Former Yankee and fan favorite Nick Swisher officially announced his retirement yesterday, confirming what was all but set in stone. Swisher hit 105 home runs in 4 seasons with the Yankees, compiling an .850 OPS from 2009-2012. When he returned to his Ohio roots by signing with the Cleveland Indians, the compensation pick was used to draft a college prospect by the name of Aaron James Judge. Any way you put it, it is important to acknowledge the impact Swisher had on the Yankees organization.
But the trade which sent Nick Swisher to the Yankees also marks a symbolic shift in the Yankees’ philosophy. It could be argued that the Swisher acquisition was one of the first analytics-based trades made by Brian Cashman. In 2008, Swisher had the worst season of his career with the Chicago White Sox, with a .743 OPS. With his value at its lowest, Cashman traded three players for Swisher, the most noteworthy being utility player Wilson Betemit. The trade clearly worked in the Yankees’ favor.
A couple of signs suggested that Swisher was on the verge of a bounce-back season in 2009. First, his 2008 BABIP was at a miniscule .249, a figure that is low even for pull, flyball-oriented hitters. Second, the switch-hitting Swisher went from doing most of his damage from the right-handed batter’s box to putting up league average numbers from the right side. He also had a down year as a lefty. Between the potential return to form from the right side and the short porch in Yankee Stadium, Swisher was an ideal target.
In the mid-2000’s, Brian Cashman found himself at odds with Yankees’ ownership, as he was continuously overruled on free agent signings. The most famous example was in the 2003-2004 offseason, when George Steinbrenner allegedly stepped in to sign Gary Sheffield instead of Vladimir Guerrero, simply because Sheffield is related to former Mets’ ace Dwight Gooden.
According to a profile done by S.L. Price at Sports Illustrated, Cashman threatened to leave New York unless he was given more control. He promptly caught up with the times in developing a quantitative analysis department. Still, prior to Swisher, none of the acquisitions made in the mid-2000’s scream “sabermetrics.”
Recently, the Yankees have expanded their use of analytics to rival several other teams. In 2014, analytics played a role in the acquisitions of Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, and Chris Young. The Yankees have always been big on pitch-framing, a topic that has garnered a lot of attention in the sabermetrics community over the last few years.
Hopefully, the Yankees will continue to augment their new core of prospects with savvy, buy-low acquisitions in the future. After signing AJ Burnett, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira, Swisher seemed like an afterthought to the retooled 2009 Yankees. Nevertheless, he was able to make a sizable impact over four seasons in pinstripes.
Data is courtesy of Fangraphs.