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Battles: Right Field

Xavier Nady Nick Swisher
Age (DOB) 30 (11/14/78) 28 (11/25/80)
Height – Wt 6’2″ – 215 6’0″ – 215
Bat/Throw R/R S/L
ML career (PA) .280/.335/.458 (2,434) .244/.354/.451 (2,512)
mL career (PA) .298/.362/.526 (1,591) .261/.379/.476 (1,392)

Unlike the center-field battle in which the prize is a full-time starting job with the loser likely to be banished to Triple-A, the far end of the bench, or perhaps even another organization, the battle between Swisher and Nady is simply over who will have the upper hand in right field. Regardless of the outcome this spring, both are likely to make more than 400 plate appearances this year.

That said, Nady, who was acquired at the trading deadline last year and finished the season as the Yankees’ left fielder, entered camp as Bobby Abreu’s successor in right field. It will be up to Nick Swisher, acquired in a November trade with the White Sox, to prove to Joe Girardi and his staff that he is the superior option for right field, which, truth be told, he is.

Superficially, Nady and Swisher are very similar players. Both have played all three outfield positions and first base in the majors. Both have career major league slugging percentages in the .450 after similar numbers of plate appearances. Neither has ever played on an All-Star team, picked up an MVP vote, or lead the league in any category, no matter how marginal, but both are considered useful, productive second-tier players. The differences start to show up when you note that Swisher is two years younger, a switch-hitter, and a far better fielder regardless of position.

According to Dave Pinto’s Probabilistic Model of Range, Nady was a sub-par defender in left field last year, ranking below such renowned glovemen as Manny Ramirez, Jack Cust, and Adam Dunn, was worse than that when he played right field, and worse still in right field in 2007. According to Ultimate Zone Rating, Nady has cost his teams 3.8 runs with his play in right field over the course of his career. From watching him play last year, I’d describe Nady as a below average fielder. He’s not a butcher out there, like Bobby Abreu was last year, but his defense isn’t going to help. If you play Nady, you’re doing it for his bat and his bat alone.

Swisher was overextended as a center fielder in Chicago last year, but as a right fielder in 2007, he ranked third in all of baseball according to Pinto’s system (behind only Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino). UZR rates Swisher as 10.1 runs above average in right field over the course of his career, a nearly-14-point improvement over Nady. All else being equal, Swisher should be the Yankees’ right fielder simply because of his defense, which would represent a drastic improvement over Abreu, whom UZR rated as 22.9 runs below average in right field in 2008 alone.

But not everything else is equal. Swisher and Nady may have similar career slugging percentages, and Nady may have bettered Swisher’s slugging in the minors, but it’s Swisher who has more power, as more of Nady’s slugging is due to his solid career batting average. Certainly having a lower career batting average, as Swisher does, is not a virtue, but Swisher’s .207 isolated slugging (compared to Nady’s .178) suggests Swisher can both better survive an dip in average, like the one he experience last year, and has the greater potential to have a huge season should his batting average spike. Consider that last year, Nady hit .303 to Swisher’s .219 but only out-homered his rival by one, 25 to 24.

The same is true, but to a greater degree, when it comes to plate discipline. Not only is Swisher’s career on-base percentage nearly 19 points higher than Nady’s, but it’s 110 points above his career batting average, while Nady’s career “isolated discipline” is exactly half that at 55 points (well below the major league average). Indeed, despite that .219 average, Swisher posted a .332 on-base percentage last year, just two points shy of Nady’s career mark.

The good news is that, unlike Cabrera and Gardner, Swisher and Nady make sense as a platoon, with the switch-hitting Swisher taking the bulk of the playing time as the left-handed half of the pair. Swisher’s career splits are fairly even. He’s shown more power against righties, but has hit for a slightly better average and shown considerably more plate discipline against lefties. That would seem to run counter to the proposed platoon, as Swisher’s ultimately more valuable against lefty pitching, but he’s still been more productive against righties than Nady over their careers, while Nady has been something of a lefty-killer in his career (.308/.383/.470 vs. LHP though that split has been evening out and even reversed in his career year last year).

The plan entering camp was for Nady to be the primary right fielder and for Swisher to pick up several starts a week spelling Nady in right, Damon in left, Matsui at DH (likely by pushing Nady or Damon to DH), the winner of the center-field battle (likely by pushing Damon to center), and even Teixeira at first on the odd occasion (though, despite his fondness for the position, Swisher rates as a sub-par defensive first baseman–right field is easily his best position). The Yankees would be much better off with the superior glove and lefty bat of Swisher in right as a rule, with Nady picking up starts against lefty starters in relief of Swisher, lefty-hitting Damon, and, via the methods above, the lefty-hitting Matsui and the winner of the center-field battle, who will also be diminished by facing lefty pitching.

Tags:  Nick Swisher  Xavier Nady

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1 Mattpat11   ~  Feb 24, 2009 9:13 pm

I'm not expecting much of anything from the outfield next year. Almost anything will be a bonus.

2 knuckles   ~  Feb 24, 2009 9:22 pm

I think Swish is gonna thrive in the Bronx Zoo atmosphere of NY, and will surprise people this year. His acquisition is going to turn out to be a steal for Cashman.

3 Shaun P.   ~  Feb 24, 2009 9:38 pm

I am shocked that Nady has a higher career SLG than Swisher. Without knowing their career numbers, I figured Swisher had to be the clearly superior player by the numbers. Then I remembered that Swish spent every year but last year playing his home games in Oakland, and maybe that's the reason they're so close. So I went to look up both player's career lines according to the Davenport Translations at BP:

Nady: .280/.336/.493, .213 ISO translated (vs .280/.335/.458, .178 ISO actual)
Swisher: .241/.362/.491, .250 ISO translated (vs .244/.354/.451, .207 ISO actual)

Nope. Both seem to have been hurt in the SLG dept, presumably by their home parks. (In retrospect, Nady did spend 3 years in SD and a year in Shea.)

Overall, I'd take Swisher's superior on-base skills and better defense and hope Girardi uses the platoon you suggest, Cliff. A bonus to that platoon - Nady will be the first pinch-hitting option off the bench. He should be an excellent weapon to neutralize a lefty reliever.

4 monkeypants   ~  Feb 24, 2009 9:52 pm

Swisher does appear the better player all the way around, but I bet he will drive some of the usual posters on this site nuts. He is a low average, high OBP, high K hitter. The first time he fails to go the other way with a ball, or K when "should" hit a sac fly, some folks here will go bananas (Weeping, I'm thinking of you).

5 Mattpat11   ~  Feb 24, 2009 10:05 pm

I'll probably hold out until he starts sitting breaking pitch with two strikes. I'm not sure if that means I'll snap first or Weeping will

6 SteveAmerica   ~  Feb 25, 2009 12:58 am

I predict that either Matsui or Damon will miss significant time, allowing swisher to get a ton of PAs. And I think he's gonna be great.

7 SteveAmerica   ~  Feb 25, 2009 12:58 am

Then again I'm also foolishly convincing myself that Cano is gonna have a big rebound year.

8 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Feb 25, 2009 3:10 am

Regardless of who starts, the thought of either Swisher or Nady coming off the bench instead of Miggy Cairo or Shelly Duncan makes me very happy :)

9 thelarmis   ~  Feb 25, 2009 3:28 am

[8] i agree! and, btw, hi! listening to a late horace silver blue note album before bed. (in pursuit of the 27th man.) hope you're well, jazz tokyo! baseball is upon us!!! well, sort of...

10 Bum Rush   ~  Feb 25, 2009 7:32 am

Great post. The only missing point working in Swisher's favor is that he's under team control for at least another two years after 2009 whereas we all know Nady is a free agent in the off-season. With this OF possibly getting even worse in 2010 (Carl Crawford), there's something to be said to trying to see what they've got in Swisher.

11 OldYanksFan   ~  Feb 25, 2009 8:30 am

Yesterday, I posted this:
———– Xman/ Swish
URZ RF: -1.4 9.4 —–> Swish 10.8 better then Nady
URZ CF: -46 -10.4 —> SSS, but you get the idea
URZ LF: 2.1 4.6 ——> Edge to Swish
OPS—: .793 .805 —> Swish by 0.12 (.060 against RHP)
wOBA–:.342 .347 —> Edge to Swisher
HR/500 19.5 24.5 –> Swish is 24% better
SB/500 3.6 2 ———> Nady actually runs bases better then Swish
CS%–: 0.67 0.46

And these Offensive stats come after Nady’s best year, and Swisher’s worst. Seems to me, aside from running, Swisher is the superior player in all aspects, and is a serious upgrade over Nady against RHP.
Er... um... Cliff... shouldn't I get a byline or sompting?

To add to the equation, we should think about how/why we got Nady. It was basically a late 2008, somewhat desperation move, to bolster our bench and OF, and to get Marte, in hopes for a late run at the WC. While it may have been nice to give Tabata a little more time in hopes he might have an attitude adjustment, all-in-all, it was a fair trade for us. But it wasn't a move for the future as much as it was for 2008 (although it was a bit of a hedge in not offering Abreu arbitration.

While Nady is the 'grinder type' we all love, I don't think we need (yet again) another poor defender with an .800ish OPS in our OF. Also consider that in 2008, we were an 'unbalanced' offense, heavily slanted to LH batters, so a decent RH bat was nice. But now, Jason and Abreu have been replaced by 2 switch hitters. Next year, JD and Matsui may be gone. So for 2010, our only definite 'singled handed' batters are Cano (L) and ARod and Jeter (R). Considering we play 1/2 our games at YS, we really don't need RH bats now... just good bats.

Frankly, short of further collapse by Swisher (which ain't gonna happen), I just can't see Nady on this team next year. The FA market will be depressed again next winter, and there are just too many better choices that can be had. Certainly, Nady adds to the team and deepens our bench, but I believe he will be traded mid-season if we can get anyone decent in return (a UInF maybe?). If Melky can post just a .700 OPS (too much to ask for?), considering the defensive upgrade over Nady, I just don't see Nady as that important to this club.

I do hope and believe Swisher will be a great pickup for us, and will be a productive player for the next 3 years.

12 monkeypants   ~  Feb 25, 2009 8:43 am

[11] OYF,

I pretty much agree with you. One thing about Nady intrigues me, though. Much of his value is tied to his SLG, which has steadily improved over the years. Of course, that will not continue forever, and last year will likely be his peak. Still, he might be a useful part if he can SLG in the .470 region.

At the same time, he hits FA soon, as noted in [10]. There is no way the Yankees should pay market money to keep him.

13 ny2ca2dc   ~  Feb 25, 2009 9:01 am

[11] - [12] I mostly agree, but also value Nady as Jorge insurance. If Jorge can't catch much, I think we'll see a lot of a Swisher/Damon/Nady outfield to make up for Molina.

Otherwise, I think a Damon/Gardner/Swisher outfield, while not full of mashers, would sure run down a lot of balls. And if we're to believe in the value of defense (08 Rays), going from last year's OF with Abreu and an IF with bad-Cano and Giambi to an OF with "three CFs" and an IF with good-Cano and Tex would be quite substantial. There are the makings of a pretty good defensive club (though clearly never a great one).

14 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Feb 25, 2009 9:34 am

I tilt to Swish, as most here do, but I think it is a fairly minor point. The players are ballpark comparable, no preference in April is set in stone, hot hands can be played, injuries will happen. It is fun to chase the numbers, and Cliff's platoon makes sense to me as a prevailing concept for Girardi, but I'm just happy to have both right now. There's nothing wrong and a lot right about depth.

I'm even fairly relaxed about a probably offensive hole in center, assuming Jorge is all right. One defensive no-bat at #9 is okay. On the days when Flash Molina plays, I'd rather shift Damon to center and play both of Swish/Nady, all else being equal.

15 OldYanksFan   ~  Feb 25, 2009 11:02 am

[12] 'tis true. Nady's OPS+ for his first 5 years has been:
92 - 104 - 102 - 107 and 128 (although only 105 w/Yankees).
And this has been due to a steady increase in SLG.
I guess the real question is: was 2008 part of a trend or a fluke?

I know OPS+ is therotically 'equalized', but not so for division or specific pitchers faced. XMan had a 144 OPS w/the Pirates, and then only 105 w/the Yankees.

I don't know where to look, but maybe a gander at his historical BABIP, LD% and GB/FB numbers are in order. I would also like to look at all the weak NL division players who came over to the AL East, and see if there is a pattern to their performance. Any you can think of off the top of your head?

It's a vsss, but Jason Bay dropped 9 pts in OPS+ after going to Boston, and playing on a team where he was surrounded by much better players.

The numbers are interesting, but what I saw of him last year was not that impressive. Seemed to hack a lot.

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