Pinstripe Alley Top 100 Yankees: #91 Nick Swisher

Al Bello

“Swish” came to New York with a reputation for being a great "clubhouse guy," but he was so much more than that for the Yankees during his four years in the Bronx.

Name: Nick Swisher
Position: Right fielder/First baseman
Born: November 25, 1980 (Columbus, OH)
Yankee Years: 2009-12
Primary number: 33
Yankee statistics: 598 G, .268/.367/.483, 134 2B, 4 3B, 105 HR, 128 wRC+, 11.4 rWAR, 14.5 fWAR

Biography

One of the most popular players on the Yankees' 2009 World Series champion team was outfielder Nick Swisher, whose power and patience at the plate combined with his jubilant nature made him a fan favorite in a hurry. Swisher was nobody's fool though, and his terrific hitting made him a crucial member of the Yankees during his four-year tenure.

Draft phenom

Swisher was born in 1980 to St. Louis Cardinals backup catcher Steve Swisher and his wife, Lillian Malizia. Steve had been an All-Star catcher for the Chicago Cubs in '76 after hitting .268/.304/.346 in the first half, and while he did not have terrific numbers during his career, he stuck around in the league for nine years from 1974-82, retiring after spending the '83 season with the Atlanta Braves' Triple-A Richmond team. Swisher and Malizia raised Nick in Ohio until he reached eighth grade, when the parents decided to divorce. To keep Nick in a united house, they sent him to live in Parkersburg, West Virginia with his paternal grandparents, Betty and Donald Swisher.

Unsurprisingly, Swisher was a wild child who often had to be kept in line by his grandmother for talking too much in school. It took some effort to calm Swisher down, but given the final product, his grandparents did an admirable job. Swisher ignored offers of Division I football scholarships to play safety at highly-regarded places like Notre Dame, and returned to his roots at The Ohio State University, where he excelled for Buckeye baseball. Although he was undrafted out of high school, he caught the attention of many teams with his performance at Ohio State from the get-go. As a freshman in 2000, he hit .299/.389/.549 with 10 homers, and he was named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year. Swisher then showed off his versatility during his next two years, when he was an All-Star first baseman for hitting .322/.492/.672 in 2001, and an All-Star center fielder for hitting .348/.470/.620 in 2002. He hit 35 homers during his collegiate career, and almost every MLB team agreed that Swisher would be a first-round pick in the upcoming 2002 draft.

Swisher's popularity as a draft prospect was well-documented in Moneyball. The old-school scouts and modern sabermetric analysts came to a rare consensus on Swisher, whose raw ability and supreme confidence earned praise with the former and whose plate discipline and statistics won him points with the latter. Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane had a particular affinity for Swisher and was determined to select him with the 16th overall pick of the draft (earned from the Boston Red Sox for signing away one-year rental Johnny Damon, a Beane hallmark). Concerned that other teams would further realize Swisher's talent, the A's kept Beane away from actually Swisher in person as part of "Operation Shutdown."

On draft day, there was some concern that the Mets would draft Swisher with the pick ahead of Oakland, but they decided to take high school lefty Scott Kazmir when he fell to them. The A's drafted Swisher with the next pick, and Beane's draft was saved. (The 2002 draft featured several awesome names: Swisher, Kazmir, Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Cole Hamels, Joey Votto, Matt Cain, Curtis Granderson, Jon Lester, Brian McCann, Josh Johnson, B.J. Upton, and Howie Kendrick. The Yankees passed on many of these names in favor of current Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden with their top pick (#30), and their best player was 26th rounder Phil Coke. Yippie.)

Already a polished prospect from his collegiate days, Swisher did not spend much time in the minors. He jumped from Short-Season-A to High-A to Double-A within two years, and like many prospects, pummeled the ball in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. In his first PCL season of '04 with the Sacramento River Cats, he led the minors in walks with 103 and hit .269/.406/.537 with 28 doubles and 29 homers. His fine work in Sacramento earned him a September call-up, and he showed signs of what was to come by notching a 104 wRC+ in 20 games with four doubles and his first two career homers, which came against Toronto's Sean Douglass and Cleveland's Bob Howry, respectively. The blast off Douglass occurred in only Swisher's second career start and eighth career plate plate appearance. He was named Baseball America's #25 overall prospect headed into the 2005 season, and after a brief stint back in the PCL in May '05, he was in the majors for good.

Realizing lofty praise

Moneyball was widely circulated by Swisher's first full season in the majors, so many people in the game knew about him, so expectations were high at the beginning of '05. Swisher got off to a slow start, but he rebounded to have a fine rookie campaign. Although Swisher's rookie year was strong on the field, he endured a tough loss away from it, as his beloved grandmother Betty passed away in August due to brain cancer. In his first game back with Oakland after a few days on the bereavement list, Swisher had two doubles and two RBI in a 4-0 win. Overall, he belted 32 doubles, third among rookies, and 21 homers, tied for the rookie lead and the first of eight consecutive seasons with at least 20 dingers. He spent time at both right field and first base, and was worth two wins according to FanGraphs WAR. He earned a pair of second-place votes for AL Rookie of the Year, a sixth-place finish overall behind the winner and Swisher's teammate, closer Huston Street.

