How A Shoulder Injury May Have Improved Swisher’s Swing

We don’t really have full information on the shoulder injury that has been bothering Nick Swisher this season. We do know that it’s bothered him off and on, that he’s missed a handful of games, and that he’s had a cortisone shot recently. And from a results standpoint, we know that his power is down… and yet he’s showing the best line drive rate of his career. I set out to ask the Indians’ slugger about those two things in particular.

Instead of chopping it up for you, here’s the answer he gave me about battling through his shoulder injury and what that has meant for his swing, with minor edits:

I’ve been super lucky in my ninth, tenth season, not really dealing with any major issues, no joints stuff, elbows, shoulders knees, I’ve been pretty lucky but when you do go through something like that — slight tear and soreness at the beginning of the season and we’ve just been rehabbing it because I’m not a needle guy, bro, I don’t like surgeries. I think the biggest thing is when that happened, and the numbers started to go down, you gotta find a way to get the numbers back. It’s all about results, and if you’re out there, oh-for-four with four line drives, that’s a s_____ day in most people’s eyes. My wife always says they come back two-fold but I’m not quite sure. But maybe. Maybe it is one of those things where you cut down on your swing, try to get some base hits. I feel like offensively I have been putting good swings on the ball, just haven’t gotten a whole lot to show for it. You’re going to run into seasons like that. Sometimes it just happens. That’s why this game is so crazy, because you can only control making contact. You can’t control where it goes. I just wanted to get hits, bro, I didn’t care how I got em. Whether it was a one-hand finish or a two-hand finish. There at the beginning, it was just trying to find something that didn’t hurt.

He’s right about his health — he’s averaged 151 games since 2006 and his slate is mostly clean — and his wife is right that line drives eventually turn into hits. Almost 70% of the time. And now we know that he’s had a rotator cuff injury that could have required surgery and that he chose rehab.

It’s nice to know those things, but it’s the idea that he was trying to find a swing that didn’t hurt that might be most impactful on his current statistics. While his ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio is virtually identical to his last three years, his fly ball rate is at a career low. And so is his isolated power. And while he’s generally trended towards more ground balls and higher batting averages on balls in play — three of his best four BABIPS have come in the last four years — this year, he hasn’t been as fortunate on balls in play (.288 BABIP).

That said, a career high in line drive rate would be a good thing most years. Did he stumble on a new swing thanks to a barking shoulder? Let’s look at four swings — one from each side, one from a period last year in which he was hitting fly balls and no line drives, and one from a period this year in which his line drive rate was close to 30% thanks to more grounders. Last year is on the left, this year is on the right.

Swish12RHBSwish13RHB
Swish12LHBSwish13LHBa

These are just four swings, even if they were hand picked for a reason. In this year’s swings, he looks like he’s staying inside the ball better and not opening up as fast. But you can notice that he keeps both hands on his bat longer as a right-hander in 2012. That makes sense — his injury is to his left shoulder, and it must be harder to keep the front hand on the bat if the front shoulder is hurting.

But as I hunted for swings, I noticed that he seemed to be swinging at the high strike less often. That makes sense, since those pitches turn into fly balls more often. Let’s use Baseballheatmaps.com to look at Swisher’s swings this year compared to last year. They are overlaid — blue means that Swisher is swinging less this year than last year in that area. Lefty pitchers on the left, righty on the right.

SwishvLHPSwishvRHP

It looks like Swisher is swinging at the high strike less often. But he’s also swinging at the low and inside pitch less often as a right-handed batter, and that’s the pitch that leads to golf shots. Is that because it hurts to swing there, or because he wasn’t showing as much thump, so he has stopped swinging there? Chicken, egg? But it is interesting to note that Swisher’s average batted ball distance on flies and liners is up a half foot from last season.

His power isn’t completely gone. But he is pulling less. And it’s part of a career trend, particularly from the right side of the plate:

Year Pull% Pull% as RHB
2006 51% 54%
2007 53% 59%
2008 47% 54%
2009 46% 51%
2010 44% 42%
2011 46% 53%
2012 45% 45%
2013 44% 45%

Perhaps Swisher is just getting healthier, and he’ll turn in the same year he usually does after a couple extra home runs in the last frame of the season. Perhaps anything we’re seeing now is really just part of a career trend that’s been going on for a while.

But then it’s still worth noticing that he’s slowly started to become more like Joey Votto as his career has gone on. His ground-ball-to-fly-ball mix has evened out, he’s hit more line drives with every season, and he’s pulled the ball less. Of course, this newer version of Swisher has been about as good as the old version given his career baseline, but perhaps this new approach will help him thrive even as his power succumbs to the nicks and dings of age. It’s probably helped him this year.

