• Nick Swisher: 4th Outfielder

    Posted by on March 12th, 2009 · Comments (18)

    I’ve never been a big fan of batters who strike out often, have a low batting average, and who walk a lot – even if they have some pop.

    Yeah, I know, sabermetrically speaking, guys like Adam Dunn, Mickey Tettleton and Darrell Evans are “productive” players – because it’s all about not making “outs” and they reach base (via walks). And, again, sabermetrically speaking, strike outs are no different than any other out. Yet, there’s just something about the Jack Cust…and, yes, the Nick Swisher…type of batter that just rubs me the wrong way.

    It’s hard to explain – but, it’s the way that I feel. Hey, just being honest here…

    Related, this evening, playing around with the Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, I noticed that Nick Swisher’s batting career, to date, looks a lot like the overall batting career of Ken Phelps – in terms of getting hits and reaching base via walks as well as making contact:

    BATTER	       AVGvLg    OBAvLg	SO/PA
    Nick Swisher	-0.03	0.02	.215
    Ken Phelps	-0.02	0.05	.196
    AVGvLg = Career Batting Average vs. League Average
    OBAvLge = Career On Base Average vs. League Average

    Of course, there’s a difference between the two players – as Swisher is currently just 28-years old and Phelps posted those PA totals in the big leagues from the time he was age 25 until he was 35-years old. Nonetheless, in terms of taking pitches and making contact, is it a reach to say that Swisher and Phelps appear to have the same type of skill-level here?

    Now, there’s also another difference between the two players here. Ken Phelps had a career slugging percentage 78 points above league average and an isolated power mark (over his career) that was 102 points above league average. Whereas Nick Swisher has a career slugging percentage 24 points above league average and an isolated power mark (over his career) that is 50 points above league average. This tells us that Swisher’s “pop” is no where near that of Phelps.

    And, therefore, while Ken Phelps was a batter who would walk a lot and not get many hits – at least when he did get a hit it went a long way (more times than not). Can we say the same about Swisher? Or, is Nick the type of batter who will walk a lot, not get many hits, and when he does get a hit it will only go for extra bases some of the time? I think you can make a case for this being true…

    Again, to me, this doesn’t make Swisher a terrible player. It just makes him look more like a Brad Wilkerson or Jon Nunnally type of player. Someone who probably should be a fourth outfielder rather than a starting outfielder. But, again, maybe it’s just me…

    Comments on Nick Swisher: 4th Outfielder

    1. Pat F
      March 13th, 2009 | 1:45 am

      Swisher could definitely be a great fourth outfielder for us if we had someone better than him to play right field. Since we don’t, hell have to start in right field for us, where hell be immensely productive on both sides of the baseball. Pencil him in for 90 walks, 25 homers, mlb leader in pitches seen per ab, and win adding defense. He’s the kind of patient bat + plus defense that we don’t have, so he adds nice balance to a lineup with tons of free swingers.

    2. Pat F
      March 13th, 2009 | 1:46 am

      *patient bat + plus defense that we don’t have a lot of (welcome, mark teixeira).

    3. BILLSTYLE
      March 13th, 2009 | 2:48 am

      I know a lot of people that simply like Nick Swisher because he was featured in Moneyball. I for one, have come to like him from seeing the small sample from Spring Training, mostly because of his attitude more than anything. I thought last year’s clubhouse was a little too stuffy and strict under General Joe’s rule. This year he has seemed to ease up on the players. While a team trip to a pool hall certainly doesn’t show up in any box score or sabermetric system, the heart and soul are what make a team gel.

    4. March 13th, 2009 | 8:02 am

      It’s hard to explain – but, it’s the way that I feel.
      ==============
      I don’t think it’s too hard to explain. You’re talking about aesthetics, and I feel the same way. Adam Dunn just isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as, say, Kenny Lofton or whoever.

      I feel the same way about the ever-increasing specialization in the bullpen. I wish starters completed more games, and I wish there were fewer pitching changes, and I wish closers were used for two or three innings at a time.

      What it all comes down to is this: What makes sense analytically isn’t always aesthetically pleasing.

    5. MJ
      March 13th, 2009 | 9:00 am

      Swisher might be more of a 4th outfielder on another team. But on the Yankees — where his main competition is Xavier Nady — he’s certainly the better choice to play every day.

