After signing a 4-year $52 million deal back in late December 2012, Nick Swisher became the largest free agent signing in Cleveland Indians history. Swisher's addition to the roster, alongside manager Terry Francona and outfielder Michael Bourn, heralded the beginning of a new era of Tribe baseball. Swisher immediately became the face of the franchise and expectations for the team shot higher than they'd been in years.
By all accounts, the Indians met those expectations, reaching the postseason for the first time since 2007. Given the team's struggles in recent years, it was considered by many to be mission accomplished. In terms of Swisher's production though, it was something of a down year. Despite showing up to the ballpark everyday with the biggest smile on his face and a never-ending supply of enthusiasm, Swisher had a disappointing 2013.
The source of his problems can be attributed to two primary factors:
For starters, he had the weight of that contract, and of being the presumed star and big bat in the lineup, after being a second-tier player on the Yankees. "I'm one of those guys who puts a lot of pressure on themselves," said Swisher. "I think that was probably half my battle. I was worrying so much about that and I forgot about going out there and playing the game you love."
The other half of that battle was his sore left shoulder, which affected his swing all year long. He was constantly battling his own body and it hindered his performance at the plate substantially. By the end of August, Swisher had mustered just 15 home runs, 46 RBI, a .242 batting average, and 115 strikeouts in 518 plate appearances. It had not been a productive year for the 32-year-old slugger to that point.
However, a rejuvenated Swisher turned it around in September, exactly when it mattered most. His performance that month were crucial to the Indians' successful stretch run: In 26 games Swisher hit .263, with a .353 OBP and a .515 slugging percentage. He hit 7 home runs, drew 15 walks, and collected 17 RBI. He even threw in a stolen base for good measure, his only one all year. His September efforts helped return his overall numbers to respectable levels:
Despite the overall disappointment of his 2013 season, Swisher's renaissance during September is a cause for celebration and provides a good omen ahead of 2014. Fangraph's Steamer preseason projections expect Swisher to produce at a similar level to his years as a Yankee: 24 home runs and a slash line of .255/.353/.446, good for a wRC+ of 125 (up from 116 in 2013). I'd certainly settle for that.
With a healthy off-season under his belt and that pesky shoulder restored to full fitness, Swisher should have nothing holding him back from being the dynamic hitter all Tribe fans hoped he would be. "I've gotten myself back in the gym and gotten myself back to where I need to be going into camp," he says.
We should expect great things from Nick Swisher in 2014. He should be healthier and he's had a year to adjust to his unique status with the team and fans. It's been clear since he signed that he loves Ohio and has a special spot for the fans in his heart. Now it's time for him to show that on the field. As much as I enjoy hearing him wax lyrical about his love for Cleveland, I'd much rather he display his affection the old fashioned way: At the plate, taking pitchers deep.