Nick Swisher: From Windy City Turmoil To New York City Gold
Nick Swisher arrived in New York rather unheralded, acquired from the White Sox after the 2008 season for seldom-used infielder Wilson Betemit and two throwaway prospects. He had allegedly worn out his welcome in Chicago after only one season, having alienated manager Ozzie Guillen and suffered through a career-worst .219/.332/.410 season.
But the surface numbers don’t adequately tell the tale of Swisher’s 2008 campaign.
2008 is the only season in Swisher’s career in which he posted an OPS+ of under 100. Despite the lesser numbers, many of Swisher’s peripheral stats remained within normal ranges. He still managed 24 home runs while keeping his walk and strikeout rates around his career average. His isolated power was still a very respectable .191 and his line drive rate of 20.9% was a career high.
The main detractor from his season was a career-low BABIP, or batting average of balls in play. Having enjoyed a BABIP of .280 his first four seasons in the league, Swisher saw that number drop to .249 during his only season with Chicago.
Using all of this information leads us to conclude that the best explanation for Swisher’s disappointing season was simple bad luck. He was consistently making solid contact and hitting for power, but his batting average dipped nearly 30 points below his established number. Add in the fact that Guillen played him out of position and shuffled him around the batting order and Swisher might having been begging to get out of Chicago.
Brian Cashman moved a few weeks before Thanksgiving 2008, sending Betemit along with minor league pitchers Jhonny Nunez and Jeff Marquez to Chicago for Swisher and relief prospect Kanekoa Texeira. This was over a month before the Yankees would go on their massive shopping spree, locking up CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Mark Teixeira. With the expiration of incumbent first baseman Jason Giambi’s mammoth contract, the Yankees needed to find a replacement, and Swisher was it for nearly two months.
Cashman traded for Swisher with full intentions of using him as the Yankees’ everyday first baseman. When Mark Teixeira fell into their laps two weeks after Christmas, Swisher was relegated to fourth outfielder status behind Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, and Xavier Nady. However, barely a week into the season, Nady suffered an elbow injury that he attempted to rehab but ultimately required season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Nady’s injury thrust Swisher into a starting role that he probably should have had all along. Swisher took off and carried the team early in 2009, posting a .312/.430/.714 line in April while Alex Rodriguez recovered from hip surgery and Mark Teixeira suffered through his annual slow start.
Swisher suffered through a brutal stretch in May before evening out over the course of the season. He enjoyed his best season to date in 2009, posting career highs in slugging, OPS, isolated power and wOBA (weighted on-base average). And unsurprisingly, saw his BABIP rebound to a more reasonable .272.
2010 has seen Swisher take his game to another level, and he is on pace for another career-best season. His walk rate is down 4 percent from his career average, but he’s made up for it by adding over 40 points in batting average. As much as his work with hitting instructor Kevin Long makes for a nice narrative, the results back up those stories.
So what can Yankee fans expect from Swisher moving forward? Most likely more of the same guy we’ve seen since the trade to New York. His high average in 2010 is fueled by a higher BABIP than normal, but his power continues to develop, which is not uncommon for players in their prime years. We may see his average regress a little in the future, but the power and patience remain strengths.
The trade that netted the Yankees their all-star outfielder was part salary dump and part “change of scenery” move by Chicago. There were rumors that he was unsettling in the clubhouse and his performance had dropped off throughout the season enough to warrant multiple concerns.
Cashman acquired him for three players who haven’t made much of an impact on the field for Chicago. Betemit accrued 45 at-bats in 2009 before Chicago designated him for assignment to make room for stud prospect Gordon Beckham. Marquez has posted a 5.77 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP in two seasons for Chicago’s Triple-A affiliate, while going 10-12. Nunez has spent a majority of his time shuttling between Double-A and Triple-A while experiencing varying degrees of success, and has a 9.53 ERA in seven games for the White Sox.
Nick Swisher the Yankee has been entertaining, highly productive and an absolute asset to the overall team environment. In those regards, he’s been almost the polar opposite of what he was perceived to be in Chicago. But as for most of his numbers, he’s been the same player this whole time, except with a little bit of luck.