      I point you to Steven Goldman’s very intelligent analysis on the discussion between Swisher and Nady, specifically to the 6th and 7th paragraphs of the article (linked below). You may not like Nick Swisher, you may find him aesthetically offensive to your senses, but he’s better than Xavier Nady and he’s more valuable to the Yankees playing every day.

      http://tinyurl.com/be7rup

    6. YankCrank
      March 13th, 2009 | 9:37 am

      Can’t say it any better than Justin and MJ did.

      On other teams where they have a powerhouse outfield, Swisher can be a 4th outfielder. However, on the Yankees it is between Swisher and Nady…and if you look at MJ’s link, Swisher is the better choice to be in the lineup every day. He’s a very productive player and it should be fun to watch him play this year.

    7. March 13th, 2009 | 10:24 am

      I agree that Swisher should start.

      But, FWIW, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with fans wanting their teams to be aesthetically pleasing. Hell, I kept advocating for the signing of Manny Ramirez, largely on the grounds of entertainment value, so I know from which I speak.

      In fact, I would be in favor of the league adopting rule changes to make baseball more aesthetically pleasing. Specifically, I’d love it if they’d limit the number of pitchers on a roster to, say, 9 or 10, which would reduce the crutch of reliever specialization.

      The most interesting thing about modern closer usage, actually, is that it seems to me that its neither the most aesthetically pleasing nor the most analytically useful to have them pitch just one inning at a time. So I’m not really sure what that’s about. Anyone have any ideas?

    8. YankCrank
      March 13th, 2009 | 10:31 am

      There’s def nothing wrong with what Steve is saying. Listen, guys like Steve and butchie have often talked about how they have been Yankee fans since the 70s, and there’s no denying that for a long time, up until recently, batters were valued by how high their BA was, how many home runs and rbis they had and how often they struck out. I was also brought up that way, and over time those statistical values are just beaten into your brain.

      So when butchie and Steve say they don’t like Swisher because he either strikes out too much, or his BA is too low or for whatever reason, I don’t agree with it but I totally understand where they are coming from. Sabermetrics is relatively new and it takes time for people to either undertand them ,or in this case, find those players aesthetically pleasing.

      I hope over time, and over some Yankee games, you’ll get to see and appreciate all Swisher brings to the Yanks.

    9. ken
      March 13th, 2009 | 11:46 am

      Those who knock Swisher need to be certain that they are not one of the many screaming: “We need more guys like Brosius!”

      If you look at Brosius’ numbers before coming to Yanks (http://tinyurl.com/aew8uk), then there is nothing that would make anyone want him as the everyday starting 3rd baseman.

      Compare to Swish: http://tinyurl.com/dyxrub

      If you want ‘character guys’ and ‘role players’ then you’re not getting guys with big numbers. You never really know how these types will perform when it counts.

    10. MJ
      March 13th, 2009 | 12:02 pm

      Aesthetically pleasing or not, Swisher is better than Nady. I’m all for watching the best players possible — guys that make the game seem effortless and fun — but wins are all that count.

      Furthermore, in knocking Swisher from an aesthetic point of view, what is it about Nady that is so eye-pleasing? After all, his entire career is the embodiment of mediocrity and league-average skills. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but let’s not bench Swisher and cost the team wins in favor of a guy that isn’t exactly capturing that aesthetic you’re clamoring for.

    11. Raf
      March 13th, 2009 | 12:05 pm

      If you want ‘character guys’ and ‘role players’ then you’re not getting guys with big numbers. You never really know how these types will perform when it counts.
      —————–
      You never really know with any player. But the more a player gets to be in AB’s “when it counts” the more those AB’s will reflect their career norms.

      Case in point;

      Derek Jeter
      Career: .316-.387/.458
      Postseason: .309-.377/.469

      Not that much of a difference. As with anything else, you get highs and lows, but in the end, everything evens out. Tis the nature of the game :).

    12. March 13th, 2009 | 1:16 pm

      [...] Many Yankee fans are high on Nick Swisher, hoping he wins the right field job. The fine Yankee blog Was Watching is not among them. [...]

    13. ken
      March 13th, 2009 | 3:19 pm

      You never really know with any player. But the more a player gets to be in AB’s “when it counts” the more those AB’s will reflect their career norms.

      ****************

      Raf: I want to agree with what you say. And I know that the sabermetricians take it as gospel. But think about post-season big hits and this list of names: Brosius, Girardi, Chad Curtis, Aaron Boone, Luis Sojo. (And I apologize in advance for this) Compare them to Arod.

