Last season, with regards to defense, Nick Swisher was worth 0.8 runs below average in right field, according to his Ultimate Zone Rating. This mark would actually surprise many Yankee fans, particularly those who are not defensive metric wonks, as there seemed to be a prevailing perception in such circles that Swisher was an awful outfielder. Statistically speaking though, that was far from the truth a season ago and has never really been true historically. Over the course of his career, from Oakland to Chicago, Swisher has been a consistently average corner outfield defender with shades of above averageness. Despite a few strange routes to fly balls that birthed a sense of a fielding ineptitude, 2009 was not a deviation from that assessment. All in all, he was really a decent outfielder.
With that cleared up, digging a bit deeper into Swisher’s UZR, so as to better understand the number’s meaning, I turn to a Swisher UZR Chart – you can read my writeup on UZR Charts here – that illustrates the three components of FanGraphs’ Ultimate Zone Ratings (for outfielders), range runs (RngR), arm runs (ARM), and error runs (ErrR).
As you can see from the chart, in 2009, Swisher’s biggest strength was his range (blue bar), at 4.3 runs above average, the fifth best rating amongst right fielders in either league, yet it was entirely negated by his foremost flaw, his arm (green bar). Swisher’s arm value, pegged at 4.6 runs below average – almost half a win – was the worst mark in the American League and the third worst in baseball (only Brad Hawpe and Andre Ethier were worse). He and Johnny Damon, who was 4.2 runs below average, were very similar in terms of arm awfulness (now that’s saying something). Swisher’s UZR (red bar) of -0.8 is, essentially, a measure of conflict between range runs and arm runs.
From what we saw last season, earlier in the year, Swisher often threw balls in recklessly, which resulted in errant overthrows. His arm strength seemed average, with accuracy being the main issue. He and the Yankees recognized the problem, and worked to resolve it in the latter half of the season. Though I am not privy to any month-by-month UZR figures – I don’t know if those exist, actually – speaking subjectively, Swisher’s throwing noticeably improved as the year wore on. Hopefully the improvements made will carry over into the upcoming regular season. If they do, then Swisher has a chance to be referred to as one of the best right fielders in the game (this notion is based not only on last year’s UZR data, but on the previous years, as well). It might sound like a stretch, but it is possible (he’s close).
His range is definitely there, and the pendulum doesn’t swing very far in either direction, good or bad, with regards to error runs (yellow bar), so, correcting the arm runs issue will be his biggest defensive challenge in 2010.
Note – Swisher’s UZR on FanGraphs actually reads as -0.7, however, when you add his RngR, ARM, and ErrR, you get -0.8. I figured it was just a rounding issue, but to preclude confusion, I discuss it as -0.8, not -0.7. I only do this because it is but a fraction of a run.
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