Position Battles: Yankees’ RF Job

Earlier today, we examined the battle of attrition being waged between center field candidates Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner. However, the Yankees have another battle for playing time brewing in right field between Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady. In the case of these two, judging by the 2008 numbers is probably not the best way to go about picking a winner.

Last offseason, Swisher was shipped from the A’s to the White Sox for a haul of young players: lefty Gio Gonzalez, right-hander Fautino De Los Santos and outfielder Ryan Sweeney. Despite sacrificing a good deal to acquire Swisher’s talents, the South Siders quickly soured on the Ohio State star after he posted a .219/.332/.410 line in 588 PA. In fact, Swisher was so far down the totem pole that he rode the bench down the stretch in favor of minor league vagabond Dewayne Wise. Earlier this offseason, the Bombers acquired Nick and minor league righty Kanekoa Texeira for Wilson Betemit and minor league righties Jeffrey Marquez and Jhonny Nunez.

Swisher’s 2008 line looks very disappointing. However, as Peter Bendix pointed out, very little changed in the switch-hitter’s offensive profile. Take a look at some of Swisher’s key indicators over the past three seasons…

2006: 14.9 BB%, 27.3 K%, .239 ISO, 19.3 LD%, .287 BABIP
2007: 15.6 BB%, 24.3 K%, .193 ISO, 17.5 LD%, .308 BABIP
2008: 14.2 BB%, 27.2 K%, .191 ISO, 20.9 LD%, .251 BABIP

In most every respect, Swisher’s 2008 season falls in line with his work over the 2006-2007 seasons, when he posted wOBA’s of .368 and .361, respectively. The only big difference in ’08, when his wOBA dipped to .325, was an extremely low BABIP. Despite a healthy line drive rate, Swish posted the 4th-lowest BABIP among all qualified hitters. That number will surely bounce back, and with it, so will Swisher’s overall line.

Nady’s 2008 season was sort of the inverse of Swisher’s. Acquired from the Pirates last July, the 30 year-old posted a career-best .374 wOBA after compiling marks of .346 in 2007 and .336 in 2006. X-Man has experienced an upward trend in line drive rate and has hit the ball with a little more authority, but his overall skill set remains about the same…

2006: 6 BB%, 18.2 K%, .173 ISO, 17 LD%, .311 BABIP
2007: 5.1 BB%, 23.4 K%, .197 ISO, 21.3 LD%, .323 BABIP
2008: 6.6 BB%, 18.6 K%, .205 ISO, 24.6 LD%, .337 BABIP

The odds of Nady being able to sustain a .300 average and that high of a line-drive rate are likely slim. If he reverts back to being a .270-280-ish hitter, his modest walk rate means that his OBP will probably park in the .320-.330 range. Nady is not a bad player, mind you, but his best role would appear to come as a lefty-masher off the bench: though he has admittedly been better over the past few seasons, Nady has a career .317 OBP versus righty pitching, compared to .383 versus southpaws. Perhaps Nady has turned a corner, but it’s more likely that he remains a high-power, low on-base player best used in favorable situations.

Most projection systems seem to agree that Swisher will be the better offensive player in ’09:

Swisher: .344 wOBA
Nady: .348 wOBA

Swisher: .360 wOBA
Nady: .342 wOBA

Bill James
Swisher: .358 wOBA
Nady: .353 wOBA

Swisher: .244/.353/.460
Nady: .270/.323/.444

Given Swisher’s poor luck on balls in play and Nady’s batting average spike, it seems possible that these two will switch places this year, with Swisher being labeled a “bounce-back player” and Nady having the “disappointment” tag bestowed upon him. Swisher’s on-base skills make him the better bet to produce in 2009.

A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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15 years ago

Nice Job, Dave… I was thinking of doing a post on Driveline on a very similar topic, that is: Why the — are the Yankees talking about trading Nick Swisher?