Nick Swisher is not a bust.
Read that again: Nick Swisher is not a bust.
Nick Swisher is not an All-Star. He is not a Gold Glove candidate. His is not a Silver Slugger candidate. He is hitting under .250.
But he is not a bust.
Recently, in the Cleveland print media, there’s been some grumbling about Nick Swisher being a bust. In fact, it’s a somewhat recurring theme, with the same author saying during the All-Star break that Nick Swisher is as disappointing as Carlos Carrasco:
Biggest disappointment: It’s between Carlos Carrasco and Nick Swisher. I’m going with Carrasco because he was suspended (again) for throwing at a hitter. He has the most physically gifted arm on the staff, but is 0-4 with a 9.10 ERA. At the age of 26, now is the time to grab a spot in the rotation.
To even bring Swisher into the conversation with a pitcher who has a 9.10 ERA is ludicrous beyond reason.
Do I wish Nick Swisher was hitting above .250? Sure. But that doesn’t mean he’s a bust or even a disappointment. Let’s break it down:
Exhibit A: WAR
Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of WAR, even though all the SABR heads say it’s really important. It’s just not that intuitive, and intuitive statistics are what make baseball fun in the first place. With all that said, however, I do want to start with WAR because it illustrates my point so well.
Earlier in the season, before Mark Reynolds forgot how to play baseball, I saw an article on ESPN that described the Indians thought process with the free-swinging free agent; in the article (which I can’t find now), the author said the Indians value 1 Win Above Replacement (WAR) as worth approximately $6 million in free agency. Through April, Reynolds had a 1.2 WAR, so he had already achieved his value for the season (he’s signed to a $6 million deal). The lesson here is that the Indians should have DFA’d Reynolds before he turned into a howling pile of dog doo doo, as he now has a -1.0 WAR on the season (Author’s note: Does that mean he owes US $6 million?).
But, back to Nick Swisher. He is making $14 million this season, and has been worth approximately 2.2 Wins Above Replacement. If you believe the statheads in the Indians front office, Nick Swisher has been exactly what they expected for the money they spent. Certainly not a bust and certainly not a disappointment on par with Carlos Carrasco.
Exhibit B: Beyond Batting Average
In the article that I quoted above, the author doubles down on his silliness, stating in the very next point:
He’s needed: Swisher is hitting .242. His OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) is .750, fourth on the team behind Ryan Raburn (.908), Kipnis (.897), Carlos Santana (.848) and Yan Gomes (.770). He is second on the team in walks (46), but the Indians need more run production. He has only nine homers, 31 RBI and has a team-low .224 with runners in scoring position.
First off, two of those four players ahead of Swisher don’t play every day, so they’re fresher when they do play and they have their matchups managed by the matchup-conscious Terry Francona. In reality, it would be fairer to say Swisher is third among everyday players with a .742 OPS, which again, is not really disappointing and hardly bust-worthy.
The things Swisher does do well don’t show up in the traditional stat column: he is 25th in baseball in pitches per plate appearance at 4.03 and 23rd in walks with 48, and he’s managed to keep his OPS above league average while batting a bum shoulder for the entire season (not that you’ve heard him complain about it outside of his DL stint).
You have to remember: the Indians are not the Yankees and Progressive Field is not Yankee stadium. Swisher was going to have a drop-off in his production just by virtue of moving to a park that favors pitchers and not having the same protection around him in the lineup.
Exhibit C: Small Sample Sizes, Our Old Friend
The biggest legitimate knock on Swisher is his lack of run production, especially given his long tenure in the cleanup spot in the lineup. While Swisher has been disappointing with runners in scoring position (.213/.350/.330), he has fewer than 100 at-bats in this situation, and his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is a full 20 points lower than his season average (.271 vs. .296). If anything, this is a sign that Swisher is due to improve in this situation, if only by pure regression to the mean.
For example, Swisher is 1-for-18 with a runner on third and 2 outs. That’s a .056 batting average, and I don’t need to tell you there’s no magical reason why he suddenly becomes Mark Reynolds in this situation: he will get better.
In other words: stop worrying about Nick Swisher. For the most part, he’s been steady, and there is good reason to think his run production will tick up just because of random chance.
I also write for a blog called Sport Perspective, where I get to air my thoughts on the wider baseball sphere. I have been doing a series called “Contender or Pretender” all season, and I finally got around to writing about the Indians. You can check that out here.
(Apparently that link is broken for now… I’m not sure what’s up with my other writing home. *Shrug* I’ll leave the link because I assume it’ll get fixed).