Nick Swisher: Buy Low?

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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Jason Catania is an MLB Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who also contributes to ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and MLB Rumor Central, focusing on baseball and fantasy content. When he was first introduced to fantasy baseball, Derek Jeter had 195 career hits, Jamie Moyer had 72 wins and Matt Stairs was on team No. 3. You can follow him on Twitter: @JayCat11

15 Responses to “Nick Swisher: Buy Low?”

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  1. Drew says:

    We were talking about this on THT, and they had a similar analysis, but different overall take on it (AVOID HIM).

    I think if the price is right, it’s an ok pickup as a 4th/5th OF (if you need or care to have one, and depending on your league size).

    But what is a good price? Would you trade someone like Kubel (currently hitting over .300, but not likely to keep that pace) for Swisher (who might generate a lot more RBI and runs, given his OBP potential and lineups, as long as his luck straighten out)?

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  2. V says:

    I -never-, as a personal point, target ‘buy low’ players in one for one deals. I always target them in 2 for 2 (+) deals where I’m supplying two good players for one better and one ‘worse’. I target deals like +Granderson for better SP+Swisher back.

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    • V says:

      Sorry, ‘SP+Granderson’.

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      • Jason Catania says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        To address both Drew and V:

        I did the Kubel: Sell High? piece a week ago, and the conclusion was that overall he’d wind up being fine to hang onto but he’s just not going to be your OF1 or OF2 or probably not even OF3, unless we’re talking 12- or 14-team leagues. I think he and Swisher are in a similar range in terms of production going forward — probably a slight edge to Swisher — but I don’t think I would trade Kubel for Swisher straight up. It’s not like I think Kubel is going to completely crash or Swisher is just going to bust out like bonkers. Plus, on principle — Kubel’s had a better year to date — you should be getting more back rather than just settling.

        Which is why I think V has the right kind of idea. If you’re considering Swisher as a trade target, I wouldn’t make him the focus of the deal — unless you were unloading some un-good player yourself in a back-end deal and your trade partner has just had enough with Swisher at this point and wants to move him. But if you can build him into a package offer for an improvement elsewhere, that would be smart. Because your trade partner’s perception of an upgrade could very well wind up being a misperception.

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      • Aaron says:

        Just tried the Kubel v. Swisher trade at TB. No votes yet but the link is below if people want to check in.

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    • Aaron says:

      Recent trades involving Swisher over at tradebashers;

      Nolasco and Swish for Britton and Bourn – 65% preferred the Swish side
      Swisher and Storen for Brett Anderson and Maybin – 56% preferred the Swisher side

      People seem to be thinking along your lines, V.

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  3. Drew says:

    Sure – I guess then you’d at least be getting *something* for your trouble, even if the “buy low” guy doesn’t end up turning it around.

    Even still, does something like the Kubel deal make sense?

    There’s no way I could get Swisher *AND* and SP for something as cheap as Kubel. And I’m not willing to give up Matt Joyce or LoMo for Swisher and an SP just because Swisher may turn it around hit 15-20 HRs going forward.

    BTW, my league is really shallow.

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    • Jason Catania says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Drew: If you get back a legitimate SP2 with Swisher for, say, Joyce and a back-of-your-fantasy-rotation guy, then I think I’d consider that. Especially if you need pitching.

      But the main point here is that Kubel-for-Swisher, while not an incorrect idea, per se, on the buy low-sell high approach, isn’t really going to accomplish much for you b/c you’re failing to take advantage of what Kubel has done to date and use that as a way to get more.

      The primary instance when you should do a one-for-one deal like that is if you KNOW you’re getting the better player back but it doesn’t look that way on paper at the moment. (This is a pretty unrealistic example off the top of my head, but let’s say it was Kubel for Choo straight up, then yes — THAT would be a clear upgrade.)

      To me, Swisher wasn’t clearly better than Kubel at the beginning of the year and he isn’t right now. So even if he is going forward, there’s no real benefit. Especially in a shallow league.

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  4. I like that strategy, V. Gonna test it out in my mixed league…

    – Derek

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  5. William says:

    Jason –

    With much greater depth than I did in the comments on THT, you made my same point. Nice job backing up your argument. I find it hard to believe that he isn’t somebody’s fourth outfielder, at least, even in shallow leagues. I’m in a saber league, so those BB help stem the pain, but he has just got to be a better bet to hit 18 going forward than 6, or whatever he is on pace for right now, and with a .250 average along with, surely, some decent R/RBI for those in 5X5s.

    I could be wrong, and I AM starting Torres in his place, but believe that somewhere along the line I might consider putting him back in and regardless don’t want him on the waiver wire.

    Nice article…

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    • Jason Catania says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Thanks, Will. I certainly think Swish should be on your bench (if at all possible) for the time being, like you’ve been doing. And I’d use it as an opportunity to shuffle in a player (or players) who can help you out in a category that you’re lacking (so a Torres type if you need some steals, say, is a good idea). That allows you to almost “take advantage” of Swisher’s slow start — until he inevitably picks it up. And you make a good point about leagues that use OBP as a category, because Swisher will always be more valuable in those with how much he walks.

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  6. pat says:

    I just traded Ted Lilly for Nick Swisher. I think it’s a fair deal.

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  7. William says:

    Lilly looks like this is the year he got old… his underlying skills are dropping off the map, which sucks because I drafted him multiple times. Not necessarily a bad trade (even his starts in LA vs. poor offenses gave him 4+ era)

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