The Curious Case of Nick Swisher

**I originally wrote this article for Peter Abraham's LoHud Yankees Blog. It originally posted on January 30th as a part of his annual "Pinch Hitter" series.
We as Yankee fans have a propensity to be a little … let's call it optimistic, at times. After all, we are the same fan base that was shouting from the rooftops that Melky Cabrera would develop into a .300 hitter at this time last year. With the franchise having spent an exorbitant amount of money this offseason, this is not a team devoid of holes. Alas, we as fans are resigned to talking about the impending "bounce-back seasons" that we are so entitled to. Names like Matsui, Cano and Posada come to mind. However, there is at least one instance that the thought of a "bounce back" actually has some validity. That would be in the curious case of Nick Swisher.

Coming off the worst statistical year of his career, Swisher ended 2008 on the bench for the Chicago White Sox. The so-called "free spirit" (is my use of quotations obnoxious yet?) was seemingly grounded from the outset by Ozzie Guillen, and Swisher's game suffered. Forced to bat leadoff and play center field, two positions that he is uncomfortable to say the least, Swish grinded (ground??) through an atrocious year finishing with a line as ugly as Otis Nixon – .219/.332/.410. As ugly as the numbers were, though, there was much more than meets the eye concerning Swisher's nightmarish 2008.

One thing that haunted Swisher throughout last season was bad luck. That's right, bad luck. For all of the stupid, quirky things that baseball players do to avoid such streaks, Swisher must have walked under a ladder every day. Maybe he wasn't hitting the ball as well? According to his line drive rate, nothing was wrong with Swisher's game. He actually posted a higher rate of line drives, .204, than he had ever before in his career. The anomaly of Swisher's 2008 lies in his BABIP – Batting Average on Balls Put in Play. His BABIP sat at .251, an alarmingly low percentage, considering how many balls he was hitting hard. Of all the players on the Yankees gearing up for that big rebound, Swisher has the best case.

The CHONE projections for 2009 have looked into their crystal ball and predicted a line of .247/.360/.454 for Swish. Numbers like that in the lower half of the Yankees order could make Swisher the linchpin to a dominant season offensively. What the Yankees have gained in Swisher is a patient, switch hitting, corner outfielder with proven 30 home run power. With expectations that are already higher than Joe Pepitone's pompadour, he could serve as a saving grace in the event of a Posada/Matsui/Cano letdown.

So in short, we at The Fowl Balls are fans of Swisher, Personally, I love it every time the Yankees acquire the "wild man" with long hair and Sonny Crockett stubble and force him to dress like he works at Wachovia branch. Plus, Swisher replaces Jason Giambi as the "Yankee most likely to have a sex tape with Paris Hilton."

No comments: