Rodriguez & Eric Chavez
I’m going to lump these two together because they shared third base duties during the postseason. A-Rod struggled after coming off the DL in September and it carried over into the postseason, as he went 1-for 12 with seven strikeouts in the first three games of the ALDS. Things got so bad that Joe Girardi famously lifted Alex for a pinch-hitter in ALDS Game Three, leading to two of those memorable Ibanez homers (first the game-tying shot, then the game-winner in extra innings).

A-Rod did not start the decisive Game Five of the ALDS and did not start the final two games of the ALCS. He started six of nine playoff games but did not finish three, instead being lifted for pinch-hitters against right-handed pitchers late and for good reason — Alex went 0-for-18 with a dozen strikeouts against same-side hitters in the postseason. All told, he had three singles and two walks against those 12 strikeouts in 27 playoff appearances.

The decision to lift A-Rod for pinch-hitters or outright bench him against righties was completely justifiable due to his performance, but Chavez didn’t exactly force the issue. He failed to reach base in 17 playoff plate appearances, striking out nine times. All told, the Yankees received an .086/.135/.086 batting line out of their third basemen in 37 postseason plate appearances. A-Rod drew the boos and got all the media attention,  but he wasn’t even the worst performer at his own position.

Nick Swisher
Unfortunately poor postseasons became a routine during Swisher’s stint in New York, a stint that will almost surely end after four years this winter. He opened these playoffs with a very productive ALDS Game One, drawing two walks to go along with a single and a sacrifice fly. After that, he went 2-for-28 (.071) with a walk and nine strikeouts the rest of the way. One of those hits was a run-scoring double in ALCS Game Four, which had zero impact in the grand scheme of things. Swisher hit .167/.235/.233 in the team’s nine playoff games and will likely leave the Yankees with a .162/.252/.308 batting line in 148 postseason plate appearances with the club.

Curtis Granderson
Granderson came into the year as a postseason monster, with a .267/.375/.535 overall playoff batting line and a .313/.459/.583 playoff line with the Yankees. He was instead a non-factor this year, going just 3-for-30 (.100) with one homer and three walks (one intentional) in the nine postseason games. Two of those hits came in consecutive at-bats in ALDS Game Five. Like Swisher, he was benched for one ALCS game in favor of Brett Gardner. Curtis struck out an insane 16 times in 33 playoff plate appearances, so basically half the time. It’s impossible to be productive when you don’t put the ball in play, and Granderson’s strikeout issues became extreme in October.

Russell Martin
Unlike the other guys in the post, Martin at least had a signature moment this postseason. He hit the go-ahead homer off Johnson in the ninth inning of ALDS Game One, a hugely clutch shot that gets forgotten because the Yankees went on score another four runs in the inning to turn the game into a laugher. It was a big homer, don’t forget it. That said, Martin went just 5-for-31 (.161) with the homer, a double, and three walks in the postseason (.235 OBP). He reached base twice in the ALCS and three times in the team’s final six playoff games. Martin was up and down all season (mostly down), and outside of the homer he was contributed little to a postseason offense that needed substantially more from these six players.

Heyman: Yankees “extremely likely” to make Swisher qualifying offer

Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees are “extremely likely” to make Nick Swisher a qualifying offer to ensure they receive draft pick compensation if and when he signs elsewhere. The qualifying offer will be a one-year deal in the $13.3-13.4M range.

Swisher, 31, spent four very productive years in New York, but the team appears ready to move on after another disappointing postseason. Heyman says the club has “no interest” in re-signing Swisher to a multi-year pact, but I bet they’d be happy to take him if accepts the qualifying offer. They’d get an above-average right fielder without clogging up 2014 payroll, when they want to get under the luxury tax. Teams have until five days after the end of the World Series to make qualifying offers and the players then have seven days to accept.

