“Swisher is a rare point of agreement between Paul’s computer and the interal compass of an old baseball guy. He has the raw athletic ability the scouts adore; but he also has the stats Billy [Beane] and Paul [DePodesta] have decided matter more than anything: he’s proven he can hit, and hit with power; he drew more than his share of walks. . . .
“Swisher is noticeable, isn’t he?” says Billy, hoping to hear more about what Swisher looks like. How Swisher really is.
“Oh, he’s noticeable,” says an old scout. “From the moment he gets off the bus he doesn’t shut up.”
–from Moneyball by Michael Lewis
Nick Swisher was the first player taken in the Oakland A’s 2002 “Moneyball” draft and the 16th overall, a pick the A’s received as compensation when the Red Sox signed Johnny Damon. With the 17th pick, the Phillies drafted a left-handed high school pitcher named Cole Hamels. The son of major leaguer Steve Swisher and a product of Ohio State University, Swisher needed just two and a half seasons to work his way up the A’s ladder and in 2005 he was their starting right fielder at age 24. Swisher spent the next two seasons splitting time between first base and all three outfield positions. By his 27th birthday, a little less than a year ago, he was had established himself as the best hitter in the A’s weak offense with a career .251/.361/.464 line, a tick below his .261/.379/.476 career line in the minors.
The A’s had signed Swisher to a five-year deal the previous May, buying out his arbitration years for what amounted to $24.55 million over four years with a $10.25 million option for 2012, but on January third of this year, the rebuilding A’s traded Swisher and his new contract to the White Sox for outfielder Ryan Sweeney and a pair of pitching prospects.
Swisher began the 2008 season as the White Sox’s center fielder, almost by default. After a quick start, his average and power numbers began to plummet, soon followed by his signature on-base percentage. Swisher hit rock bottom at the end of May, then recovered with a strong June (.315/.402/.630), but hit the skids again in July only to see his playing time diminish after the trading-deadline arrival of center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. With the White Sox in a pennant race, Swisher made just six starts over the season’s final two weeks and appeared only as a defensive replacement at first base in Chicago’s one-game playoff against the Twins. He started just once in the Chisox’s four-game ALDS loss to the Rays, going 1 for 3 with a pair of walks in their Game 2 loss and popped out in a Game 4 pinch-hitting appearance.
All together, Swisher hit just .219/.332/.410 while splitting his season between center and first base, with some additional work in the outfield corners. According to ESPN’s Keith Law, Swisher suffered through:
. . . a horrific year, looking slow and even apathetic, almost as if his patience at the plate was the result of indifference rather than a desire to work the count. He can still run into a ball if a pitcher makes a mistake, but his bat was slow and he would foul off average fastballs and miss plus heat entirely.
Our YES pal, Steven Goldman sees Swisher’s down year differently:
If you look inside Swisher’s stats, you will see that his line-drive rates were actually up from 2006 and 2007, but his batting average on balls in play dropped by 52 points from 2007 to 2008. In other words, he was still hitting balls hard, but they were caught at an abnormally high rate. We call this bad luck, maybe very bad luck. If he doesn’t overreact by tying his swing into a pretzel, he’s an extremely good candidate to rebound.
Steve also points to Swisher’s bizzare home-road split, which saw him hit a typical .247/.361/.517 at U.S. Cellular, but a miserable .189/.301/.294 on the road, this a year after hitting .270/.376/.474 in his road grays for the A’s, as another likely indication of a fluky season.
The Yankees certainly hope Goldman, not Law, has the right take on Nick the Swish, because he’s their problem now. The Yankees acquired Swisher and the $21.05 million over three years remaining on his contract from the White Sox yesterday along with minor league closer Kanekoa Texeira for infielder Wilson Betemit, Triple-A starter Jeff Marquez, and Double-A reliever Jhonny Nuñez.