Conspicuously absent from the 2011 Yankees’ home run assault thus far has been Nick Swisher, who was tied for third on the team with 29 bombs last season. Granted, it’s only been 14 games, but this is the latest he’s gone into a season homerless since becoming a full-time player in 2005 (though to keep things in perspective he only had two in all of April last year).
I wanted to see if a look at his batting splits might tell us anything (the usual small sample size caveats apply). The following chart (all date from Fangraphs) shows his splits batting lefty and righty from this year and last, and I’ve highlighted in yellow the numbers that are worth talking about:
Nick Swisher is a career .373 wOBA hitter as a righthander, and a .350 as a lefty. I have to be honest; prior to looking up the numbers I would’ve assumed it to be the opposite, probably due in part because we see Swisher bat from the left more often and it’s also his power side (.477 career SLG as a lefty vs. .442 as a righty). That being said, part of Swisher’s lack of power thus far is that he’s done practically nothing from the left side (.181 wOBA in 38 PAs against a .461 wOBA in 21 PAs as a righty, despite zero walks). He’s also getting under a ton of pitches, with a 25% infield flyball rate as a righty more than doubling his rate last season, and a 15.4% IFFB% as a lefty, also more than doubling his 2010 rate.
Last season as a lefty he didn’t have much success going the other way (.247 wOBA to left), but he’s been even more useless hitting to the opposite field so far this year, with nearly a third of his fly balls unable to make it out of the infield.
However, the biggest issue with Swish thus far has been his inability to pull the ball as a lefty, which is his bread-and-butter from the lefthand side (.494 career wOBA as a lefty hitting to right field, and an insane .590 wOBA last season in that particular split). In fact, when Nick hit a ball in the air to right field last season, there was a better than 50% chance it reached the seats (53.3% HR/FB)! Thus far Swish has only managed a meager .091 wOBA on balls hit to right; however, we’re only working with 11 plate appearances here, so there’s clearly no need to panic.
In a very limited sample Swish has been excellent as a righty pulling the ball to left and hitting to center so far, although he hasn’t had much success taking it the other way, something he did very well last season (.423 wOBA).
As you can see from his spray chart, Swish really hasn’t hit the ball particularly hard to any field.
Given this somewhat uncharacteristic batted ball profile, I thought it might be helpful to see if he’d changed his approach at all. Unfortunately Fangraphs doesn’t have plate discipline splits, but we should be able to get an idea of what Nick’s been doing from the left side from the overall numbers in the table below:
So far Nick’s swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone than last year (good), though he’s also swinging at fewer strikes (less good) and seeing more of them, but also making contact with more of those pitches out of the zone and in the zone, which adds up to what would be the highest contact% (84.5%) of his career if he finished the season at this rate. In fact, his current O-Contact% of 65.0% is way higher than his career rate of 52.5%, which probably at least partially explains the proliferation of infield pop-ups.
Pitchers really aren’t really attacking him any differently than they were last year, and ultimately it looks like Swish could probably stand to be a bit more patient/selective moving forward. While he’s walking at a better rate than last season (10.2% to 9.1%), he’s seeing far fewer pitches per at-bat than he usually does (3.63 — 152nd among qualified hitters — compared to 4.21 for his career) and his BABIP is way down from last year’s career-high .335, at .283. Curiously, that’s almost exactly in line with his career mark of .286, which again suggests that Swish is perhaps having some difficulty discerning which pitches he should be swinging at to really drive the ball.
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