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Nick Swisher Is the True Catalyst of the 2009 New York Yankees

Devon TeepleAnalyst IDecember 7, 2009

The 2009 New York Yankees will be remembered for the following: World Series Champions, Alex Rodriguez’s steroid controversy, and the $423 million in salary for their newest recruits, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett.

The most underrated signing on this champion roster is that of Nick Swisher.

Swisher brought back the swagger that the late '90s, early millennium Yankee squads had, but had been missing for some time.

The world first heard of Nick Swisher in Moneyball by Michael Lewis.  He was part of the new movement (Sabermetrics) in the Oakland Athletics organization.  A movement that some might say changed the way general managers, coaches, players, mathematicians, statisticians, and fans looked at the way the game was played.

On the other hand, this new way of thinking has also distanced the older players, as well as front-office personnel.  The type who thought of, and played the game through instinct and feel, with no information coming from a computer.

Some might scoff, but without a doubt in this new era of technology, it does give clubs a leg up on the competition.

Swisher definitely has the baseball gene running through his blood. His father, Steve Swisher, was a catcher for the Chicago Cubs, among other teams, in the mid-to-late 1970s.

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A quote by Billy Beane sums up what Swisher is all about.

“He’s got a certain presence that I think a lot of great players have,” Billy Beane said.  “He’s a self-confident guy and it shows just watching him.”

Drafted 16th overall in the 2002 draft, he was among many of the A’s picks that were scrutinized and laughed at.  Despite the fact nearly all clubs overlooked them, many went on to have successful careers, careers that topped out at triple-A (Jeremy Brown, “the bad body catcher”), and some that were utterly ignored by other clubs, and spawned unearthly nicknames.

David Beck, “The Creature” who, coincidentally was my teammate with the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League in 2001, was later signed by the A’s, pitched 18 innings in relief, struck-out 32 batters, had a microscopic earned run average of 1.00, and was later named the closer of the rookie league All-Star team.

What else does Swisher bring to this club?

An innate ability to lighten the mood in any clubhouse, to take any situation, and make it a positive.

Any professional club has to deal with the usual trials and tribulations of a 162 ,or in some cases a 163, game season.  During that time a team’s outlook is affected by winning streaks, losing streaks, and controversy of all kinds.

The Sporting News caught up with Swisher, who commented on team chemistry and what is expected from Yankee skipper Joe Girardi.

“I wasn’t told I needed to help lighten up the atmosphere when I got here.  It just kind of happened.”  The one thing (manager) Joe Girardi stressed all year was the ability to have that camaraderie, to come together.  And we’ve done a pretty good job of that.  Every time we step on the field, we feel like we are going be successful.”

Swishers’ outgoing personality, his natural ability to hit home runs, and his knack for getting on base is what caught the attention of Billy Beanes’ special assistant, Paul DePodesta and his trusty computer.  Walks are what ultimately led him on the fast track to the pros.

At the end of the day, those three years in the minors were  split between Vancouver, Visalia, Modesto, Midland, and Sacramento.

Comments from his scouting reports (courtesy of ESPN ), are very accurate compared to his major leagues averages of 22 home runs, 68 RBI, a .245 average, and a career .357 OBP.

  • He won’t hit for a great batting average, but he controls the strike zone very well and draws lots of walks, giving him a high on-base percentage.
  • He can hit .230 as easily as .290
  • Statistical record is marked by mediocre batting averages but very high walk rates and good power production
  • Swisher will emerge with major league numbers very similar to what he has posted in the minors.
  • A natural .260ish hitter

Swisher, who struggled immensely in his 2008 season with the Chicago White Sox, made a drastic improvement in 2009.

In '08, he batted .219, a disappointing year nonetheless, but hit 24 home runs and 69 RBI.  His offensive production was eerily similar to his last three years, including ’09, where he averaged 77 RBI.  What is very impressive is his plate discipline.  His percentages this past season were amongst the best of his career.

His O-Swing percentage, which breaks down the number of pitches swung outside of the strike zone, played out to his career average of 17.4 percent.  His Z-swing percentage is the opposite. The total number of pitches swung at inside the strike zone, was the lowest of his career at 56.7 percent (to view more of this data, visit the Fan Graph web site ).

While that may seem like he is not taking full advantage of his opportunities, his Z-contact percentage of 85.3 percent was a half point higher than his career average, meaning, the more pitches inside the strike zone, the more contact is made.

In today’s game, statistics play a chief role in the majority of the decisions for each ball club.  Disagreements happen, and as mentioned before, some prefer to play the hunches. In this case, the data confirms the outcome.

The 29 home runs were the most he hit since 2006 (35). His 82 RBI, nearly a 19 percent increase from the previous year, was the second highest of his six year, big league career.  Another improvement is the number of walks (97), also his second highest.  This offensive data reveals enhanced figures in nearly every offensive category.

This year the world has been able to witness the true character of a good baseball player.  One that can ignore the reality, that he, at one time, saw his average dip to .222.

How can someone under the intense lights of New York City, playing with future Hall of Famers like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, push aside his struggles?

Phil Rogers, of the Chicago Tribune , recently sat down with Swisher to discuss such things.

“I realize how hard this game is and how quickly it can turn around. You can be 0-for-30 and have the biggest hit of the post-season. That’s the way the game is.”

“Obviously this post-season has been kind of a struggle for me,” Swisher said. “But I’ll tell you what — I think the real thanks from me definitely goes to my teammates [and] my manager. Those guys have never lost faith in me.”

Managers are supposed to stand up for the players regardless of the situation, but how do his teammates feel?  A.J. Burnett, earlier this year, solidified the obvious when interviewed by the New York Times .

“We call him Loud, but it’s not a bad loud, it’s a tolerable loud, and it’s good to have that kind of guy so when no matter how bad it’s going, he’s going to come in smiling and loud and laughing.”

In our current media circus, athletes are portrayed as almost untouchable figures, sometimes operating on a different level than the rest of us.  On the field Swisher plays each game like it could be his last, but off the field, he is privileged enough to be able to help other less fortunate.  To be able to use his celebrity to give back to those in need.

Swish’s Wishes is a charitable foundation solely focused on supporting children facing some difficult times.  According to his personal web site “NickSwisher.net” , July 1 marked the second anniversary of his foundation.

The 2009 Major League season had your typical ending; the “Evil Empire” regains their rightful place on the throne.  However, what the MLB, the New York Yankees and its fans did not bargain for was the signing of a true professional.  One that knows what it takes to win, no matter what the situation, no matter what the circumstance.

This article can also be found on the GM's Perspective.

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