Friday, October 26, 2012

Offseason Decisions: Nick Swisher

"Yep, struck out again, oh well."

Not too long ago I lobbied for Nick Swisher to return next season. I actually love the guy, and his approach to the game, as he seems to truly love baseball and the Yankees. But his worth to the team pretty much ends there. In New York, it's about the postseason, and he hasn't gotten it done... not even close. Nick's only hit above .211 in one postseason series (2010 ALDS vs. MIN). In fact, that's the only series in which his OPS was above .400. The vast majority of his value is wrapped up in home runs. The only other part of Swisher's hitting that holds any value is his ability to get on base 37% of the time, but I have a problem believing that will happen again.

I'll explain... The last two seasons, in which Swish has been able to get on base over 37% of the time, came in 2009 and 2011. In those seasons he had very high walk percentages of 16% and 15%, while Nick's career walk average is 12.3% (the MLB average last season was 8.4%). His strikeout rates were 20.8% and 19.7%, which is fairly close to his career mark of 21.3%. Swisher's line drive rate wasn't much different from his career average of 20%, as he hit 18% and 20%. He certainly wasn't hitting the ball better, as his batting averages in 2009 and 2011 were .249 and .260.

Which was still a hell of a lot better than what this guy just did.

You might think that Nick Swisher was simply less patient in 2010 and 2012, thus leading to lower on-base percentages, but looking at his 2009 season you can't really draw that conclusions. You see, in 2009 Nick's OBP was .374, which is his highest since 2007, and 2nd highest of his 9 year career. But he only saw 4.06 pitchers per plate appearance, which is the 2nd lowest of Swish's career. All of this leads me to believe that a high walk rate is the one thing that leads to Swisher's big on-base percentage. And at 32 years old, I'm just not sure a guy will do anything better than his career average up to that point.

Of course, Swisher has been able to hit pretty well this season (.272 batting average), as well as back in 2010 (.288). But all you have to do is look at his batting average on balls in play in both of those seasons to see that he got a bit lucky. His career average BABIP is .292, which is right in line with the league average of around .300. But in 2010 and 2012 Nick's BABIP was .335 and .324. So I really believe he's much more likely to hit .260 or lower.

Mind you, getting an outfielder that can regularly hit 26 home runs in a season (Swisher's average HR output per season with the Yankees) is not simple. In 2012 only 21 outfielders in all of baseball reached that plateau, which isn't a ton when you take into account that 90 different outfielders are listed on Opening Day lineups. Now, three of them are free agents. However, one of those three is Ryan Ludwick, and I'm not taking his 2012 campaign seriously after three straight years of replacement player level production, on top of turning 35 years old next July.

Yeah, I'll take Cameron Frye over Ryan Ludwick.

So what about those other two outfielders that hit 26 or more home runs last season, as well as a couple other intriguing free agent outfielders.  First of all... "intriguing" is a bit of a strong word when talking about this free agent crop. Except for one...

Josh Hamilton 

I'd love to have this guy in pinstripes. He's a left-handed batter with power, that also has a career batting average of .304, while getting on base over 36% of the time. Josh has averaged 33 home runs per season over the last 3 years, and that includes missing 35 games in 2011 with a broken arm, and 24 games in 2010 with broken ribs. And keep in mind that those injuries were not something to be worried about in the future, unlike if he missed all that time due to a bad back. Other than his offense being vast superior to Swisher's, Hamilton's defense looks to be a bit better as well. Nick's career UZR/150 in RF is 4.5, while Josh's is 6.0 (Hamilton played mainly in CF this past season, and was mainly in LF the previous two years). The problem with Josh is that he's going to command too much. Not that it really matters to fans, who just want the best on the field, but the Yankees seem to be getting tight with the dollar. And keeping the austerity budget in mind, I think the chances of seeing Josh Hamilton playing for the good guys next season are pretty slim.

Like how I didn't even bring up his past substance abuse? Well, except for right here.

Melky Cabrera

I really don't believe he'll come close to the numbers he put up in 2012, before he was suspended for testing positive for a banned substance. Melky's batting average was 41 points higher, his OBP was 51 points higher, and his SLG was 46 points higher than in 2011. Not that we need another MVP candidate in right field. I mean, if Melky were to put up numbers like he did in 2011 with the Royals (.305/.339/.470), then we'd certainly take it. But can those numbers be believed? Although Cabrera was 26 that season, so he could have very well "come into his own", seeing that he jumped 50 batting average points, 22 OBP points, and 116 SLG points from the 2010 doesn't instill the most confidence. And that doesn't even get into his deal with the failed drug test, which is something that doesn't go over well in New York. Just see what Alex Rodriguez still puts up with, and he confessed to taking PEDs nearly 4 years ago. So I can't bring myself to say "yes" to Melky.

BJ Upton 

The only reason I even bring up his name is because of... well... his name. At one point Upton was thought to be a future star. In 2004 Baseball American ranked BJ has the #2 prospect in all of baseball. Those thoughts didn't die down when he followed up that high ranking with a batting line of .303/.392/.490 in AAA in 2005. When Tampa Bay brought Upton up during the 2006 season the kid didn't blow anybody away, but in his first full MLB season in 2007 he impressed people with a line of .300/.386/.508, which included 24 home runs. Although the batting average and slugging percentage went down in 2008, BJ was able to maintain a high on-base percentage, so all didn't seem lost. Unfortunately he didn't retire young, because after that it was all downhill. Mind you, BJ's home run totals have been fairly good (69 over the last 3 seasons), but other than that he's lived deep in the shadow of his brother.

Shane Victorino

Well, what version of Victorino would the Yankees be getting? Would it be the 2010 version, in which he stole 34 bases while hitting .259/.327/.429? The 2011 version, where Shane's batting line was .279/.355/.491 with only 19 stolen bases? Or the 2012 version, in which he stole 39 bases while hitting .255/.321/.383? How about we break it down stat by stat? To start off with, I don't see Shane hitting any more than 15 home runs in a season from here on out. Sure, he hit 35 between 2010 and 2011, but at 32 years old I'd expect that number to go down long before going up. Now look at his batting averages and on-base percentages in 2010 and 2012. If there's a chance the Yankees were going to get a guy that hit .257/.324, then they might as well save their money and start Chris Dickerson in right field next year (Chris has hit .266 and had an OBP of .352 in 599 MLB plate appearances). And I want to bring up the age 32 thing again, because I don't feel comfortable needing the guy to steal 35+ bases in order to get some value. I mean, the legs have to start going sometime soon... right?

The other guys on the free agent list are even less interesting, so it seems to come down to bringing back Nick Swisher, or making a trade. I really don't like depending on a trade to occur in order to fill a spot, especially when we have nothing even close to exciting within the system that's a good back-up plan.

Sorry to the Chris Dickerson lovers out there.

Hopefully Ninja Cashman can swing a deal for something better, but Yankee fans may have to deal with the fact that Nick Swisher is the best of a "not-so-great" situation.

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