This is the second edition of Best of Burning River Baseball and it features an article written by Mike Melaragno back in February of this year. The original article is repeated in its entirety below, in italics, with new commentary in red.
Throughout Major League Baseball, Nick Swisher has been underrated for much of his career. Except when coming in sixth for the Rookie of the Year with a .236 average in 2005 and making an All-Star team in 2010. With the exception of when he played in the large media market of New York, not many national writers have given Swisher the recognition he has deserved. Swisher has had problems with the media of late, but the Indians gave him recognition when they dropped $56M on him in 2012.
Quietly, he has been reliably good for a very long time. Since 2006, he’s played 145 or more games per season, hit over 20 home runs, and walked enough to make the Kevin Youkilis, the “Greek god of walks”, look like only a demi-god. Although he only earned a .246 AVG in 2013, he can still be counted on to provide consistency to the lineup in 2014. Currently he is on pace to play in 132 games, hit 10 home runs, knock in about 50, walk just 62 times and bat under .200.
Last season, Swisher dealt with a shoulder injury that he suffered early in the season and re-aggravated in June. The injury likely stemmed from playing right field, something he hasn’t done in 2014. That, combined with age, probably explains his career low .177 isolated power. Move over as that number is currentl .126 for 2014. There is a lot of varying information on the internet about the shoulder injury, so it’s unclear if it’s fully healed or something that could continue to dog him in future seasons. Swisher recently turned 33-years-old, so he is entering the portion of his career where his durability might become an issue. Swisher has spent 16 days on the DL already this season, but it was with an unrelated knee injury.
Aside from the shoulder issue, Swisher makes a very boring study. If you find striking out looking boring. Something he has already done 22 times this year. The available data fail to suggest any noteworthy changes in his profile. His fly ball distance remained a robust 295 feet in 2013 (294 in 2012), which ranked him between Evan Longoria and Anthony Rizzo for the 40th best distance. His fly ball, ground ball, and line drive rates have been practically unchanged for the past three seasons. His line drive rate actually has gone up in 2014 by 10% above that three year average. He is whiffing slightly more frequently these last two seasons, but his strikeout rate was only slightly higher than his career averages. That has also risen this year, by five percent to 26% of at bats. Other avenues of analysis like PITCHf/x failed to reveal any new information. Possibly the worst analytic is that while his BABIP is far below league average at .255, it is nowhere near low enough to warrant an average under .200. In fact, it is a better BABIP than he had in 2008 with the White Sox (.249), a year he still managed to hit 21 doubles and 24 home runs.
ZIPS, a projection system used by Fangraphs, projects a useful .247/.342/.410 line with 18 home runs, 66 runs, and 66 RBI. Nick Swisher dreams of having that line since in reality, it is currently .197/.285/.322, although the RBI and run totals could be accurate by the end of the season as he has been jammed into the middle of the lineup most of the year. The runs scored and RBI totals depend on how the Indians use Swisher. Exactly. With his healthy on base and slugging percentages, he could score more frequently at the top of the lineup or drive in more runs if batting in the middle of the order. He was frequently used as the second hitter in 2013, so expect him to score more runs this season. With the early success of Asdrubal Cabrera, Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley, Swisher has actually spent most of the time in the lower middle of the lineup of late, generally batting sixth or seventh. He did start the year hitting second and still has more at bats at that position than any other hitter.
There were many who questioned how much money the Indians gave Swisher last season. However, could they have uncovered a market inefficiency: the consistent veteran? If the Indians uncovered a mark inefficiency, it was the pre-arb All-Star. Last season it was Jason Kipnis and Justin Masterson who lead the Indians to the play-offs, not Michael Bourn, Jason Giambi and Swisher. Again this season that trend has continued with the top players being Michael Brantley and Corey Kluber, with significant help from other young players like Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer.