The chance that Nick Swisher returns to the Yankees is extremely slim and there remains an obvious need in the outfield for the Yankees this offseason. With Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner already penciled into the other two outfield positions, the Yankees have a lot of flexibility with whomever they target. At the moment, they’re looking at the switch-hitting centerfielder Shane Victorino.
Though the outfielder is coming off his worst offensive season ever, at 32 years old next year, he remains a high reward buy. Even with his 93 wRC+ and .255/.321/.383 triple slash, Victorino was able to put up a 3.3 fWAR between Philadelphia and Los Angeles in 2012. A lot of his value is caught up within his fielding and speed, and last year he successfully stole 39 bases out of 45 attempts. In left field, Victorino also put up a 19.3 UZR/150, although the 411 inning sample size is far from ideal.
Victorino also appeared to be unlucky at the plate. Although both his line drives and groundball rate increased from 2011, his BABIP fell nearly 20 points below his career average. His average on line drives was a low .667, meanwhile he batted just .137 on fly balls. Compare these to his career .713 average on line drives and .167 average on fly balls, and it looks like Victorino just kept hitting it in the wrong spot.
The low average on his fly balls could also have been influenced by his time with the Dodgers. Dodger Stadium ranked as the 6th most pitcher friendly ballpark in 2012, and Victorino hit just 7 extra base hits there. Moving the switch-hitter to a hitter friendly ballpark like Yankee Stadium should help him reestablish some above average power. Although he’s been a much better hitter batting right handed, Victorino has a wRC+ of 119 when pulling the ball from the left side. Yankees batting coach Kevin Long has had some very good success teaching lefties to pull the ball with power.
If the Yankees do essentially swap Swisher for Victorino in 2013, they’ll be trading a number of homeruns and walks for speed and fielding, a difference of 0.6 fWAR last season, in Swisher’s favor. If 2012 was an unlucky season for Victorino, than he may still be able to touch a 20 homerun season in Yankee Stadium, as well as close in on another .350+ OBP. It’s a risk, but at least with this outfielder we have a guarantee of speed and plus defense. He’s only a year removed from a 5.9 fWAR season, and if he’s coming at a significant discount over what Swisher gets, his potential could be undervalued by the market.
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