Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Appreciating Nick Swisher

When the Yankees traded Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez for Nick Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira last November, I wasn’t sure what to think. After all, every Yankee fan was thinking about how nicely CC Sabathia would look in pinstripes. The only time I had ever heard of this Nick Swisher character was back in his Oakland days when he would crush the ball with tremendous power. I also recognized that he would have to shave the mop off his head and clean himself up to become part of the Yankee organization! I figured he would fit nicely around eighth in the lineup and should provide some solid on-base percentage as well as some pop. What I never expected, however, was how important he would become to the Yankees.

The impact of Swisher’s presence in the clubhouse and with the team was almost immediate. The Yankees had an extra bounce in their step during spring training that could be directly contributed to Swisher as well as Damon and Burnett. Although neither I nor anyone else on PSA was in the clubhouse, everyone could tell the difference in attitude. The Yankees always carried themselves in the fashion of win, win and only win. They now have fun while doing it and seem much more relaxed under the bright spotlight of New York. Swisher’s jokes and antics were definitely much appreciated by the fans, and he was welcomed warmly by the Bleacher Creatures in the Bronx.

His numbers, looking back, did not appear all that special from last year. To the simplistic baseball fan, Swisher’s statistics looked fairly average. They read…

2009 Statistics - .249 batting average, 29 homers, 82 RBI.

*Note - For whatever reason, those statistics have been the norm when it comes to measuring a baseball player’s ability.

Taking a closer look at his 2009 season, for a primarily 8-spot hitter, his numbers were excellent.

2009 extended statistics - .371 OBP, .375 wOBA, 132 wRC+, 3.6 WAR

Swisher was very effective at getting on base and creating runs for the Yankees in 2009. Being paid $5.4 million was basically a bargain for New York to have Swisher holding down the fort in rightfield. He was an inexpensive option compared to other big-time outfielders. Not to mention, Swisher filled in for the Bombers when they ran out of pitchers against Tampa Bay in April.

Despite Swisher batting poorly in the postseason, he helped carry the Yankees to their 27th World Series Championship in 2009.

Fast-forward to 2010.

I don’t think ANYONE expected Swisher to play like he has thus far this year. Even the average baseball fan would think that Swisher has been great this year. Through 92 games, Swisher has a career-high .301 batting average, 18 homers, 59 RBI.

But he has been so, so much better than those statistics. His strikeout percentage has dropped from 25.3% to 22.2%, his on-base percentage has increased from .371 to .375, slugging percentage increased from .498 to .537, a ridiculous .341 BABIP, .394 wOBA and 148 wRC+. Nick Swisher has transcended himself from an above-average 8-spot hitter to a great #2 hitter. He’s also on pace to score over 100 runs for the first time since 2006.

He isn’t the greatest fielder because he was originally signed to be a 1st baseman (starting or backup, we weren't sure at the time). However, he gets the job done. It’s hard to disagree with the fact that everyone loves Swisher. His widely recognized "Swisher Salute" to answer the Roll Call has become a fixture. As a bleacher creature myself, I always look forward to seeing the bleachers stand in unison when Swisher jogs out and pumps everyone up. He has had numerous big hits this year, most notably going 3 for 5 on July 16 when he stroked a walk-off single for Shep and The Boss. One of the most respectful gestures I’ve seen from a player was when he hit the game-tying homerun that night and kissed the newly embroidered GMS patch on his chest while crossing homeplate.

Another moment worth noting was on July 24 when Swisher came into the game in the 9th inning after pinch-hitting for Colin Curtis. The bleachers stood up and cheered loudly for Nick and gave him his own roll call IN THE 9TH INNING. Personally, I’ve never seen this before and thought this was the ultimate sign of respect for a player.

Nick Swisher embraced the mystic and aura of the Yankee family when he came to New York, and the fans have definitely embraced him back. He's our All Star outfielder! Here’s to many more seasons of the Swisher Salute in rightfield!

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