September 30, 2007
Nick Swisher has seen his power numbers drop and his on-base percentage rise in his third full season in the big leagues. The 26-year-old switch-hitter has drawn a career-high 100 walks but has gone deep just 22 times after powering 36 long balls last year. Overall, the former Ohio State Buckeye is hitting .261/.383/.457 with 36 doubles and 76 RBI as the 2007 regular season enters its final day.
David talked to Swisher about adjusting to a steady diet of off-speed pitches, his left-right splits, and why hitting is a lot like building a house.
David Laurila: How would you describe yourself as a hitter?
Nick Swisher: A grinder. I grind out at-bats, I fight, I hit deep in the count. I'm not very much of a free swinger, although I've tried to get myself into more of an ability to do that. One way you can look at it is that if you have a hundred walks, and a hundred-plus strikeouts--that's two hundred and some at-bats where you don't even put the ball into play. But one thing about the A's is that walks are important, and on-base is important, and that's something I try to strive for.
DL: Do you consider yourself a power hitter?
NS: Maybe for a switch-hitter; maybe a little bit. I'm not a guy who is going to go out and hit you 60 home runs a year--although I guess I'd like to think that it's possible--but I will hit you anywhere between 20 and 35, maybe 40 home runs a season. So all of those years where I hit 35-plus--yeah, I'm a power hitter!
DL: How would you assess your 2007 season?
NS: It's been okay. I've definitely learned a lot. Being in the three-hole most of the year, I've been able to understand that now, in my third season, you're not going to get that good 2-0 cookie anymore. Guys are going to drill your weaknesses, and that's something I'm really trying to work on.
DL: Do you feel that not being challenged as often is a sign of your having earned more respect as a hitter?
NS: Maybe. I don't know if it's that or not, but this season I'm definitely seeing a lot more offspeed pitches than I have before. Now I'm just learning how to make that adjustment.
DL: What are you most, and least, satisfied with this year from an offensive standpoint?
NS: I'd say that I'm most satisfied with the amount of walks. Besides that--wow, I've never even thought about half of this stuff. But walks--on-base percentage is big, especially within this organization. I've jumped my batting average up from last year, so I guess I can say I'm proud of that. [Editor's note: Swisher was hitting .265 at the time of the interview.]
DL: Are there any specific numbers that you wish were better?
NS: Every number; every statistical number. But that's anybody. If you ask any player who wants to be the best at what they're doing, he's going to say that he wishes all of his numbers were better.
DL: Are you satisfied with your left/right splits this season?
NS: Yeah. I mean, I'm still learning how to be a successful switch-hitter; it's tough, it's different. This year, more than last, I'm getting switched around a lot more. My right-handed swings have been solid all year for me, which has really helped get me through some rough times.
DL: By getting switched around a lot more, you're referring to teams bringing right-handers in to face you in certain situations?
NS: Exactly. But I'm learning more every year, and just trying to get better.
DL: When you're not swinging as well from one side of the plate, do you generally do more work from that side, or do you try to stay consistent with your routine?
NS: I mostly try to keep everything equal. Maybe I'll do a little more early work on one side or the other, but if you ask any switch-hitter, it's very rare that you're ever going to feel great from both sides of the plate. And if you do, you better take as much advantage as you can, because it doesn't come around very often.
DL: Three of the most important components of hitting are your core, your hands, and your head. Which do you feel is the most important?
NS: I don't think that any of those are the most important. Your foundation and feet are the most important. Hitting is just like building a house; you have to work from the ground up. If something's not feeling right, you start with your feet. Maybe your timing is off, and for me, maybe my leg-kick gets a little too big. So you work your way up, from your feet, to your legs, to your waist, to your core, to your shoulders, to your hands. So I'd say the most important things are your feet and your eyes. You need to have a good foundation and you need to see the ball.
DL: Carlos Pena recently said that a key to hitting, for him, is turning his brain off and just seeing the ball.
NS: Exactly! We all wish that we could do that. What's that quote from Bull Durham? Don't think; you're only going to hurt the team! That's exactly how it is, because when you get in certain situations, you might get yourself too hyped up. At least for me; I'm a naturally hyper guy. So I just try to tone everything down, get in a rhythm, and stay with it.
DL: Do you like to look at charts when you prepare for a game?
NS: No, I'm not a chart guy, I'm not a stat guy. I don't look at the scoreboard every time I come up to hit. I know how I'm feeling, and I can tell you what my numbers are by how my swing is going and how I feel.
DL: You're facing Curt Schilling tonight. Do you basically know how you've done against him from memory alone?
NS: Just memory. I'm big on memory, and I could tell you what he struck me out on in my third at-bat in Oakland a year ago. So I'm not one of those guys who likes to break things down on a chart. Ty Van Burkelo, our hitting coach, does a tremendous job with the scouting reports, and he gives things to us. He watches video, and knows exactly what a guy wants to throw in certain counts. That's with runners on, or not, and in certain counts--what he likes to throw early in the count and how he likes to try to put you away. I go with what he thinks.
DL: How much do individual pitchers impact your approach? For instance, will you come to the plate tonight with the same game plan you had yesterday?
NS: Will I have the same game plan against Schilling? Hell no! He's a different pitcher, and he's going to attack me differently than, say, Jake Westbrook of the Indians would. There's no doubt about it. Tim Wakefield is going to pitch me differently than Jonathan Papelbon.
DL: What is the toughest pitch to hit in baseball?
NS: A good changeup or a good split.
DL: As a hitter, what can you do to better handle those pitches?
NS: I think you need to know how a guy is going to attack you. If he has a great changeup, he's going to come at you with that. There are so many different guys that have so many different pitches, and they come at you from different arm-slots. But those two pitches are the hardest to hit for me--a good change or splitter.
DL: You have a website: nickswisher.net. Can you tell us a little about it?
NS: It's just a way to get closer to the fans, on a more personal level, and it's really done wonders. Another big reason is for my charity, which is called Swish's Wishes. It's a non-profit organization that helps kids in need, and it's been great--it's been a lot of fun. They've done a tremendous job, and I couldn't be happier with it. I'd love to have people go to nickswisher.net and check it out.
DL: Changing direction yet again, what do you consider to be the best rivalry in sports?
NS: The best rivalry in sports is Ohio State/Michigan.
DL: Who's going to win the Michigan/Ohio State football game this coming November?
NS: Ohio State, man. Even though Michigan has been picking it up, Ohio State has been solid all year. Jim Tressel does a tremendous job of getting players ready to play in big games, and there's no doubt in my mind that the Buckeyes are going to take it home again.