Yesterday, Nick Swisher reached the point in his Yankees minor league contract where he is allowed to opt out and elect free agency. It is unclear how soon he will do that, but one can imagine it will happen shortly. Swisher, 35, currently owns a .691 OPS at Triple-A with seven home runs over 46 games.
That’s bad enough, but that doesn't even take into account the parade of mediocrity that was allowed to grab a major league spot instead of him. Dustin Ackley, Chris Parmelee, a broken Mark Teixeira, Rob Refsnyder, and Ike Davis were all given preference over Swisher, and that is certainly an indication of what the organization believes his talent level is: not MLB-caliber, save for a nuclear apocalypse.
Look how far the mighty have fallen. Swisher, even though he has become a bit of punchline in recent years, is one of the most interesting players of this generation. Firstly, and most important to his contribution to MLB history, he was one of the main talking points of Michael Lewis’ groundbreaking Moneyball.
Much of the early part of the book was devoted to the 2002 draft, where Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta wanted to find players who were statistically undervalued in a typical draft setting. Luckily for both of them, Swisher was beloved by both Beane/DePodesta and their old-school scouts. In fact, Beane never even saw him play. Lewis wrote:
"...Billy’s been sure about Swisher, and he knows he won't get the slightest disagreement from his scouts. Swisher is a rare point of agreement between Paul's computer and the internal compass of an old baseball guy. He has the raw athletic ability the scouts adore; but he also has the stats Billy and Paul have decided matter more than anything; he’s proven he can hit, and hit with power; he drew more than his share of walks." (page 29).
What makes Swisher so significant in MLB history is that he was not only a guinea pig in an analytics draft experiment, but he was also a perfect anecdote as to how this post-Moneyball baseball world would look. Scouts have legitimate information, and so do analytics enthusiasts. Choosing to ignore either of these two is folly.
The fact that there was a convergence and that Swisher's big league career played out as successfully as expected meant that both systems of thought could be blended to produce better draft results. It's no shock that the first round has become an even greater predictor of major league success than it was pre-Swisher.
Aside from Moneyball implications, Swisher had two things going for him. He had an absolutely fascinating transaction history, and a pretty darn good career. In regards to the former, because Billy Beane is a serial trader, Swisher was swapped, and the players acquired were swapped, and so on.
He was traded three times, but he is connected, by some trade or another, to: Gio Gonzalez, Fautino De Los Santos, Ryan Sweeney, Kanekoa Texeira, Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez, Jhonny Nunez, Michael Bourn, Chris Johnson, George Kottaras, Robert Gilliam, A.J. Cole, Tommy Milone, Derek Norris, R.J. Alvarez, Jesse Hahn, Brad Peacock, Chris Carter, Max Stassi, Jed Lowrie, Fernando Rodriguez, Sam Fuld, Blake Treinen, John Jaso, Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist, Michael Morse, Xavier Avery, Ian Krol, and... that’s not even everyone. I dare you to go down the Swisher transaction rabbit hole, because you’re never getting out.
Swisher is even part of the longest-running current Yankees transaction tree, which connects '90s bust Ruben Rivera to Aaron Judge:
Oh yeah, and Swisher has also had a great career. Up until his release from the Braves this spring, he has amassed 245 home runs, a .249/.351/.447 (113 OPS+) triple slash, 1,338 hits, 307 doubles, and 21.7 rWAR over 12 seasons. On the Yankees, he hit .268/.367/.483 (124 OPS+) with 105 home runs, while averaging 2.9 rWAR per year, making an All-Star team in 2010, and of course playing a pivotal role on the 2009 World Series champions.
I’ll be honest: I’m not that upset that Swisher didn't get called up to the major league club. We’re already at Plan Z in Ike Davis, and if the organization feels that even he is better than Swisher, then I think I’m alright with his Yankees career ending after 2012. If this is the last time we’ll even come close to Swisher in pinstripes though, I think it’s a good idea to take stock in what Swisher was, and not what he is today. He was an excellent Yankee, a fascinating ballplayer, and the quintessential Moneyball player. His prime is, and will be, missed.