Just one week ago, Nick Swisher had a .829 OPS. That number would put him between Ben Zobrist and a resurgent Alex Rios amongst major league right fielders. In a span of seven days, that number has dropped to a .795, putting Swisher between Torii Hunter and Bryce Harper. A week! That's all it took for him to shed 36 points of OPS. There are slumps and then there's Wile E. Coyote base jumping with a lead anchor.
Every player goes through slumps, even extended slumps, but this has been something different. Even in the middle of a bad slumpc a player will find a way to eek out a couple cheap hits here and there. With the exception of a robbed home run, Swisher hasn’t really come close scrapping out a hit. Raul Ibanez has a hit in the last week. So does Andruw Jones. It’s a big club, and Swisher isn’t in it.
Taking a week off comes at a bad time for the team, and for him just months before free agency, but it obviously won’t continue forever. We could leave it at that and be boringly vague, but we are a curious sort when it comes to this sort of thing. At least it seems like we’re a curious sort. Let’s be a curious sort about Swisher’s pennant race lunch break. How can a good, if not spectacular, hitter fall into such a rut? Like most things, baseball or otherwise, it’s all about comfort. Things get weird when venturing outside your comfort zone. Base jumping with a lead anchor kind of weird.
No one will mistake Swisher for being the most discriminating hitter, but he isn’t exactly a wild hacker either. Even if he was, he walks more than his fair share to help balance out the strikeout numbers. His strikezone is clearly defined, and with only a few stray tendencies, he sticks to it. September has been different, though. Perhaps in an attempt to swing his way out of a slump, he’s getting away from his defined zone and it’s killing his productivity.
There isn't much to say about his last week's worth of swings except ‘reach’. That's really the only way to describe what he's been doing at the plate. That's fine, if you're a hitter who specializes in trying to spray the ball the opposite way. If it’s a switch hitter like Swisher and you kind of expect that he’s going to play matchups and try to pull the ball, it’s just, well, reaching. We see it a lot when Alex Rodriguez is off: reach for a ball away and try to pull it. That leads to weak ground balls for him, and it’s doing the same to Swisher.
Ten outs made in the infield, ten strikeouts and an egg in the hit column. During this stretch, righties have been feeding him a steady diet of pitches, specifically changeups, on the outer third, an area where he has a heavy ground ball rate for his career. He's still getting some pitches to hit, but with a swing plane that appears to have shifted almost half a foot, he's either taking them for strikes or whiffing on them. Whether it's good scouting, a poor change in Swisher's plate discipline or a combination of the two, it's leading to a lot of weak contact and easy outs.
The story is mostly the same against lefties, except for one, semi-strange thing: he hasn't swung and missed once in a week. At this point we'll take that as a victory. This is all about negativity, though, so it isn't a victory. Though the shift isn't as dramatic as it is from the left, he has been swinging more low and away. So while he isn't whiffing, he isn't getting square and barreling up the ball either. Only three balls have left the infield and all three times it's been a short fly ball. It's the "just missed it" thing, only in flat, rainbow colored graph form rather than slow motion replay. It's also looks like a much easier fix from the recliner, needing a much lesser adjustment to get things back where they need to be
Swisher's slump came at a really bad time for pretty much everyone involved. Even a couple hits here and there would have been a boost to an offense struggling for consistency amidst a crumbling division lead. Now the offense is looking much better as a group, but they're still waiting on Swisher. He isn't going to go hitless forever, but his absence has been weighing on the team. Kind of like a brick. You thought there was going to be something different there, didn't you?