In the 2006 off-season, Oakland signed 16-year veteran Frank Thomas to be their designated hitter, and the power-hitting veteran served as a mentor for the 25-year-old Swisher. Under Thomas's tutelage, Swisher avoided the classic "sophomore slump" with an even better season than '05. His walk rate rose, his wOBA jumped 37 points from .332 to .369, and he finished eighth in the league with a career-high 35 homers. Swisher split time between left field and first base, missing just five of Oakland's games that year.

Powered by Swisher and Thomas, who finished fourth in AL MVP voting thanks to a 39-homer, 140 OPS+ comeback season, the A's spent just one day after June 15th outside of first place and won the AL West division title. In the playoffs, Swisher helped Oakland finally exorcise their ALDS demons in a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins by hitting .300/.417/.500. A few days later though, he, Thomas, and most his teammates disappeared in the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers turned the tables and swept Oakland themselves as Swisher could only manage a .100/.400/.100 series. It was unfortunately the first of many disappointing playoff series for "Swish."

The A's offered Swisher a five-year, $26.75 million contract extension in May of '07, and Swisher accepted. The deal was more than worth it, as Swisher was paid an affordable price with a mere $10.25 million option for a sixth year in exchange for superb production. Despite the deal, Swisher played just one more stellar year in Oakland; he had the only 100-walk season of his career, helping him reach a career-best .381 on-base percentage. He also reached career-highs in doubles with 36 and rWAR with 4.3. The A's took a step back from their best season in 16 years though, and injuries plagued them as they fell to a third-place, 76-86 season. Realizing that their farm system was drying up, Beane was convinced by White Sox GM Kenny Williams to deal Swisher to Chicago in exchange for prospects. It was difficult for Beane to give up Swisher, but the return of Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Sweeney, and Fautino de los Santos made the deal worth it. Swisher was not in Oakland for very long, but he set a franchise record for switch-hit homers with 80. Bearing no ill will to the team that gave him a shot, he moved on to a new challenge in the Windy City.

From baseball hell to baseball heaven

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Photo by Jim McIsaac, Getty Images

On paper, Chicago's decision to acquire Swisher appeared to be wise. Swisher was an up-and-coming player on a relatively inexpensive contract who could help Chicago return to the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series title during Swisher's rookie season of '05. They sought more outfield production, and Swisher brought versatility at first base as well. The cliche about best laid plans came true though, and the 2008 season was a disaster for Swisher, the worst of his career.

Plagued by a career-low .249 BABIP and whiffing at a higher rate than any other time during his career, Swisher fell to a .219/.332/.410 triple slash with a 93 wRC+ and -0.2 rWAR. He feuded with intense manager Ozzie Guillen, who clashed with Swisher's personality and decline in production. Their relationship deteriorated to the point when Guillen began to start DeWayne Wise over Swisher in the late September. Chicago needed a one-game playoff to win the AL Central title over the Twins, and Swisher made a mere cameo appearance at first base as a defensive replacement. The White Sox lost to the upstart Tampa Bay Rays in the Division Series as Swisher made just six plate appearances in the four games. The White Sox and Swisher could not coexist, so Williams traded Swisher to the Yankees in the off-season with his value at its lowest. The return was minimal: utilityman Wilson Betemit and underwhelming relievers Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez.

The trade was an absolute steal for the Yankees and one of the best deals of GM Brian Cashman's career. The Yankees were quietly interested in free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira, but they wanted insurance in case someone else signed Teixeira. The move also gave the Yankees another outfield option with Hideki Matsui becoming a full-time DH. When the Yankees indeed signed Teixeira, some people thought they might just immediately flip Swisher somewhere else to avoid paying a multi-million dollar deal for a bench player, but they held onto him. That decision paid dividends when Opening Day right fielder Xavier Nady's elbow blew up in mid-April. Swisher was off to a fast start and immediately found himself in the everyday lineup. He hit .312/.430/.714 with eight doubles and seven homers (and a 0.00 ERA) in his first month in pinstripes.

Swisher quickly formed a great rapport with the "Bleacher Creatures" in right field for his salutes and won the rest of the fans over with a huge season. He bounced back from his disappointing '08 in a huge way, crushing 35 doubles and 29 homers in a 125 wRC+ season. His contributions gave the Yankees one of the most formidable offenses in the game as they christened the new Yankee Stadium with a franchise-high 244 homers while rolling to the AL East division title, Swisher's third playoff berth in four seasons. They were known for their late-game heroics, as they belted eight walk-off homers, and Swisher had one for himself on September 8th against the Rays.

The Yankees excelled in the playoffs in spite of Swisher, who slumped in his worst month since May. He went a mere 1-for-12 during the three-game sweep of the Twins in the ALDS and 3-for-20 during the six-game ALCS victory over the Angels. After an 0-for-3 in the first game of the World Series against Cliff Lee and the Phillies, manager Joe Girardi decided to give him the day off in Game 2. The wake-up call worked temporarily as Swisher stormed back in Game 3 in Philadelphia with a two-hit game, leading off the Yankees' three-run fifth inning against Cole Hamels with a double and belting a solo homer off J.A. Happ an inning later to extend the lead to 6-3. The Yankees won the game and the series, though Swisher was quiet the rest of the way. While Swisher did not have a good October, the Yankees helped carry him to his first career World Series ring, and his strong regular season was vital to the Yankees reaching October baseball in the first place.

