While Tribe fans are excited about the team's 51-44 record at the All-Star break, there is a feeling that this club has yet to even reach their potential. Among injuries and other shortcomings on the team, the club's biggest offseason acquisition, Nick Swisher, struggled in the first half of the season. Besides dealing with a nagging shoulder injury, he fell below expectations when he was in the lineup.
When the Indians gave Swisher the biggest free agent haul in franchise history (four years, $56 million), there was a feeling that the 32-year-old would start to decline at some point during that period. The hope was that any drop off in talent would begin later rather than sooner.
So, was Brohio's pedestrian first half (.242/.352/.398) part of a decline, or can we expect a turnaround in the second half of the season that helps the affable slugger lead the Tribe to the playoffs? Let's take a look inside the numbers and see what we find.
Batted Ball Data
Swisher's batted ball data shows that he has the highest line drive rate of his career at 26.5% (his career average is 20%). That number ties him for sixth in the American League. However, he's batting just about league average at .714 with a .893 slugging percentage on line drives, significantly lower than his career average of .751 with a .987 slugging percentage.
For comparison's sake, Jason Kipnis has the second-highest line drive rate on the team (24.7%) and is hitting .759 with a 1.052 slugging percentage on them.
Another issue for Swisher is that his HR/FB ratio has plummeted to 11.3% (league average is 11.2%), the lowest of his career and well below his career average of 14.7%.
One factor that cannot be ignored is that Swisher spent the previous four seasons playing at the best home run park in all of baseball for lefties at Yankee Stadium. Progressive Field is just above an average home run park for left-handers: http://www.fangraphs.com/guts.aspx?type=pfh&season=2012&teamid=0
(Yes, I know Swisher is a switch-hitter but three-quarters of his career homers have come left-handed). So, that HR/FB ratio won't necessarily regress to his career average.
Swisher's ISO (slugging minus average) is just .156, by far the lowest of his career, and way below his career mark of .208. Again, this number is near the AL average of .152. You will see that this is a recurring theme: Swisher has been far too average for a guy who is being paid an average of $14 million a year to hit cleanup.
There are some real differences in how pitchers are approaching Swisher and how he is reacting to that. His swing rates are fairly consistent with his career averages, but he is coming up empty more often. His contact rate per swing is at a career-low 74.5%, significantly lower than his career average of 77.9%. More alarmingly, his contact rate on pitches in the strike zone has fallen to 81.6%, four percent lower than his career average of 85.8%.
Why might this be? Pitchers are attacking him with more breaking pitches than he has seen in his career, and he is having trouble making contact with those pitches.
Here are the percentages of pitches seen for his career:
And below are Swisher's career whiffs per swing on those pitches:
You read that right. Swisher is whiffing on 47% of his swings against breaking balls. Yikes!
Look at his overall whiff rate, which is the worst it has been batting from the left side:
He's also falling behind in the count more than ever. He's seeing first pitch strikes 57.5% of the time, by far the highest of his career (career average 53.9%).
Say what you will about the "clutch gene" but that is an area where Swisher has really struggled to come through this year. That is probably what has stood out to fans more than anything. His career OPS is .852 with runners on base and .818 with runners in scoring position. This season, those numbers are just .746 with runners on and .723 with RISP. Both of those numbers are below league average.
With all that said, what are the chances that Swisher can turn it around in the second half? For what it's worth, he has been extraordinarily consistent throughout his career.
Career Line Pre-All-Star Break: .255/.361/.454
Career Line Post-All-Star Break: .255/.359/.474
Now take this with a grain of salt as well, but Swisher has been a better hitter in the second half each of the previous two years. In 2012 his OPS was .813 in the first half and .862 in the second half. In 2011 he improved from .783 in the first half to .868 in the second half of the season.
This season's .750 OPS would be his worst since 2008 in his lone year with the White Sox (.743). That year, his first half numbers were eerily similar to those at the break this season:
2008 First Half: 93 G, .235/.351/.401, 12 HR, 41 RBI, 14.7% BB, 20% K
2013 First Half: 79 G, .242/.352/.398, 9 HR, 31 RBI, 13.5% BB, 21.1% K
In 2008, Swisher failed to improve upon that first half and was in fact worse in the second half of the year, with an ugly .191/.298/.427 line. Let's hope that Swisher avoids a repeat of what happened on the South Side.
Nick Swisher has still become the talk of the town because of the "Brohio" section and his jovial personality, but ultimately that stuff won't be so much fun anymore if his production continues to drag. Let's see if he can put together a strong second half and help bring October baseball back to Cleveland for the first time since 2007.