Nick Swisher, by all measures, had an excellent 2009. After a terrible 2008 in Chicago that lead to him being traded for practically nothing, Swisher bounced back in a big way and helped the Yankees to their 27th championship. The question now is whether he can repeat his performance. On the surface, his numbers suggest that he is not due for a major regression:
Swisher’s numbers in 2009 are similar to those from 2006 and 2007, and a look at his Fangraphs page shows that most of his other indicators (such as batted ball data) have remained consistent and steady as well. However, two recent articles suggest that if you dig deeper, you might find some reasons to believe that Swish is due for at least a bit of a regression regarding both his walk rate and his power. First, Jeff Zimmerman of Beyond The Boxscore used swing data to compute plate discipline, and then extrapolated an expected walk rate for each player. Swisher’s estimated walk rate was 12.5%, while his actual walk rate was 16%. This suggests that he is likely due for a correction in his walk rate in 2010.
Another important element of Swisher’s game, his power, may also be facing a bit of a downturn. Mike Axisa explains:
“Just Enough” homers are those that cleared the fence by less than ten feet vertically or that landed past the wall by less than the fence height (so if it’s an eight foot wall, it landed no more than eight feet deep)…..
As you can imagine, Just Enough homers are the most volatile year-to-year because they’re so close to the fence. As Rybarczyk chronicled at ESPN’s TMI blog, players who’ve hit 30 total homers in a season with at least 40% of them qualifying as Just Enoughs have seen their homer totals fall 23% on average the next season. That’s a problem for Swisher and the Yankees, because he led the American League with 14 Just Enough homers, 48.3% of his total big flies.
This isn’t the first time Swisher has been in the Just Enough danger zone either. His 14 Just Enoughs were second in the league back in 2006, exactly 40% of the career-high 35 homers he hit for the A’s. What happened in 2007? Swish regressed back to just six Just Enoughs and 22 total homers, a 37.1% drop. This isn’t to say Swisher is guaranteed to see a drop off in his homerun – and thus overall offensive – production in 2010, but it’s not looking good.
Basically, Swisher’s knack for sneaking balls over the wall last year may have overinflated his home run totals to an unsustainable level. As such, it would not be surprising to see him back around 20-25 home runs, rather than increasing past 30 as he enters his prime.
Now, stating that Swisher will lose production in the walk and home run categories sounds like pretty bad news for a three true outcomes (HR, BB, K) type player. That said, neither study sees Swish losing enough in either category to sap him of his effectiveness, and you could make the argument that a player at his age is likely to improve. Furthermore, Swisher was terrible at home last year, which is something that is uncharacteristic for players in general and Swisher in particular. While he is unlikely to repeat his road performance, the room for improvement at home should overcompensate for any loss of effectiveness on the road. In all, I expect Swisher to be very similar in 2010 to what he was in 2009, but would not be surprised to see a modicum of regression in terms of walks and power.