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June 14, 2010

Fantasy Beat

An Unlikely .300 Hitter

by Craig Brown

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He was slow getting out of the blocks, but Nick Swisher found his stride by the end of April.  His .314 TAv is currently good for fourth among American League outfielders.  With a career TAv of .285, he’s performing well above expectations and has a 3.6 WARP so far, which matches his value from 2009.

Swisher owns a career contact rate of 77% and has whiffed once every 3.9 at bats, so while he’s not necessarily an impatient hitter, he has always had his share of swings and misses.  This year though, it’s been more about the contact Swisher has been making than the misses.  He currently owns a .358 BABIP, built on the strength of a line drive rate of 25%.  Both numbers currently represent career-high marks and are well above his normal rate of 20% line drives and .281 BABIP.

A change in approach at the plate has powered Swisher’s numbers.  This year, he’s swinging more than ever, taking a rip at 44% of all pitches he’s seen compared to a career rate of 39%.  To reach a percentage that high, he’s obviously swinging at more strikes, but he’s also expanding his personal zone as well.  After swinging at 17% of pitches outside the strike zone last year, he’s now offering at 27% of those pitches in 2010.  From mid-April to the first of June, it was an approach that paid some nifty dividends.  In 150 plate appearances he hit .356/.416/.615 with 18 extra base hits.  Overall, it was a nice run where the switch-hitting Swisher was spraying line drives to all fields.  Although, despite his success, he was just as likely to strikeout or fly out as he was to hit a single.  According to texasleaguers.com, here were his top five plate appearance outcomes during his streak:

Strikeout - 19.4%
Flyout - 19.4%
Single - 19.4%
Groundout - 11.8%
Walk - 7.6%

It’s been a different story in the 10 games since.  Swisher is hitting just .205/.347/.333 over his last 49 plate appearances.  Here are his top five outcomes:

Strikeout - 24.5%
Walk - 18.4%
Single - 10.2%
Groundout - 10.2%
Flyout - 10.2%

What’s changed?  For starters, he’s hitting fewer liners.  He’s hitting a line drive just 17% of the time this month.  Also, it’s probably not a coincidence his recent slide has corresponded with a move to the second spot in the Yankee batting order.  Normally, it’s a luxury for a hitter to be sandwiched between Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, but Swisher’s low contact approach should disqualify him from hitting higher than sixth in the lineup.  He’s been more patient here with a huge number of walks (even for him), but that seems to have hampered the rest of his offensive game.  When Alex Rodriguez is sidelined with hip discomfort, it looks as though manager Joe Girardi will push Robinson Cano into the cleanup spot, so it’s conceivable Swisher could take a few reps in the fifth position in the order.  OK… Seems like a fair compromise.

Currently hitting .299, Swisher’s days as a .300 hitter are likely in the rearview mirror as his BABIP and line drive rate normalize.  While Swisher may be an option to “sell high” at this point, should you decide to hang on, you will still collect some value.  His career high batting average is just .262, but he still has roughly 15 home runs waiting to spring from his bat this year and will continue to get bushels of RBI and run scoring opportunities.  For the season, he’s driving in a run once every 5.4 at bats, a number that hasn’t suffered since his move up the order.  He’s picked up nine RBI, and average of one RBI for every 4.3 at bats.  Considering the run scoring, he’s touching the plate 35% of the time he reaches base.  As you would expect from someone who makes his living in the high-octane Yankee offense, that number is above the league average rate of 31%.

If you're debating whether to trade or hold, know that if Swisher's average finishes the year at .270 (which would tie his career high), assuming he gets 550 at bats, that means he would hit .250 from now to the end of the season.  Sure, you'll get the RBI and runs (and some power) but can you afford to absorb the drop in batting average?

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

10 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Richard Bergstrom

"...but Swisher’s low contact approach should disqualify him from hitting higher than sixth in the lineup."

Swisher's career .360 OBP and .825 OPS should disqualify him from hitting _lower_ than sixth in the loneup.

Jun 14, 2010 15:48 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Craig Brown
BP staff

I love the OBP. Love it. But he generally performs better when he's in the lower 3rd of the lineup. Plus, when you have a guy like Swisher hitting sixth or seventh, that means your lineup is loaded. That's a good thing.

