A brief (and terrible) joke: What is up with Nick Swisher?
Currently, not his batting average or power. Zing!
Thing is, if you own Swisher in 2011, you’re not laughing at that. (Okay, you’re not laughing at that regardless.) But you’re probably yelling a whole lot, right? Something like…
C’mon, I drafted this guy in the mid-rounds as a cheap source of power to help fortify my outfield production. And yes, I was aware of the possibility that he would hit for a low average. I knew the risks going in! But this is a guy who had never hit fewer than 21 homers in a full season and even mashed exactly 29 each of the past two years!! Plus, he’s coming off a career-high .288 average, and is only 29, so it wasn’t completely out of the question for him to hit around .270!!!
And yet, nearly two months into the 2011 season, Mr. Joanna Garcia* is batting .214 and has managed to hit all of 2 home runs. In short: WTF?
*There is, of course, the very real possibility that Swisher’s season of slump is due to the wholly-unproven-but-still-entirely-feasible theory that being involved with a (semi) famous woman — in this case the lovely Joanna Garcia — proves to be a hindrance on a male athlete’s career. Whether or not there is any causation, there is almost certainly a correlation. Heck, Rihanna happened to Matt Kemp last year. And there are plenty of other examples in the past two decades: From Andre Agassi and Brooke Shields to Chuck Finley and Tawny Kitaen, Jason Sehorn and Angie Harmon to Chris Webber and Tyra Banks. And Cowboys fans will never forget, let alone forgive, Jessica Simpson.
Well, if you really did think you might get a batting average above .250 out of Swisher, that’s your fault. Dude’s a career .251 hitter whose unseen-before .335 BABIP last year screamed for regression. But either way, you didn’t expect him to help you win that category — just not kill it like this. Even though Swish does have a .219 season in his history (only three years ago, in 2008), it’s still a good possibility that he’ll pick up his average by hitting .250ish going forward. And though it may not seem like it right now, same goes for his homers, actually.
See, Swisher is maintaining walk (14.2%) and strikeout rates (25.5%) that are right in line with his career numbers, and his BABIP comes in on the low side at .264. So those indicate he hasn’t suffered some sort of utter collapse in his approach and has actually been a tad unlucky. There are a couple BABIP-related pointers to be wary of here, though: 1) The league average is actually lower than usual at .289 (something about Year of the Pitcher?); and 2) looking at Swisher’s personal history, he’s only had a BABIP near or above the league average twice, in 2007 and the aforementioned 2010, which just so happen to be the only times he’s hit north of .254. So yeah, even if he turns around his average, he’ll probably hit no better than .250 going forward. But that’s at least use-able, so long as he’s helping elsewhere.
The more pressing issue is that Swisher has managed a measly .090 ISO, by far his worst ever. This from a guy who’s powered a .211 mark for his career. That’s some kind of dropoff. But the underlying numbers suggest this has also been brought on by bad luck. It’s worth pointing out that Swisher has a career 45.1% fly ball rate, which is currently at a career-low 41.1%, and he’s also sporting an awful 4.3% HR/FB rate, when his career mark is 14.5%. So he’s hitting fewer fly balls, and fewer of those fewer flies are flying out of parks. (Got that?)
But the good news here is that the discrepancy in his fly ball percentage can be attributed almost entirely to a spike in his line drive percentage — 24.1% is well above his 18.9% career number. Why, exactly, is that good news if his average, BABIP and ISO are still so low despite the increase in liners? Two reasons. First, his .667 BABIP on line drives is well below the MLB average of .715, not to mention his own career rate of .755 — proof he’s been unlucky on what is the most successful type of batted ball. And second, he’s still hitting the ball hard, so if he can exert a little more loft, it should lead to an uptick in homers, thus reconciling his 2011 HR/FB rate with his career number.
The final oddity here is that Swisher is hitting just .170 left-handed (compared to .333 righty), and obviously faces right-handers much more frequently, which accounts for the lower-than-normal batting average. But his splits — .246 BA, .227 ISO hitting lefty vs. .263 and .173 hitting right-handed — suggest no such hint of a similar struggle in his career. So unless something is bothering him when he swings from the left side, and there’s been nothing reported, that .170 average is bound to bump.
For the rest of the season, ZiPS projects Swisher at .249 with 18 homers and 57 RBIs. That actually seems about right, given the evidence from above and his history. So while Swisher’s final 2011 numbers will almost assuredly be disappointing compared to pre-season expectations, a sharp owner in need of a little outfield pop could use that to their advantage to swipe Swish for cheap in a trade. Or perhaps even rescue him from the free agent pool, considering he’s owned in exactly 60% of both ESPN and Yahoo! leagues.
In the end, you may just be the one laughing.
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