Expected Improvements: Michael Bourn & Nick Swisher

Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher will always be put together in the mind of Indians fans. They were both aged veteran outfielders and All-Stars before joining the team. Of course, the big reason they are lumped together is because they were signed in the same off-season (2013), for the same amount of years (four plus an option) and a similar amount of money ($48M and $56M). In the first edition of 'Expected Improvements' we covered Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall by making poor estimates of their production in 2014 based off what similar players did. In this edition, we will do the same thing for Bourn and Swisher.

Both Bourn and Swisher had disappointing seasons in 2013 based on their salary, especially considering that they were outplayed by younger, cheaper players already on the roster. While both have shown signs of greatness early in their careers, they are on the tail end now. The real question is, in 2014, are they going to improve on a poor season, maintain or finally hit the cliff and just completely fall off. Remember, 2014 is going to be just the second year of both of their four year deals.

Bourn will be 31 going in next season and, according to Baseball-Reference.com's similarity scores, he is closest to former Cubs Max Flack and Cliff Heathcote, former Indian Brett Butler, Roger Cedeno and Bob Bescher. Since Cedeno retired after his year 30 season, he will be replaced in the predictions by Johnny Bates.

Bourn Tm Lg G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2011 28 TOT NL 158 656 94 193 34 10 2 50 61 14 53 140 .294 .349 .386 .734
2012 29 ATL NL 155 624 96 171 26 10 9 57 42 13 70 155 .274 .348 .391 .739
2013 30 CLE AL 130 525 75 138 21 6 6 50 23 12 40 132 .263 .316 .360 .676
Top 5 Average 31 - - 125.6 440.6 72 126.2 20.6 5.6 4.2 38 21.2 16.7 54.6 37 .286 .363 .387 .750

While these predictions are essentially meaningless, they seem t match up pretty well across the board. One thing the Indians were disappointed in during 2013 was his lack of steals, but there is no reason to think they will go up as his legs are also another year older. While he stole at least 40 bases every season from 2008 through 2012, at 31, those days are getting further and further behind him. Even the greatest base stealer in history, Rickey Henderson, saw a major drop off when he hit his 30's.

From 21 through 29, Henderson stole an average of 84 games per season, numbers he never came close to again after hitting 30. The good news is he stayed at a similar level all the way from 30 through 42, so assuming Bourn runs out his contract plus his option, there is at least a small chance he will still be able to steal 20 bases a year through the end. If anything should be learned from this, expect Bourn to be slightly worse in every facet of his game.

Swisher is a completely different player than Bourn, basing his value in power rather than defense and speed. Swisher is also older (33), but has been much more consistent, putting up similar numbers from 2007 through 2013. The players closest to Swisher in MLB history at through the age of 32 were Jesse Barfield, Pat Burrell, Danny Tartabull, Bob Allison and Jeff Burroughs. Since Barfield retired prior to his 33 season, he has been replaced by Ron Gant.

Swisher Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2011 30 NYY AL 150 635 526 81 137 30 0 23 85 2 2 95 125 .260 .374 .449 .822
2012 31 NYY AL 148 624 537 75 146 36 0 24 93 2 3 77 141 .272 .364 .473 .837
2013 32 CLE AL 145 634 549 74 135 27 2 22 63 1 0 77 138 .246 .341 .423 .763
Top 5 Average 33 - - 115.2 406.6 353.6 47.2 87.4 15.6 2.4 19.4 58.4 3.6 2.2 48.4 89.2 .247 .336 .469 .806

Here is probably the biggest difference of the four players analyzed so far between what their weighted average for 2014 would be and the averages of their most similar players. The reason for this is that most players of Swisher's talent level (upper-mediocre), are retiring or thinking of retiring by the time they are 33. Of the players compared, only Gant made it more than two seasons after their age 33 season. Despite this, most of the players listed had decent seasons, with the exception of Jeff Burroughs, who was terrible (.211/.367/.310). This makes the line a fairly good prediction for Swisher as there is essentially a one in six chance that he will be so terrible the Indians are forced to replace him. The good news for the Indians is that there is a five in six chance he will continue his nine year stretch of 20 home run, 60 RBI seasons.

These numbers are more of an experiment than a real prediction, but they look as good as any other basic predictions. Bourn and Swisher are both aging, but should still have at least one more solid season left. Whether or not they will still be earning their contracts in 2017 when their option years come up is yet to be seen, but there is no reason they shouldn't be decent in 2014. Also, despite being the largest contracts in Indians history, the two really are not being paid much by MLB standards. At just $14M a season, they are getting what they are paying for. If they want an MVP candidate, they will have to shell out at least $20M a season. Until then, they will have to be happy with their mid-level vets.

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since it's inception in 2011. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona.

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