The Bronx Breeze: Nick Swisher’s struggles

The New York Yankees are waiting for Nick Swisher to bust out. (AP/Frank Franklin II)

On Monday night, Nick Swisher sat his second consecutive game. Chris Dickerson was called upon to man right field again, and Swisher was often seen taping his bat in the dugout. I’m sure that Swisher has had plenty of time to sit and reflect on his season, thus far. Through 42 games, his triple slash is a measly .214/.330/.303. In fact, he’s only hitting .170 from the left side of the plate. He’s managed to stroke only two homers and compile a WAR of 0.1. One-quarter of the way through the season, Swisher is barely better than the average triple-A replacement player.

Let’s flashback to exactly one year ago Monday. Mr. Swishalicious hardly had anything to hang his head about. After 42 games in 2010, his triple slash was an impressive .295/.379/.530. An OPS of .909 had the attention of fans all over the United States, and Swisher’s name was becoming increasingly common on the All-Star ballot. Eight home runs and 25 RBI wasn’t too shabby, either.

Swisher’s poor play this season has led to many irrational suggestions for a trade to the cross-town “rival” Mets, in which the Yankees would somehow land an aging Carlos Beltran. Sure, the trade could possibly make sense; Beltran is going to be a free agent at the conclusion of the season, and the New York Mets might be looking to rid themselves of weight for a low-ish price. However, I’ve come across a few statistics that keep me hopeful when it comes to Swisher.

It’s becoming harder and harder for me to fathom how Swisher’s batting average is so abysmal. In 2011, 24.1% of the balls that Swisher hits into play are line drives (and only a .218 average to show for it). When he hit .288 last year, his line drive percentage was 19.6%. He’s bound to have some better luck in the coming months. Hopefully his line drives will find somewhere in the field of play where a fielder isn’t standing. His strikeout percentage is 25.5%, hovering right around his career average of 25.3%. So Swisher is arguably hitting the ball the best he ever has, but simply isn’t finding the holes. Something’s got to give.

Here’s further proof that Swisher has been unlucky. His batting average on balls hit into play (BAbip) last year through the first 42 games was .340. This year? His BAbip is .246.

When taking a look at a breakdown of pitches that Swisher swings at, the picture becomes clearer. Swisher makes contact with 77% of all pitches he swings at, which is exactly his career average. However, he swings more often at good pitches inside the strike zone, yet makes contact less often than his career average.

Swisher’s walk percentage is higher this year than his career average, 14.2% compared to 13.3%. He also sees an average of 4.26 pitches per plate appearance, good for twelfth best in baseball.

In other words, he hasn’t suddenly lost his ability to hit the ball or work a walk. He’s just the unfortunate victim of a bit of bad luck thus far. While I’m on the topic of Nick, Swisher is most likely going to be a Yankee next season, as well. New York has a club option for $10.25 million or a $1 million buyout. Taking a look at the 2012 free agent pool, there aren’t any outfielders that are even mildly attractive options to take over.

So in the meantime, cut Nick some slack. Once he starts hitting, I’m sure this all will be long forgotten. Funny enough, it seems like Swisher is already looking at this “slump” through a positive lens:

“I feel pretty good, man. I feel like I’m making good contact,” Swisher said. “Like Yogi [Berra once] said, ‘I’m not in a slump, I just ain’t getting no hits.’ I guess I should just take a page out of his book.”

Last week, I predicted that the Yankees would be above .500 by Monday, May 23, and that Alex Rodriguez would hit three home runs. The Yankees were 25-20 heading into Monday and Alex Rodriguez had added three dingers to his season total of nine. I’m beginning to look pretty reliable!

Week ahead bold prediction: Derek Jeter has four extra-base hits by next Monday.

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