Swisher, Granderson, and signs of life

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

The Yankees won just four games during the recent ten-game stretch against the Orioles and Rays due in part to an offensive attack that scored more than four runs just four times in the ten games. Derek Jeter, Russell Martin, and Alex Rodriguez did all they could to carry the club with their bats, but the usually productive Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson dragged the lineup down. The duo combined to go 8-for-65 (.123) with two walks and two hit-by-pitches (.169 OBP) during the ten games, including an ugly 0-for-28 stretch for Swisher.

The last few games have gone quite differently for those two, however. Granderson went 3-for-3 with a double and a homer off the bench against the Orioles on Sunday, two days after going 2-for-4 with a pair of singles. He did most of the offensive damage in last night’s win with two homers against the Red Sox, including another ball to the warning track that was hit just as hard as the two homers but a little too far toward center field. Granderson has three multi-hit games in the team’s last six contests (including three homers) despite not starting two of them.

“Everything still feels the same as it has before,” said Curtis after last night’s win. “It’s just a matter of …  I wasn’t able to get the consistent contact the way I wanted to. I don’t necessarily feel like I’m locked in by any means now. I didn’t feel like I wasn’t locked in before. Just, something wasn’t executing the way I wanted it to.”

As for Swisher, he’s been able to shake off that 0-for-28 skid to pick up five hits in the first two games against the Red Sox, including three doubles off the Green Monster. He also had a homer robbed in Baltimore over the weekend if you remember, so he’s starting to hit the ball with more authority than he did during the ten-game stretch. Then again, it would be tough for anyone to hit the ball with less authority than Nick did last week.

With Mark Teixeira out for at least another week and Derek Jeter now hobbled by a left ankle injury, the Yankees absolutely need Granderson and Swisher to pick up the offensive slack. Neither guy is hitting as well as he did a year ago (by wRC+) and it’s too late in the season to really change that, but these next three weeks are incredibly important to the club’s postseason chances. No one is expecting Granderson to hit two homers or Swisher to hit two doubles every night, but they can’t go through another ten-game slump like they did against the Orioles and Rays. These last two or three games have been very encouraging compared to where they were a week ago.

Jeter & Swisher carrying Yankees offensively

Two-man army. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

The Yankees plated just 18 runs during their six-game road trip through Chicago and Cleveland, and a third of those runs came in the very first game against the White Sox last Monday. They were held to three runs or fewer for four straight games before mustering four runs yesterday. Tough to win games when you’re scoring that little, which is why New York comes home today on the heels of a 2-4 trip.

The club’s two best hitters of late have been the one-two hitters in the lineup — Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher. That’s great not only because those two are coming to the plate more often than anyone else, and also because they’re giving the rest of the lineup opportunities to drive them in. Unfortunately, the other guys in the lineup haven’t held up their end of the bargain. Of those 18 runs scored on the road trip, 13 were either scored by or drive in by Jeter and Swisher. They did it all last week. Here’s a real quick breakdown of the offense during the last six games…

PA H 2B HR BB K AVG OBP SLG
Jeter 29 10 2 3 0 5 0.357 0.379 0.720
Swisher 26 9 2 1 5 4 0.429 0.538 0.667
Everyone Else 171 31 5 2 14 43 0.201 0.269 0.273

Jeter and Swisher were a two-man wrecking crew with the bats last week while everyone else contributed little. Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson have started to break out of their slumps, but it’s been a slow process. Eric Chavez has cooled off in a big way (three hits in his last 22 at-bats dating back to the Rangers series) and Raul Ibanez is in a similar major rut (one hit in his last 22 at-bats). Ichiro Suzuki reached base four times in the six-game trip, Mark Teixeira is still working his way back from left wrist soreness, and the catching tandem has done much of anything all season. That’s a recipe for not scoring runs.

There’s nothing worse than half the lineup running into a cold stretch all at the same time, but the Yankees have managed to keep their heads above water — they lost just one game in the standings last week despite the 2-4 record — because Jeter and Swisher have been so great. Six games in seven days at home will hopefully wake some of these guys up, as will some dates with below-average pitchers. The Yankees need a little kick-start offensively, and this coming week will afford them every opportunity to get things going.