Nick Swisher’s Power Surge?
With two more homers on Monday night, Nick Swisher continued his monstrous year in pinstripes (though it is worth noting his ISO this year is nearly identical to his 2009 number, a fact that might temper our enthusiasm about Swisher’s breakout 29 year old season).
Coming into the 2010 season, Nick Swisher production was nothing if not solid and eminently predictable – Swisher produced mid 3 WAR seasons in three of the past four seasons (the only exception being a forgettable 2008 campaign that led to his exit from Chicago). Swisher’s value has always in large part derived from a near .360 career wOBA and a career isolated power number of approximately .215. While posting a visually displeasing .245 batting average, his power (he averaged 26 HRs from 2005-2009) and 100 walks per season, he is precisely the type of contributor that the growth of the sabermetric movement has brought to the attention of baseball today.
In 2010, however, we see some striking changes in Swisher’s production. The obvious luck he has seen is well documented – the classic three outcome hitter has typically posted .280 BABIP numbers, but spiked to .342 this season. Slightly elevated LD% and a corresponding drop in GB% and IFFB% would appear to support the idea that he is squaring a few more balls up this season.
Most interesting, however, is Swisher’s walk rate – normally the skill that perhaps is more responsible for his presence in major league lineups – has dropped significantly. Coming into the season sporting a 14.08% walk rate, this season Swisher is walking at a rate of 9.6%. Swisher is seeing 4.00 pitches per plate appearance, the lowest total of his career (perhaps partially a result of his position in the Yankees lineup, often in the two hole behind Derek Jeter and in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez).
Interestingly, the other numbers that jump out is the number of strikes that Swisher sees – over 60% of the pitches Swisher gets are strikes. Additionally, Swisher is swinging much more often – both at balls in the zone (67%, against a career average coming into the season below 62%) and outside the zone (25.2%, above a career number around 18%), for a total of 44.5% (career 38%).
So what can we conclude? Swisher appears to be taking advantage of his place near the top of a loaded Yankees lineup, and as pitchers pound the strike zone against him, he is looking to hack more than ever before. His power numbers are just in line with career norms (Hittracker shows us that his HRs are travelling exactly as far this year as they did last year), so sadly for Yankee fans, to believe that his surge in value this year is attributable to more than mere luck on balls in play, he’ll need to continue to increase his line drive rates or step up his power numbers.