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.

Swisher -
2008: +1
2007: +6

Nady -
2008: -4
2007: -2

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.


  1. I'll leave my retort in comment form so as not to consume this blog with talk of a second-tier player. Btw, that picture of Swisher is ridiculous, it makes him look like the baseball Jesus.

    My complete comment went on to say that there is no way Swisher will continue the success he has had in this early season. As of today, baseball reference shows his hitting line as follows: .458 AVG, .536 OBP, and a ridiculous 1.208 SLG%. 'Swish' is a career .246 hitter and his highest average ever was .262 in his final year with Oakland (also a contract-year).

    Now, to address the HRs. Swish has hit 4 already this year and that projects to 81HRs this season which all goes to say that he will go through at least a few dry spells this year.

    I'm not saying that Nick Swisher is a terrible player, but what I am saying is that right now, things are looking way better than they usually are for Swisher, there is no possible way he can even remotely continue the pace he's on for AVG., Rs, RBIs, HRs, etc. What I'm saying is that eventually he will come back down to earth and his production in that stacked Yankees lineup is going to stick out like a sore thumb.

    As far as his defensive prowess, you get no argument from me there, but like they say from the time you start in little leagues, defense doesn't keep you in the starting lineup.

    Oh, he's a .208 hitter in the post-season too. I'm not saying Nady is a step up, he's actually a step down in some areas, but overall, you get a less streaky player in Nady, a guy who is never going to wow you with power or speed, but will play consist baseball, day-in, day-out.

  2. Obviously, Swisher isn't going to continue his current rate of production. Neither is Marco Scutaro. My contention, however, is that both Nady and Swisher had performance levels in 2008 that were out of line with past performance. This bodes ill for Nady, and well for Swisher.

  3. What I'm saying though is considering his current production, Swisher is due for a prolonged term of correction which may last long enough to where he falls out of favor with Girardi, Cashman, etc.

  4. Maybe. But I would suspect Cashmoney and Girardi know his current level of production is unsustainable. I expect him to be given more than enough time to produce in accordance with normal career levels.

    Also, you hate him because he played for a certain Chicago South Side team last year. Just sayin.

  5. I do hate him, he's an arrogant meathead and on top of that, he's not that great of a player. But mostly I hate him because he played for the White Sox and it's HARD for me to come around on any player who has played for the White Sox. Joe Crede is the exception, I have to like the guy.

  6. Plus, he looks like Riker from the old Star Trek.