Nick Swisher was better than you think last year

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

A strong finish and park factors show that Swisher wasn't that far from his peak seasons in 2013

Expectations were pretty high for Nick Swisher in Cleveland after the Indians signed him to a 4-year, $56-million deal last offseason (with a vesting option for 2017), so when his batting average dropped from .272 to .246 and his slugging percentage fell from .473 to .423, there were a lot of disappointed fans, leading to concerns that the contract had already turned into a disaster. Swisher is 33, so there's certainly a chance the contract doesn't turn out well over the long run, but he was worth the money in 2013, and was better than many fans seem to think.

For oen thing, Swisher was nursing a shoulder injury for much of last season, but I think he did pretty well, even if we ignore the injury.

Swisher was mildly unlucky last year. Swisher's walk rate in 2013 was basically identical to what it was in 2012, while his strikeout rate was slightly improved. His BABIP of .288 is only a little below his career number, but his batted ball profile makes me think his BABIP should have been a bit above his career level. His line-drive rate was 23.1%, the highest of his career (line drives fall in for hits far more than any other type of batted ball), while his fly ball (38/8%) and infield-fly ball (5.0%) rates were both the lowest of his career (those are the types of batted balls that most frequently turn into outs).

If Swisher has the same walk and strikeouts rates as he had in 2013, along with the same sort of batted-ball profile, I'd expect his 2014 batting average to go up 10-12 points, and his slugging percentage to go up 15-20 points, and changes like that would have given him an OPS+ of ~125, instead of the 117 he actually posted.

Let's talk about that 117 OPS+: Even with his 2013 stats being what they were, Swisher was a well-above-average hitter in 2013.

It's easy too look at the 26-point drop in batting average and the 50-point drop in slugging percentage, and get the impression that Swisher suffered a huge decline at the plate between 2012 and 2013. Park factors explain much of that difference though, as Yankee Stadium is a great park for hitters (due in large part to Little League distances down the lines), while Progressive Field favors pitchers.

Swisher's OPS+ in four years with the Yankees was 124. His 2013 is a step below that, but in the same vicinity (especially considering that his BABIP in New York was 20 points higher).

If you split the difference between Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs' valuation of Swisher's defense, he was a 3 WAR player in 2013. That doesn't make him a star, but it makes him a good player, one worth the $14M a year he's making in Cleveland. Age may be a legitimate concern, but Swisher's 2013 production shouldn't be.

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