Our series analyzing the Yankees and their xBABIP data rolls on this afternoon with Nick Swisher. The past two pieces have examined Mark Teixeira and Brett Gardner. Swisher is in the midst of a career year, hitting a sweet .298/.377/.524 with 15 home runs (note: all data is as of the All-Star Break and does not include last night’s stats). His BABIP is .341 in 2010, which represents a career high for Swisher and sixty points higher than his career average of .280. It’s also about 100 points higher than it was in 2008. Swisher has really been quite the interesting case in terms of batted ball data and “luck” over the past several years.
Interestingly, we see that Swisher’s line drive percentage in 2010 is at an all-time high, up 6% from 2009. This swing in line drives has come exclusively at the expense of ground balls, and his fly ball percentage is almost exactly where it was last year. He’s also hitting 4% less infield fly balls this year, which is nice.
When examining his component data, things to be all out of sync. He’s registering a 0.286 BABIP on ground balls, a career high and fifty points higher than any previous year. This represents a polar opposite of his 2008 campaign. On fly balls, he is once again well below league average. Given that he’s come in well below league average every year that data is available, one must wonder whether this is par for the course for Swisher. Line drives are where Swisher’s making his money. His .807 BABIP is firmly ahead of league average and is up from an already frothy 2009 score of .790.
Swisher’s xBABIP now stands 40 points short of his current BABIP and remarkably close to his scores over the past six years, despite his increase in line drive percentage and a decrease in ground ball percentage. A lot has changed in Swisher from 2009 to 2010, but his xBABIP is the same. On one hand, his line-drive percentage is up from last year and his ground ball percentage is down. On ground balls, his BABIP is sky high but in 2009 it was well below league average. The difference is that in 2010 Swisher is getting good luck on both line drives and ground balls, while continuing to get bad luck on fly balls. In 2009, his good luck was restricted to line drives, while he was less than fortunate on both ground balls and fly balls. Yet, this is surprising. One would expect his increase in line-drive percentage to register a higher xBABIP. We know that xBABIP is the best estimator of BABIP around, but for these purposes we are restricted to using only the Simple xBABIP tool, rather than the complex model that utilizes HR/FB, IF/FB, LD%, FB/GB, Speed Score, Lefty* (FB/GB), Contact Rate and Spray. Swisher’s contact rate is up 7% from 2009, but his HR/FB ratio is down from his high mark of 17% in 2009 and so it’s possible that running more complex calculations would yield a higher xBABIP. Regardless, the conclusion about Swisher’s hot start in 2010 is that it’s perhaps ever-so-slightly lucky. Just like it was reasonable to forecast an improvement on Swisher’s 2008 campaign, we should similarly expect a slight regression from Swisher in the second half. As the regression occurs, his OBP will fall along with his AVG. His OBP is propped up by the BABIP, as his walk rate is currently a career low 10.1%.
ZIPS forecasts a .264/.364/.469 line going forward, seeing a .309 BABIP and a 12.9% BB rate. There is no reason per se that regression simply must occur in the second half of 2010. Swisher’s entire 2008 campaign was marked by an anemic BABIP. It’s entirely possible that he registers an .807 BABIP on line drives for the rest of the year and finishes with a .295/.380/.525 line for 2010. It’s entirely possible that Stephen Strasburg could finish the year with a sub-2.00 ERA, or that Tim Hudson could outpitch his FIP by almost two runs for the whole year. But in terms of probability and the reasonableness of expectations, it makes sense to anticipate a downturn for Nick Swisher. If ZIPS is right, if his BABIP starts to line up with his expected BABIP, Swisher would finish with a .283/.373/.506 line with 27 home runs and 97 RBI. There’s not a thing in the world wrong with that.