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.

Shameless self-promotion:

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).


  • DaveR says:

    I’d say Swisher has nearly the same stats or worse as a Yank this year. They’ve scored a paltry 409 runs so far, 3rd worst in the AL.

  • Jami says:

    I am so happy to hear someone else sy Nick Swisher is doing just fine. I believe the people griping had too high of expectations for him coming in. He has really performed as well as we could’ve expected. Yes, I wish his BA was higher, but the chemistry he brings to this team and the things he does well are more than worth having him here.

    I also read your article and appreciated it. I don’t think we win the division unless the Tigers have some sort of collapse, but I believe we have legitimate shot at the wild card spot this year and years to come.

    Side note: How long are Kipnis and Masterson under contract for? After the Pedroia signing I am worried about affording extensions on these two

    • Adam Hintz says:

      Kipnis can’t be a free agent until 2018, but I expect some sort of team friendly deal in the next couple years to avoid arbitration… Kipnis will likely get a nice raise from his rookie contract and give up a year of free agency… so look for him to hit the market in 2019, if I had to guess.

      Masterson can hit the market as soon as 2015, but if the Indians are in contention, I think they have a good shot to keep him. He is a flawed pitcher, and a good number of teams will always expect him to struggle mightily against left-handed hitters. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with Nasty Masty.

      • Drew says:

        Kipnis has been good, very good. But Dustin Pedroia has been slightly better. For that reason, I think he value would be around the $12-13M a year mark if he were to sign an extension like Pedroia’s. I do agree with Adam that more likely he will get a team-friendly contract, similar to what Cabrera and Santana got to buy our arbitration +1 season and an option for another.

  • medfest says:

    You’ve made the same cogent arguments for Swisher that I have been making for the last couple of weeks,and let’s not forget the bad shoulder he’s been saddled with for most of the season.

  • The Doctor says:

    as much as i loathe watching swisher swing for the moon when runners are on, or consistently swing 3 feet above a breaking ball that nearly clips him in the ankles (last night’s strikeout in the 4th definitely goes toe-to-toe with anything cabrera or reynolds have done this year for “most unwatchable at-bat of the season”), calling anyone a bust in the first year of a 4 year deal is ridiculous.

  • Swift says:

    I’ll plot a middle course here. I won’t say Swish is a bust, but I’m also not convinced he was worth the 4 year deal yet. I think we need more time to see what happens.

    It does seem that the move from 4th to 2nd in the batting order was a good thing. Maybe that will be the magic, as well as a hopefully better shoulder, and maybe a baby who will start sleeping through the night.

    Maybe what the Indians need (probably to get during the off-season) is a legit clean-up hitter/DH. Not that I don’t like Giambi, but we need a DH who can give us 120 games or more a year.

  • Sean Porter says:

    He’s not a bust, he’s a guy who is a solid “complementary” guy who was asked to be “the man”. You could somewhat see this coming with his miserable playoff history – he’s not a guy who rises to pressure.

    Doesn’t mean he’s a bad player mind you, not at all. I believe he can be a very useful player for the Indians for the rest of his contract – but he’s should not be asked to be a backbone of the lineup. He’s simply not THAT guy.

    • Adam Hintz says:

      I don’t think he was signed to be “the man,” I think members of the media fabricated that idea.

      Think about it: Swisher was the first real free agent acquisition by this team in over a decade, so even though his contract was highly reasonable (it is dwarfed by the Hafner extension, for instance), the media ran with this idea that Swisher is the “highest paid free agent in Indians history.”

      He was an above average player signed to a league average contract in free agency. This idea that he was supposed to come in and be the best player on the team is ridiculous.

  • Sean Porter says:

    To me it doesn’t really matter who spun the story of “local kid coming back home to put Indians back on map!”, whether it was the Indians or the media, or both.

    It’s all relative… The Indians do not have a homegrown Thome or Manny on the team to bat cleanup, thus, they needed to go out and get one. Since its the Tribe, they are not going to get a Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, etc…

    Nick Swisher is the closest version the Tribe could get. The closest approximation of a cleanup hitter – “the man”. The Tribe obviously knew that Nick Swisher was not going to magically hit .300 with 30+ homer power. Problem is, he couldn’t even come close to being typical Nick Swisher. (And yes, I’m well aware that he isn’t in the Yankee lineup or at Yankee Stadium anymore)

    In conclusion, Swisher was brought in to be Nick Swisher, and to be put into the cleanup spot because he was the closest approximation of a cleanup hitter the Tribe could produce. He failed pretty miserably at it. I will stop short of calling him a bust – because its the Tribe’s fault he was put into a situation that he’s not suited for.

    Now that he’s out of the #4 spot, he’s being productive. I expect that we’ll now see the guy we were expecting, and he’ll earn his contract.

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