    14. MJ
      March 13th, 2009 | 3:47 pm

      Raf: I want to agree with what you say. And I know that the sabermetricians take it as gospel. But think about post-season big hits and this list of names: Brosius, Girardi, Chad Curtis, Aaron Boone, Luis Sojo. (And I apologize in advance for this) Compare them to Arod.
      ———-
      Aaron Boone’s only playoff experience came during the 2003 playoffs. His slash stats were .200/.200/.267 in the ALDS vs. Minnesota, .176/.263/.353 in the ALCS vs. Boston and .143/.136/.286 in the WS vs. Florida. In total, that comes out to a line of .170/.196/.302 in 53 career playoff AB’s.

      Did Boone hit a magical HR for us in extra innings of Game 7 vs. Boston? Yes. But why would you let 1 hit in 17 ALCS AB’s influence you as to what kind of a player Boone is. 53 career playoff AB’s is not nearly enough of a sample size to determine what kind of a playoff hitter Boone might’ve become. Based on his career numbers (.264/.327/.426), it’s safe to assume that Boone might’ve even improved upon those numbers with more opportunities. But to compare Boone’s HR to A-Rod’s career playoff record is preposterous. You’re letting one AB override everything? How does that make sense?

      You’re making an emotional argument that cannot be backed up with any factual evidence.

    15. Raf
      March 13th, 2009 | 4:19 pm

      Raf: I want to agree with what you say. And I know that the sabermetricians take it as gospel. But think about post-season big hits and this list of names: Brosius, Girardi, Chad Curtis, Aaron Boone, Luis Sojo. (And I apologize in advance for this) Compare them to Arod.
      ———
      No need to apologize…

      Career postseasons
      Scott Brosius: .245-.278/.418
      Joe Girardi: .184-.244/.219
      Chad Curtis: .167-.306/.400
      Aaron Boone: .170-.196/.302
      Luis Sojo: .257-.284/.317

      Alex Rodriguez: .279-.361/.483

      In many cases above, those big hits came in otherwise mediocre performances as a whole. Overall, Boone was terrible in 2003. Overall Brosius was terrible in 2001. Curtis had a decent postseason in 1999. Sojo had a pedestrian postseason in 2000, so on and so forth. You’ll find variations as you break them down by series, but the same holds for the regular season too. You’ll find players that have hot and cold streaks during any random period during the season, so why should the postseason be any different?

    16. butchie22
      March 13th, 2009 | 5:07 pm

      Nice job, Steve. I agree with your assessment. Brad Wilkerson, uhn? Not a bad analogy. To all the Swisher lovers out there, I don’t know how you explain away that shitty season he had out there in Chicago. Please no more luck, the f%&king variable applies to every player from best to worst so throw that away. Jose Molina was unlucky because he couldn’t get a hit to save his life. Some people are acting like he’s the second coming of Bernie Williams…please stop. The guy is at best a 4th outfielder. Like , I said he he is a good clubhouse guy and a gritty player BUT can he get the clutch numbers, OBP and hit to average on a team that needs it? I’m highly skeptical of that. I’m not in love with Nady either, but his production didn’t fall last year to the degree Swisher’s did. Add to the fact that Swisher has never played in the Northeast let alone NYC before like Nady has(and Nady did decently with the Mets) and there are simply too many questions marks. Swisher is good as a super sub type but not as a starter, just ask Chicago white Sox fans how he stunk up the joint last year!

    17. Raf
      March 13th, 2009 | 5:34 pm

      Jose Molina was unlucky because he couldn’t get a hit to save his life.
      ———–
      No, Molina’s not unlucky, he’s just inept with the bat.

      And we are able to “explain away that shitty season he had out there in Chicago” by looking at the numbers.

      “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.”

      again;

      “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.”

      He was a starter in Oakland, he was a starter in Chicago, he will be a starter in NY if Girardi has 1/2 a brain. I am unsure where you get the “4th OF” tag from.

    18. Evan3457
      March 13th, 2009 | 8:20 pm

      I wish the people who support Nady would keep a couple of things in mind, but if I had to pick only one it would be this (now read slowly and pay attention)…

      Swisher, in by far the worst season of his career, had a better OBP for the whole season than Nady, coming in red-hot from Pittsburgh in the middle by far the best season of his career, had during his 59 games and 228 AB for the Yankees last season.

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