Year GB/FB LD% Pull% IFFB% BABIP ISO wRC+
2006 0.69 19.3% 51% 11.2% 0.283 0.239 124
2007 0.81 17.5% 53% 9.5% 0.301 0.193 122
2008 0.78 20.9% 47% 11.1% 0.249 0.191 93
2009 0.84 16.3% 46% 12.3% 0.272 0.249 125
2010 0.79 19.6% 44% 7.8% 0.335 0.223 135
2011 0.99 21.8% 46% 7.5% 0.295 0.188 124
2012 0.99 22.3% 45% 9.0% 0.324 0.201 128
2013 0.98 24.5% 44% 4.0% 0.288 0.161 110


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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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Joanna Garcia-Swisher
Guest
Joanna Garcia-Swisher
2 years 11 months ago

Nick’s so sweet to mention me. Most guys don’t listen to their wives when they give loving reminders of how BABIP will tend to regress to their long-term mean, and that the low BABIP is likely statistical noise rather than directly correlated to any tweak in their swing.

Billy
Guest
Billy
2 years 11 months ago

If I was married to Joanna Garcia, I’d mention her a lot too.

wally
Guest
wally
2 years 11 months ago

Only I’d drop her name.

supershredder
Guest
supershredder
2 years 11 months ago

Wow, she is beautiful

t
Guest
t
2 years 11 months ago

“this newer version of Swisher has been about as good as the old version”

I think that’s the kindest thing you could say about his season so far bro. His babip today is .291 which, bro, is basically identical to his career .292. He’s on pace for a new personal high in strikeouts as well bro. For the Indians sake I hope it all works out like you said with the couple extra dingers. Anyway, nice article bro.

`
Guest
`
2 years 11 months ago

Long name, bro.

wally
Guest
wally
2 years 11 months ago

HUH?

Zips and Steamer rest of season predictions both have him whiffing under 135 times. That’s pretty far from his 152 career high when you only have 30 games left in the season. Care to tell me how likely he is to strike out almost 50 times in 30 games, bro?

And that’s the thing with the BABIP, his LD% is higher than ever, but his BABIP isn’t showing it. So……he’s probably getting a little unlucky.

Anyway, nice comment, bro.

t
Guest
t
2 years 11 months ago

He may be predicted to strikeout under 135 but I just said he was on pace. And no, I don’t care to tell you or even try to guess the likelihood that he beats that.

Anyway, brOHIO!

wally
Guest
wally
2 years 11 months ago

By what metric is he on pace to strike out over 152 times this year though? Even by SO/Games*152 you come up with 142.8. But he can’t play in more than 136 games at this point.

Anyway, BrOHIO, his K% is his third highest of his career, and almost exactly on his career average (21.5% this year vs 21.4% in his career).

So what was you point?

Mister
Guest
Mister
2 years 11 months ago

Looking at Swisher’s splits, his AVG on line drives is the same as it has been for his career (~.750). His AVG on fly balls is down slightly, probably mostly due to decreased HR/FB rate. The ground balls are the real culprit. His AVG on ground balls is down to .153 from a career rate of .214. That’s why his BABIP hasn’t increased despite the LD% increase. I tend to think a decrease in AVG on ground balls that large has to just be bad luck. I suppose the alternate explanations might have something to do with his decreased pull percentage or maybe more intelligent defensive positioning.

Danny Knobgobbler
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Danny Knobgobbler
2 years 11 months ago

The bro salute x 2??? You have made it Eno. Enjoy the view.

anonynous
Guest
anonynous
2 years 11 months ago

Or it could just be that he’s not in his walk year. He signed a fat contract and he’s got financial security now so the pressure’s off, man.

Sal Fasano's Mustache
Guest
Sal Fasano's Mustache
2 years 11 months ago

Sick idea, brah, but Swisher has produced in non-walk years before.

tz
Guest
tz
2 years 11 months ago

Cool story. But still light-years behind Adrian Beltre’s busted thumb in 2014.

tz
Guest
tz
2 years 11 months ago

* bro

Kimbal Binder
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Kimbal Binder
2 years 11 months ago

Love the article and the Swisher quote…I remember hearing and feeling something rip in my left (off) shoulder during wrestling and suddenly my jumpshot was more consistent. I actually believe loosening my left shoulder helped my basketball shooting motion (with my right hand) and I only used my left hand on layups or within five feet of the basket anyway. It was probably my rotator cuff, but back in the stone age when I was young (this happened in 1972) people didn’t usually mention injuries unless you were really hurting…

Jack Bro-hamer
Guest
Jack Bro-hamer
2 years 11 months ago

Things go different when you go to Cleveland, bro

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