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Swisher’s Resurgence

In January of 2008, the Chicago White Sox picked up Nick Swisher from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for a prospect bounty including OF Ryan Sweeney, RHP Fautino De Los Santos and LHP Gio Gonzalez.

The Pale Hose figured they had acquired a valuable, young, cost-controlled player. After all, Swisher was just 27 heading into the ’08 season, having averaged nearly three Wins Above Replacement per season during his three big league campaigns. He had turned in back-to-back quality years at the dish, with wOBA’s of .368 in 2006 and .361 in 2007.

In May of 2007, Swish signed a 5-year, $26.75M pact with the A’s which also included a $10.25M club option for the 2012 season. The former Ohio State star looked to be a mainstay on the South Side, given the team-friendly nature of that deal.

Well, that was the plan, anyway. Just ten months later, the White Sox booted Swisher out of town. The switch-hitter posted an exasperating .325 wOBA in Chicago, losing playing time in August and September to Dewayne Wise(!) In November of ’08, the Sox unloaded Swisher on the Yankees (along with RHP Kanekoa Teixeira) for an underwhelming package of RHP’s Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez as well as utility man Wilson Betemit.

So, what exactly changed for Swisher between his Oakland and Chicago days? Not much. Last December, former RotoGraphs scribe Peter Bendix noted:

In other words, Swisher’s 2008 season, once adjusted for the bad luck he incurred, was exactly in line with his previous seasons. There’s no reason to think that his inherent ability to hit the ball changed much, as evidenced by his stable strikeout, walk, and line-drive rates; therefore, we have every reason to expect Swisher to improve in 2009, thanks to regression to the mean.

Very little changed in Swisher’s plate discipline or batted ball profile between 2007 and 2008:

2007

15.6 BB%, 24.3 K%, 17.5 LD%, 0.81 GB/FB, 9.5 IF/FB%, 16.6 O-Swing%, 85.8 Z-Contact%

2008

14.2 BB%, 27.2 K%, 20.9 LD%, 0.78 GB/FB, 11.1 IF/FB%, 18.9 O-Swing%, 86.2 Z-Contact%

There are slight changes, but certainly nothing earth-shattering. Yet, Swisher’s BABIP plummeted from .308 in ’07 to .251 in ’08. According to this expected BABIP tool from The Hardball Times (based off research done by Chris Dutton and Bendix), Nick was terribly unlucky.

Swisher’s rate of HR’s, K’s SB’s, line drives, fly balls, pop ups and grounders suggested that his BABIP should have been closer to the .300 range in 2008. That would obviously change his line dramatically. Even if those extra hits were all singles, Swisher’s triple-slash would rise from a mild .219/.332/.410 to .268/.381/.459.

With the Bronx Bombers in 2009, Swisher mashed to the tune of .249/.371/.498 in 607 PA, good for a career-best .375 wOBA. His BABIP did not return to the .300 range (he finished at .277), but that BABIP rebound and a boost in power (.249 ISO) made Swisher one of the best off-season pickups.

His patience and pop, coupled with average D, produced a 3.7 WAR season. Swisher is never going to have a shiny batting average, but his stout secondary skills (walks and power) make him an underrated contributor.

It’s not very often that one can say this about a Yankees acquisition, but swindling Swisher from the White Sox last fall was a thrifty move. New York bought low on a quality player, parting only with a future 5th starter, a decent relief prospect and a reserve infielder with platoon issues and no defensive home.

Swish made just $5.3M this year, while providing $16.5M worth of value. He’s under contract for a total of $15.75M over the 2010-2011 seasons. Even if he regresses back to the three WAR range, he would give $27M worth of production over that time period.

If you’re keeping score at home, that would mean Swisher offers the Yankees about $22.5M worth of surplus value from 2009-2011 (what his production is worth on the free agent market based on the $4.5M/WAR standard, minus his actual salary). And, he also has that reasonable option for the 2012 season.

During an off-season in which the Yankees spent more than the gross domestic product of Tonga (no, seriously), the club also added Swisher for a song. This is a great example of why it’s vital to not just take a cursory glance at a player’s numbers and come to a definite conclusion about his talents. Fantasy owners who did their homework picked up an offensive cog without coughing up a high draft pick.