Jun 15, 2010 07:22 AM
 
Noel Steere
(965)

So do you mean "the" lineup, or "this" lineup?

Thought there might be another tweak to lineup construction that's been discoverd.

Jun 15, 2010 11:00 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Over the last three years (2007-2009)... AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS

Batting 2nd (291 AB) - .247/.362/.474/.836
Batting 3rd (302 AB) - .265/.382/.467/.849

Batting 6th (255 AB) - .235/.357/.431/.788
Batting 7th (243 AB) - .239/.343/.461/.804

If you want to stretch and use a smaller sample size...

Batting 8th (187 AB) - .251/.376/.503/.879

2007 was with the A's, 2008 was with the White Sox, 2009 with the Yankees.

For 2009 (His Yankee Year)
Batting 2nd (76 AB) - .250/.356/.474/.830
Batting 5th (61 AB) - .230/.347/.508/.855

Batting 6th (162 AB) - .228/.347/.426/.773
Batting 7th (56 AB) - .250/.368/.518/.886
Batting 8th (97 AB) - .289/.426/.577/1.003


So I would say, based on this three year sample size (which is larger than 10 games) if he has an aversion to anything, it is hitting sixth in a lineup, and prefers hitting 8th. At best, the difference hitting in the top third and the bottom third is negligible, and at worst, he has a better track record batting 2nd or 3rd or 8th.

Last year's 60 AB or so in each slot isn't much of a sample size, so I'm inclined to think that the difference is negligible. He would be qualified to hit anywhere in a lineup, and has nothing to do with hitting between Jeter and Teixeira.

Jun 15, 2010 17:30 PM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

Also, it’s probably not a coincidence his recent slide has corresponded with a move to the second spot in the Yankee batting order. Normally, it’s a luxury for a hitter to be sandwiched between Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, but Swisher’s low contact approach should disqualify him from hitting higher than sixth in the lineup.

===================

Given the way Teix is (not) hitting, perhaps opposing pitchers are choosing not to give Swisher anything to hit?

Jun 14, 2010 17:01 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

And the last 10 games/49 plate appearances can just be a sample size issue.

Jun 14, 2010 17:25 PM
rating: 0
 
theguarantee

And hidden in the small sample size was the game on June 6th at Toronto where he went 0-5, with 3 blatently blown calls by the umpire on strike threes. He bounced back going 3-6 the next game. The following game he was robbed twice, once by Adam Jones going against the wall on a ball driven well to deep center.
Last game he was called out on strikes again on a ball well off the plate. He was also called out on a pitch off the plate in a later at-bat that he complained about though I thought caught the corner.

The caught line drives are nothing new, it's baseball and as his BABIP shows he's due for probably all that and then some. I do dare say though that his strikeout total recently is a bit inflated, due bad luck or what have you..I think we need to see a little more before we turn our backs to him.

Jun 15, 2010 00:22 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Craig Brown
BP staff

Three strikeouts are three strikeouts. There were 21 strikeouts in the game you mentioned, but only five were looking. Swisher was called out only twice on strikes, his third K was swinging at a pitch in the dirt. Small sample size or no, he's lost 21 points off his batting average in 10 games. Can he recover those points? I say no.

Plus, I hardly advocated "turning our backs" on Swisher. My point is, he has been streaky this year... Cold, hot, now cold again. He's neither as good as his May, nor is he as bad as his June has been so far.

Jun 15, 2010 07:18 AM
 
theguarantee

^OK, I am certain that there was a bad call in that at-bat that set-up the K. Again, that is baseball, but I think it merits mention, as I said maybe it's karma, but he has certainly been a bit unlucky if you've watched him recently. Your stats are very interesting though and I believe you're right, the batting average will likely fall a bit.

Nice job Craig.

Jun 15, 2010 13:17 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

From a fantasy standpoint, a good or bad batting average from Swisher is reduced in effect because the number of walks he takes. Adam Dunn right now is hitting .289 which is uncharacteristic for him, but I wouldn't be scared because Dunn, like Swisher, will still provide R/HR/RBI and any drop in his AVG won't hurt as bad because of the walks.

Jun 15, 2010 17:35 PM
rating: 0
 
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