I admit it, I’m jealous of Nick Swisher. Not only is he a professional baseball player who is making millions of dollars (roughly $26 million by the end of the 2011 season), but he recently wed the beautiful JoAnna Garcia. Obviously he enjoys life, and every time you see the guy he seems to have a smile on his face. He also brought a smile to his fantasy owner’s faces last year as he set a career best with a .288 batting average while hitting 29 homers with 89 RBI and 91 runs scored for the Yankees. Can he repeat that effort in 2011?
The first issue that we need to deal with is that batting average of .288. Point blank, he will not repeat it in 2011. Let me count the ways.
(1) His career batting average before last season was .245 (even now it’s just .252).
(2) In his previous five full seasons Swisher had hit .260 just one time at .262 in 2007.
(3) He vastly exceeded his career average against both righties and lefties last season.
2010: .285 vs. righties, .294 vs. lefties
Career: .249 vs. righties, .260 vs. lefties.
Wait you say, that just proves he finally figured “it” out last season. Here is my reply to that line of thought – bull. Here’s why.
Swisher had a 19.6 line drive rate last season, the second best mark of his career and a percentage point clear of his career rate. Basically it was a strong performance for Swisher, but nothing outstanding to prove that he can sustain that .288 mark.
Swisher had a BABIP mark of .335 last season, and this is where the rubber hits the road. First, Swisher had only once in five previous seasons posted a mark of .300 and that was .301 in 2007. Second, Swisher owns a career .286 mark. Add points one and two together and it’s pretty darn obvious that his .335 mark was an outlier that will not be repeated.
Swisher, always one to take a walk, saw his walk rate plummet last season. In his career, Swisher has worked a walk in 13.2 percent of his career plate appearances. From 2006-09 that number was at least 13.9 percent each season. Care to guess what the mark was last year? Try 9.1 percent. It makes little sense that he walked less and saw his batting average increase. Maybe he also cut his strikeouts? Nope. Swisher struck out 24.6 percent off the time, less than a percentage point off his career mark of 25.3 percent. The result was a career worst BB/K rate of 0.42, a mark that was only 2/3 of his career rate (0.62).
Add that all up and it’s pretty clear that you should draft Swisher in 2011 expecting his .252 career average and not the strong .288 mark he sported last season.
There is also some concern about his counting numbers. I’m not raising the white flag of surrender by any means, but the fact that his walk rate plummeted last season is a concern. If he once again fails to draw walks, and his hit rate returns to “normal” and with it his batting average drops, Swisher won’t be able to match his career OBP of .358. If that happens his runs scored mark will likely fall. In his defense he has scored at least 80 runs in each of the past five years, so he usually figures out a way to score no matter what is going on.
Swisher is also a solid run producer having knocked in at least 74 runners in five of the past six years (he had 69 RBI in 2008), and his performance in this respect should remain stable in a loaded Yankees lineup. Oh, and don’t worry about the homer totals, though that should be obvious at this point. Swisher has hit at least 21-homers each of his six healthy seasons, has had a fly ball rate of at least 44 percent each of the past five years, and has posted a HR/F ratio of at least 14.8 percent each of the past three seasons.
I’m not going to put out actual number projections for 2011 for Swisher, I think projections are too variable to have a ton of value to be honest, but I’d look for him to return to his career level in batting average while continuing the trend that has seen him hit 24 homers in four of five seasons. He’s also knocked in 80-runs each of the past two years while scoring more than 80 in 5-straight, so with that you have your baseline of what to expect in 2011.
By Ray Flowers