Nick Swisher has had something of a scorching first half. In 305 plate appearances, he’s knocked 13 home runs and 47 RBI with a batting average of .292 and an on-base and slugging percentage of .372 and .517, respectively. If you prefer the more advanced stats, Swisher has the second-best wOBA in the AL amongst right-fielders with .385 and the sixth-best amongst all AL outfielders. It’s an All-Star year for Swisher, and I’d like to take this moment to publicly thank Kenny Williams, once again, for being unable to evaluate stats like BABIP and concepts like “don’t sell low”. Without you, Kenny, none of this would have been possible.
Digging beneath the surface, we see two equal and opposing statistical oddities at work in Swisher. On one hand, his walk percentage has dropped to 10% this year, down from his 2009 rate of 16% and his career rate of 13%. This is in large part due to his newfound free-swinging tendencies. Swisher is chasing balls out of the zone 8% more frequently than he has in his career, and and is swinging at pitches in general 5% more often. The odd part, though, is that he’s making contact with these pitches: his contact on pitches outside the zone is up 10%, and his overall contact percentage is up 5%. In other words, Swisher is swinging with reckless abandon and making contact as he wills. It’s hard to blame him so far in 2010. Once he puts these pitches in play, they’re dunking in for hits 33.5% of the time. This BABIP is almost 100 points higher than it was in 2008 when he played for the White Sox, and a solid 50 points higher than his career average. Given that, it would be reasonable to conclude that Swisher is getting a bit of luck, and that his tripleslash stats are being propped up accordingly.
HOWEVER, Swisher isn’t getting any luck in the HR/FB department, averaging 14%, which represents a decrease of 3% from 2009 and 0.8% off his career average. Of his 13 home runs, Hit Tracker shows that 5 of them would have been home runs in every major league park, 5 would have been out in the overwhelming majority of major league parks, and only three were either wind or park-aided, or “lucky”. Additionally, Swisher has increased his line-drive percentage a full five percentage points from 2009, and three points up from his career average. This has come exclusively at the expense of ground balls.
So on one hand you have a new, free-swinging Swisher who is making contact with everything and getting lucky on balls in play. On the other hand, he’s hitting the ball with more authority and not getting very many cheap home runs. What does one make of this? Well, his luck on balls in play might abate some, but given his increase in LD% it might be unwarranted to expect a precipitous collapse. If his BABIP decreases, though, his free-swinging ways wouldn’t seem so cute anymore. His batting average is what’s propping up his on-base percentage, and so Swisher could be looking at an OBP of .340-.350 range. Still, Swisher is hammering the ball in 2010. It’s looking like a career year for the man once traded for Wilson Betemit.