The pride of Ohio State and President of BrOhio, Nick Swisher has finally had a hot streak to make his bros proud, raising his average from a season low of .192 on June 30th to .215 on July 22. Even more impressively, raising his terrible slugging percent of .316 to .353 over that same span. As often happens, that increase in power and hit rate has lead to an increase in production as he has knocked in a team high 15 RBI in July.
With that being said, Swisher has also lead the team in strike outs in July with 24, adding to his prodigious total of 94 on the season. While it has obviously been proven that large strikeout totals do not preclude production, it remains the least productive result possible in almost any at bat. While it is difficult to pin point the cause of all these strike outs, it may be possible to provide a solution. This would be useful, because even if he were able to keep his strike out totals around the level of the rest of the team (about 74 through 83 games) and reached base safely in 30% of those at bats, he could be batting around .225 with an OBP of .300 instead of .287.
While changing Swisher at this point in his career may be impossible (although he has struck out 6% more often this season than ever before in his career), there are some very interesting numbers to look at before giving up. The chart below shows those very interesting numbers:
The above chart shows Nick Swisher’s pertinent stats considering at bat ending pitch counts. In addition to Swisher’s average and OBP, the Indians team average and OBP in those situations are also included for comparison. The reason for the inclusion of this chart can be seen on the second line. With a 1-0 count, most hitters are considerably better than with almost any other type of count (the league leading Rangers are batting .386) and for good reason. Pitchers who throw a ball for the first pitch of the at bat will likely throw a fast ball on pitch two to get back even, rather than risking going 2-0, which in their mind, is even worse. In this easy-to-take-advantage situation, Swisher has hit safely just three times in 17 at bats (.176), worse than he has hit in 0-2 situations, the hardest hit to get in baseball.
On the other side, Swisher’s most efficient count has been 0-1, generally a very difficult count. Only on the first pitch of the at bat does he reach base more often. While the chart only includes hits that occurred on the pitch after 1-0, in 73 at bats after a 1-0 count, he has also batted .176. When Nick Swisher takes the first pitch of an at bat for a ball, he ends up hitting safely less than two out of every ten at bats. When he has swung at or taken the first pitch for a strike, he has batted .234, a significant improvement over his season average.
While most players need to be constantly reminded to be patient, Swisher’s patience has actually been detrimental to himself. From the very first pitch through every generally hitter friendly count, Swisher is worse than the team average (he has batted .333 on 2-0 pitches, but just .250 overall after a 2-0 count). In addition, he has batted just .051 with a full count and struck out looking more often than he has walked. While he always looks amazed when he strikes out, at some point he will have to expand his strike zone or continue batting near .200 for the rest of his career.
While it is impossible to make any change without pitchers reacting, the numbers show that Swisher may be better off if he was a little more aggressive. He appears to have taken to this strategy lately and in his last three hit game on July 22nd, he saw a total of six pitches in four at bats including two first pitch singles and an 2-0 double. In addition, four of his last ten hits have been on the first pitch of the at bat. To further improve, he may need to take this to another level. It’s already been shown that he gets worse after taking balls, so Swisher should focus more on swinging at every decent fast ball he sees early in the count. Most of his swing and misses have come off breaking balls and off-speed pitches and if he can make contact with a fast ball early in the count he should be able to avoid seeing those types of pitches in dangerous situations. Even if he fouls off the first pitch, or misses completely, he is still an above average hitter with a 0-1 count, so there really is no draw back to being aggressive with the first pitch he sees.
With the information now laid out, there may be one reason why he has struck out looking more often in this season than in the past. There is an obvious Yankee bias when it comes to umpires that was easily seen when the Yankees came to Cleveland prior to the All-Star break. Every New York hitter has a look of shock on their face (especially the captain, Derek Jeter), when they strike out looking. The reason for this is that it doesn’t happen very often in New York. Playing in the largest baseball market leads to a much larger smaller strike zone, especially at Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees players who get used to this zone are very indignant if an umpire questions their decision not to swing. Nick Swisher has been completely ingrained in this thinking and it is seen often in the incredulous look on his face when he leans back after a called third strike. It is possible that umpires gave him a little more of an advantage last season as well, as they often show more respect to the higher paid players of the league, but he is all Indian now and Indians don’t get favorable strike zones. The sooner he realizes this, the less often he will lean back and say, “wow,” but until then, he would be best off being a tad more aggressive early on in the count.