One of the strange events of 2010 was the transformation of Nick Swisher.
In 2009, Swisher had a great season that was easy to under appreciate if you don't follow Yankee games closely. Every PA seemed to stretch into a 3-2 count, so much so that our rally pictures for Swisher were the Count from Sesame Street.
And then in the off-season, Swisher worked with Kevin Long, simplified and shortened his swing, held his head still and stopped taking so many pitches.
His BB plummeted from 97 to 58, his lowest total since his rookie season (55). His batting average soared; .288 is .036 above his career level. His strikeouts went up a tick, but still below his previous career high. His OBP was a little lower, his SLG a little higher than 2010, but close enough to call it a wash. And in the depressed offensive environment of 2010, his OPS (which was only .001 from identical in 2009 and 2010) was worth an additional 4% above league average.
There's a part of me that misses that old Swisher, but I know that the difference in pitches he saw each game was insignificant.
I think it's obviously that we should expect Swisher 2010's approach to return. But will the results be there?
Swisher swung at a ton more pitches outside the zone last year (25.7%, against a career 18.8%), as well as at more pitches in the zone (68.4%, career 62.6%). His performance increased because for the first time in his career, when he swung, he hit. Fangraphs has Swisher's performance against an array of pitches going back to his debut in 2004. Let's acknowledge that the pitch classification system is not perfect, but over the course of a season as many curves will be called sliders as sliders are called curves. Take a look at Swisher's rates against breaking pitches (SL/C [meaning runs above average per 100 sliders], CB/C, CH/C):
For the first time since becoming a regular in 2005, Swisher posted a positive average against both the slider and the curve ball, and against the curve he was a full run above average. On the other hand, he got fooled by the changeup more than ever before. But Swish has always hit the fastball well enough that no one is going to beat him on a diet of fastball-change.
Swisher's line drive rate was not a career high (19.6%), but his BABIP was, and by a lot (.335 vs career .286). I don't think Swisher is going all the way back down to that career mark because his new swing has helped him see pitches better, but Nick Swisher will not be one of the 3 most productive hitters on the Yankees in 2011.