What's wrong with Nick Swisher?

 

To say that Nick Swisher has been a disappointment this year would be quite an understatement. After becoming a member of the Chicago White Sox via an offseason trade, Swisher is currently hitting .201/.330/.310 with four homers. What’s gone wrong?

 

To begin with, Swisher has been very unlucky on balls in play. His 22.5% line-drive percentage produces an expected BABIP of .345. However, his actual BABIP is a miserable .244. If we adjust his batting line to account for the hits he should have, his line becomes .271/.371/.359.

Interestingly, Swisher – always a patient hitter – has seen even more pitches than usual in his plate appearances this year. He has seen a remarkable 4.5 pitches per plate appearance this year – no one else in baseball has seen more than 4.3 per at bat. However, Swisher has not swung at fewer pitches than in the past: this year, he has swung at 38.54% of the pitches he has seen, whereas in his career he has swung at 39.47% of the pitches he has seen. He is actually making contact at a better rate this year than in his career: this season, Swisher has made contact with 80.54% of the pitches he has swung at, as compared to 75.71% in his career.

 

His walk and strikeout rates for this season are in line with his career rates. Thus, Swisher is seeing more pitches but not walking or striking out more often, and he is making contact when he swings more often than he has in his career. Furthermore, when he puts the ball in play, Swisher is hitting the ball hard: his 22.5% line-drive percentage is easily the highest of his career and is tenth highest in the American League. Yet somehow, Swisher is putting up an atrocious batting line.

So where is Swisher’s power? He is hitting fly balls at approximately the same rate as throughout his career: this year, 43.5% of his balls in play have been fly balls, as compared to 45.3% in his career. Yet this year, these fly balls are not becoming homers as often as they have in the past. This year, only 6.1% of his fly balls have become homers, as compared to 12.3%, 18% and 14% in the last three years, respectively.

 

A glance at his spray charts, courtesy of mlb.com, shows that Swisher has hit a lot of deep fly balls. Granted, this is a rather crude way of estimating his power, but it does demonstrate that Swisher has not lost his power entirely, despite his low homer total.

Already this year Swisher has three fly balls to the warning track (out of 27 fly ball outs) in US Cellular Field. Last season, in McAfee Coliseum, Swisher didn’t have any fly balls caught at the warning track (out of 77 fly ball outs). Swisher has at least ten additional fly balls that have been caught on the warning track in various parks around the American League.

 

Swisher’s underlying stats suggest that he is not any different of a player than he has been throughout his career. He is still extremely patient, and his walk and strikeout rates are in line with his career rates. His actual BABIP is over 100 points below his expected BABIP, leading to his miserable batting average. Although he only has four homers, he has hit a lot of fly balls and has hit at least 13 balls that were caught on the warning track. Thus, it appears that Swisher has been extremely unlucky so far this year, and if he continues to play like he has thus far, his statistics will drastically improve.

Swisher is hitting the ball often, hard, and far. Soon enough, his statistics will better reflect his ability.

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