For nearly a decade Nick Swisher has been a beacon of consistency. From 2005 until 2013, he posted a 119 wRC+ mark, and averaged 25 home runs per year. He manged to swat 20 home runs again, but he wasn’t quite as good as he was in 2012. Which makes sense: He was a year older, and beginning to enter his decline phase. This season, though, has been a disaster. His walks are down, his strikeouts are up, and his power has evaporated into uncharted territory.
First things first, Swisher’s patience has been in decline since 2011. Back then, Swisher didn’t swing at pitches outside of the zone very much – his 17.8% o-swing% was the second best mark in the majors that season. It was his peak, from a not chasing perspective. As things go with peaks, it was only downhill from there. Over the past three seasons Swisher has posted the following o-swing rates: 21.9%, 24.2%, and 28%. His rate is still a little above average, but for a power/patience profile, you need to be better than a little above average, especially when your power is waning. And as you would expect, his overall swing% is at a five year high. Interestingly enough, his contact% is mostly unchanged from last year, although it’s well below his 2011 mark.
So we have: more swings outside the zone and overall, a contact rate below his career average, and a higher swinging strike rate. Not very good, but there’s more.
When looking into older players their production versus fastballs is one of the first places I look. Perhaps that’s unfair, but in theory our bodies and reflexes should slow down as we age. Well, fastballs have eaten Swisher alive this year. Full disclosure: he was fine versus them last year, so there are some small sample size caveats to be made here, but the change is staggering enough to note either way.
Interestingly enough, despite his production being down, he isn’t swinging through more fastballs. He just isn’t doing much with them, and, to cap it all off, he’s offering at them less than he has in a long time. His discipline on a categorical basis has been iffy, at best, lately. Swisher’s bills have always been paid thanks to his work versus fastballs and their numerous variations, while laying off secondary offering pretty well. Perhaps he’s been unable to discern what pitchers are throwing him as well as he used to?
Over the past few seasons, Swisher’s patience with secondary offerings has dried up. His swing rates versus offspeed and breaking pitches have risen each year since 2011, and they’re ballooned this year. Despite his struggles, pitchers haven’t attacked him that differently. Nonetheless, Swisher’s swinging at more pitches that he’s historically done nothing with.
Swisher’s decline is expected, especially considering what we know about current aging curves – regarding power, specifically – and the fact that he’s in his age 34 season. And yet it’s weird, because some signs aren’t so bad, and because it’s happened very quickly.
Some of the above deals with small samples. It’s impossible to ignore that. But we’re at a point where Swisher’s overall struggles aren’t exactly a slump anymore. Since joining Cleveland – a span that covers over 1000 plate appearances – Swisher has been a league average hitter. Some of his underlying signs are okay. Others aren’t. Lastly, injuries have become more of an issue lately – he spent time on the DL earlier this season for the first time in a long time after dealing with shoulder issues nearly all year in 2013. And he just hurt himself again. Father time always catches up.
It sure looks like Nick Swisher’s time as a decent fantasy option is over. And that’s sad because for years he’s been a reliable mid-round option, blending power and patience, and ultimately providing value. From a team perspective, this is awful for the Indians. They’re on the hook for at least $30 million over the next two seasons, with a chance at having to give him $14 million more in 2017. [I wouldn’t bet on the option vesting, though.] Swisher’s a bat only player at this point, only his bat isn’t carrying him any longer. ZiPS and Steamer are in agreement with that statement, mostly, projecting 102 and 107 wRC+ marks, respectively, going forward. Even if he’s able to do that, his power, isn’t projected to bounce back much by either system.
We’ll have to find a new Nick Swisher. Personally, Lucas Duda, despite his lack of a long track record, is looking pretty damn close to that right now, but that’s for another day. Maybe he’ll be even better.
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