Wednesday, April 15, 2009
In Defense of Swish
This past winter, Brian Cashman traded Wilson Betemit and assorted castoffs to the White Sox for Nick Swisher and his 22.5M/3 yr contract. Given the fact that the Yankees had no first baseman to speak of at the time, and that Wilson Betemit was obtained from the Dodgers in exchange for Scott Proctor's worn-out elbow, Yankees fans met this news with much rejoicing. But why? After all, this was Swisher's 2008 offensive line:
.219/.332/.410 (AVG/OBP/SLG, aka Tripleslash)
24 HR, 69 RBI over 496 ABs.
That AVG and OBP aren't anything to get too pumped up about. Once the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira, it became evident that the OF was crowded, and that there would be a position battle in RF between Swish and Xavier Nady. Some thought Nady should have the spot automatically, given his 2008 line:
25 HR, 97 RBI over 555 ABs.
So, which one is better? And is AK47 right when he says "God save the Yankees with Nick Swisher is the starting RF?" I respectfully submit that he is mistaken, and that Nick Swisher is the better player in virtually every respect.
Firstly, I think its easy to dismiss the RBI totals. For one, they are largely a function of lineup placement and OBP skills of other batters. Nick Swisher batted leadoff for the White Sox many times in 08, and Nady hit in the middle of the order for both the Yankees and the Pirates. Switch it up, and give Swisher 50 more ABs like Nady, and I think the RBI totals equalize. Plus, RBI isn't exactly a skill stat, so its really not all that important, truth be told.
Secondly, it is easy to see that Nady had a career year in 2008, out of line with past performance, and Swisher significantly underperformed his past performance.
Swisher - .262/.381/.485; 22 HR, 78 RBIs over 539 ABs
Nady - .278/.330/.476; 20 HR, 70 RBIs over 431 ABs
Swisher - .254/.372/.493; 35 HR, 95 RBIs over 556 ABs
Nady - .280/.337/.453; 17 HR, 63 RBIs over 468 ABs
Now for their 162 game average, courtesy of Baseball-Reference:
Swisher - .246/.356/.460; 28 HR, 88 RBI
Nady - .280/.335/.458; 21 HR, 78 RBI
Now for their OPS+, which neutralizes park factor and league strength (defined here at The Hardball Times):
Swisher - 114
Nady - 108
So, what we are seeing is that Nady's 2008 performance is largely out of line with past performance (his OPS+ was 128 in 08, had never topped 107 in any prior year). On the whole, Nick Swisher gets on base a fair bit more than Nady and their SLG is about equal. Of course, Nady has a remarkable platoon split, meaning he hits lefties way better than righties, whereas Swisher is a switch-hitter and hits both righties and lefties fairly equally (this splits are actually bizarre; he slugs better against righties, but gets on base better against lefties).
Now to the defense. According to defensive guru John Dewan, defense is worth approximately half as much as offense. He labelled this the most significant discovery of his career. We will use the Fielding Bible's Plus/Minus system and look at their defensive stats in RF.
Not extreme differences, but its pretty clear Swisher is the better defensive player.
The Yankees gave Nady the RF job out of Spring Training, but I think it should have gone to Swisher. He is better offensively and defensively, and is more versatile. He's also due for a bounceback year in a big way, but that's another post.
Nady is better than just a bench player, but on this Yankees team I would like to see Swisher starting every day, with Nady filling in late in games and starting against strong left-handed pitchers. Thanks to Nady's unfortunate injury, the Yankees may have no choice.