Everybody knows that Robinson Cano is enjoying a monstrous 2010 season — with 5.2 WAR, Cano leads all Yankees players and trails just Hamilton among MLB position players. But do you know who places second on the Bronx Bombers in WAR? It’s not A-Rod. Teixeira? Nope. The Captain? CC Sabathia? Uh uh. Posada? Negative. The answer is none other than Nick Swisher, at 3.4 wins.
With a team payroll that eclipses the Gross Domestic Product of some small countries, the Yankees are both praised and scorned (depending upon which city you’re in) for their financial might. But Swisher wasn’t a lavish free agent acquisition. Rather, the club bought low on the gregarious switch-hitter after a seemingly disappointing 2008 season with the Chicago White Sox.
Swisher signed a long-term deal with the Oakland A’s in May of 2007, locking him up through the 2011 season for a total of $26.75 million (the pact also includes a $10.25 million club option for 2012, with a $1 million buyout). But the Pale Hose picked him up in January of ’08 for a package of prospects including Fautino de los Santos, Gio Gonzalez, and Ryan Sweeney. Swisher posted just a .325 wOBA and a 94 wRC+ with the White Sox, who grew tired of him and shipped him (along with Kanekoa Texeira) to the Yankees in November of ’08 for Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez.
While Swisher’s season was superficially disappointing, he still worked the count well (13.9 BB%) and hit for power (.191 ISO). The only real difference between the former Buckeye’s ’08 campaign and his previous work was a big dip in BABIP (.249). With New York last year, Swisher’s BABIP climbed to .272, and he showed the best secondary skills of his career — he drew ball four a whopping 16% of the time and posted a .249 ISO. The result? A personal best .375 wOBA and 132 wRC+.
In 2010, Swisher has been an offensive beast. His wOBA is up to .396 (12th among qualified MLB batters), and his park-and-league adjusted wOBA is a full 50 percent better than the average batter (150 wRC+). But the way in which he has achieved those results is different.
Sure, Swisher is still crushing the ball — his ISO is .251. But he’s walking much less this season (9.4%, compared to a career 13.5 BB%). The 29-year-old, normally an extremely patient hitter, has been more of a free swinger. Take a look at his rate of swings on pitches thrown outside and inside the strike zone:
He’s still taking a cut at fewer outside pitches than the average batter, but he’s chasing more than in years past. On in-zone offerings, he’s letting it rip more than most.
Courtesy of Pitch F/X data from TexasLeaguers.com, here are Swisher’s swing rates by pitch type. I also included the league average swing rates, provided by Harry Pavlidis of The Hardball Times:
There is an across-the-board increase, with the biggest spikes occurring on fastballs and changeups. According to our Pitch Type Run Values, Swisher’s smacking fastballs like usual (+2.07 runs per 100 pitches thrown in 2010, +1.12 career). His run values against breaking stuff are much higher than usual this year — +1.66 versus sliders (-0.73 career) and +0.96 against the deuce (-0.59). He’s at -0.97 runs/100 with the changeup (+0.20).
Swisher’s line hasn’t suffered due to the lower walk rate because his BABIP has shot up to .333. His career average is .283, and his expected BABIP (xBABIP), based on his rate of home runs, strikeouts, stolen bases, line drives, pop ups, and ground balls, is .296. He’s getting more hits on grounders and line drives than in any previous season:
Much has been made about Swisher’s work with hitting coach Kevin Long — Swish’s stride is shorter and more closed off, with his hands closer to his body. I’m not a swing coach, and I don’t have Long’s expertise. So, I won’t speculate whether those alterations have made Swisher better equipped to handle breaking stuff. It can be easy to fall into a cause/effect trap, though, pinpointing a specific reason for a change in performance when it could be random.
If I had to make a wager, I would bet that Swisher will remain an excellent hitter, but won’t keep flirting with a .400 wOBA as more balls put in play find leather.