Consistency and an All-Star berth

In 2010, Swisher had the best season of his Yankee career as the Yankees returned to the playoffs. He sent 29 out of the yard again while hitting career-highs in slugging percentage (.511), wOBA (.379), wRC+ (135), and fWAR (4.2). Swisher hit .298/.377/.524 with 20 doubles and 15 homers in the first half, and thanks a successful "Send Swish" Final Vote campaign, he made the first All-Star Game of his career (and also made an brief appearance in the Home Run Derby). In doing so, he and his father became just the 13th father/son combo to both make the All-Star team. Swisher had a couple other memorable moments in 2010, most notably when he drilled a walk-off single the first game after the deaths of both Bob Sheppard and owner George Steinbrenner, and when he stunned the Orioles with a walk-off two-run homer a year to the day of his 2009 walk-off homer.

It appeared as though Swisher had moved on from his playoff struggles in the ALDS against the Twins. The Wild Card Yankees swept Minnesota aside again, and Swisher hit .333/.385/.750 in the three games. During the ALCS against the Rangers though, Swisher was as quiet as ever, struggling to a .091/.200/.273 line in the disappointing six-game loss.

Swisher put up two more productive seasons in 2011 and 2012. hitting a combined .266/.369/.461 with 66 doubles, 47 homers, and a 123 OPS+ in nearly 300 games. The man was consistent, and it was an easy decision for the Yankees to pick up his option in 2012. He wasn't belting quite as many homers as he did in 2009 and 2010, but he made up for that value with his plate discipline and consistent doubles--Swish never hit fewer than 30 doubles in any of his four seasons in the Bronx. To some fans though, Swisher was a constant disappointment due to his unending playoff struggles. The Yankees won the AL East in both seasons, but against the Tigers and Orioles in the 2011 and 2012 playoffs, Swisher continually put up meager numbers. Once Swisher's contract expired after 2012, he became a free agent, and citing the plan for a future lower payroll, the Yankees decided not to pursue their hard-hitting outfielder.

He went back to Ohio on a four-year, $56 million deal with the Indians, and he is hitting .237/.333/.392 with a 105 wRC+ this year in Cleveland. The numbers aren't quite what they were in New York, but the Yankees still sorely miss his presence--until they traded for Alfonso Soriano at the Trade Deadline, the only position players they had who exceeded or matched Swisher's 2013 production were Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner. Having Swisher on the team could have meant no panic trade for Vernon Wells at the end of Spring Training following the Curtis Granderson injury, and Swisher's ability to play first base could certainly have helped when Mark Teixeira went down. Even if none of those things happened, he would have been far more productive than Ichiro Suzuki's 76 wRC+. The Yankees will only be validated for passing on Swisher if his hitting dramatically declines over the next few seasons, which appears unlikely given his plate discipline. Oh well.

Swisher's frequent postseason struggles were irritating, but they should not detract from his overall performance with the Yankees. He was almost always healthy, gave pitchers headaches from both sides of the plate, offered defensive versatility, and proved to be a constant power threat in the middle of the Yankees' batting order. In just four seasons, his 105 homers rank seventh all-time among switch-hitting Yankees, as do his 134 doubles. His 124 OPS+ ranks behind only Mickey Mantle, Mark Teixeira, and Bernie Williams for switch-hitters in Yankee history. We still miss you, Swish.

20120919_kdl_aw8_051
Photo by Debby Wong, US-PRESSWIRE

Andrew's rank: 86

Tanya's rank: 94

Community's rank: 86.7

Avg. WAR rank: 96.5

Season Stats

Year

Age

Tm

G

PA

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

TB

rWAR

fWAR

2009

28

NYY

150

607

498

84

124

35

1

29

82

0

0

97

126

0.249

0.371

0.498

0.869

122

248

2.0

3.0

2010

29

NYY

150

635

566

91

163

33

3

29

89

1

2

58

139

0.288

0.359

0.511

0.870

129

289

3.8

4.2

2011

30

NYY

150

635

526

81

137

30

0

23

85

2

2

95

125

0.260

0.374

0.449

0.822

120

236

1.8

3.5

2012

31

NYY

148

624

537

75

146

36

0

24

93

2

3

77

141

0.272

0.364

0.473

0.837

126

254

3.9

3.8

NYY (4 years)

598

2501

2127

331

570

134

4

105

349

5

7

327

531

0.268

0.367

0.483

0.850

124

1027

11.4

14.5

Stats from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs

References

BR Bullpen

Beane, Billy. Lewis, Michael. Moneyball. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.

McCarron, Anthony. "Nick Swisher Honors Memory of Woman Who Raised Him," New York Daily News, 9 May 2009. (link)

Other Top 100 Yankees

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