Trend Spotting: Nick Swisher’s stability and Perez stumbles
While Nick Swisher’s ebullient smile and incessant on-field/in dugout antics have endeared him to Indians fans as fast as one would expect; Swisher’s on field performance has been somewhat underrated with the stability of production he offers. Perhaps Nick’s offensive flat line has made him a relatively valuable yet ignorable feature of this offense to date but I promise that will not be the norm.
When Swisher is in the lineup (40 of the Tribe's 46 games to date) he has offered much needed stability and gone relatively unnoticed as different guys like Mark Reynolds, Carlos Santana and recentlyJason Kipnis have gone nuclear, carrying the Indians offense for weeklong stretches (In Reynolds' case longer stretches). Perhaps, Swisher’s inconspicuousness to date - at least in terms of offensive praise - is the perfect world scenario for the Indians.
Swisher totes twelve doubles, six home runs, sixteen runs batted in and a pretty slash line of .274/.382/.493. These numbers denote an impressive start to the season while not as gaudy as many of his teammates. Returning to this idea of the Indians best case scenario offensively, the sentiment after the Swisher signing and entering the season was that he was really just a complimentary piece on a good team. For the most part, I absolutely concur with this idea.
What has been most impressive so far is that while he has been hitting fourth he has been more complimentary than focal point. Eventually if Santana could establish himself in the middle of the order, hopefully the four spot, then Swisher would fit perfectly in the fifth hole; where Nick would be without the pressure to be anything special and merely to add length to a seemingly deep lineup (a lot like his time in New York).
This also confirms the work and vision that Chris Antonetti as well as Terry Francona had for this roster. That a solid young core was here and if surrounded with good not even necessarily great veteran pieces they could be a competitive team over the next three to five years.
Returning to Swisher and his value we will take a look at a few peripherals as well as some other pieces to discuss what he has offered the Tribe so far this season, outside of the unquantifiable contribution of leadership.
There are a couple of interesting things to consider from the above table; the first of which for me is HR/FB. Beginning with Swisher’s relative steadiness, Swisher to this point is right around his career average HR/FB rate just 0.60% off while playing at Progressive. This gives me some small inkling of concern as I somewhat believed that his HR/FB rate was being inflated over the last four years during his stay at the bandbox called Yankee Stadium.
And in some part this may be true, however, during his seasons prior to New York, Nick’s rate fluctuated to the point that it makes it hard to argue that the Bronx severely elevated his production (emphasis on severely).
One really cool piece about looking at Swisher, particularly the statistic I overuse BABIP, is how tangibly the batted ball profile affects it. While there are some inconsistencies, over time as Swisher’s Line Drive % has raised and Fly Ball % has decreased his BABIP has improved. Obviously 2008 and perhaps 2010 represent outliers to this idea but in general this trend has been true over time.
However, this season's LD% is elevated to the point that it will regress as Swisher gets more and more at bats and the profile stabilizes. Once again Swisher is set to put up his incredibly consistent .265, 20, and 90 line.
When broaching the idea of value for Swisher it goes beyond offensive stability, OBP, and leadership. It is time to quickly address his defensive capabilities. Although, Swisher has made an egregious misstep or two, the drop in Detroit comes to mind; statistically he is an above average first baseman.
Casey Kotchman is widely regarded as a plus defensive first baseman yet Swisher’s UZR/150 this season is higher than Kotchman’s the last three seasons. We are but a quarter of the way through the year and perhaps Swisher will have unforeseen struggles at first, but I doubt it. The consensus around baseball is that Swisher is a tangibly above average defender at first base and for this Indians pitching staff the defensive savings in the outfield added to Swisher’s have been a real hidden asset.
Be it Swisher’s above-average defense, ability to get on base or middle of the order production, he sits at 13th in WAR in the American League 46 games into the season. One thing is clear in terms of adding a complimentary piece for a young improving roster, he was a far better investment than Edwin Jackson, Kevin Youkilis or Shane Victorino.
Looking back at how this offseason transpired it is clear how lucky the Indians were not only to have fallen in to Bourn, Swisher and Reynolds, but also to have been spurned by money pits like Youkilis, Victorino, and Edwin Jackson.
Chris Perez and closing costs
I am reticent to discuss Perez at this stage because I believe that over the past week he has been treated brutally and reprehensibly by Cleveland fans and media alike. When a player is forced off social media because of just a few poor performances after a solid track record of success, that is simply deplorable. Particularly in a town that can’t seem to attend a quality team's games and yet finds it easy to carpet bomb the Twitter account of its closer.
Furthermore, closers in general seem to be struggling be it Kimbrel, Chapman and a few others. However, we know the short-shelf life that many closers have as they walk the tightrope of high leverage innings, so a look at Perez is a worthwhile endeavor.
Closers, or more accurately relief pitchers in general, are a real challenge because of the oscillation that occurs from season to season because of the limited sample of innings they pitch. But from this season it appears that each of these categories will probably shift in some manner.
Perez is a guy whose earned run average has always outperformed that of FIP (fielder independent pitching on an ERA scale) by a pretty large margin. To this point in the young season the gap between the two has been vast.
In some ways Perez has been incredibly unlucky, the HR/FB rate is so far outside career norm it need not be addressed. It will regress. In other ways like LOB% Perez has also been fortunate and a shift in the wrong direction will occur. As for the BABIP, well, predicting where it will tend toward is just a foolish bet. The Indians closer’s BABIP is at .247 for his career, however, because of limited innings pitched it would not be shocking if it stayed pretty close to where it is right now.
Drawing much out of his peripherals is challenging but looking at his velocity begins to trigger some concerns. First, his average fastball velocity is down 1.2 MPH from last season. Second, his max velocity this season is sitting 2 MPH below that of his previous season.
Fangraph’s PITCH f/x has seen decreased fastball movement for the past four seasons. Obviously there is time for Perez’ fastball velocity to return as his velocity has risen throughout the season on a few occasions. However, his stuff to date has been mediocre and in that sense a little concern is legitimate.
This is just to highlight that there is some small reason for concern, but because of his prior success Perez absolutely deserves the benefit of the doubt, especially since he may have rushed himself back when he was not completely healthy to begin the season. However, the Indians have a collection of backend capable guys and I am of the volition that this should be Perez's last season with the Tribe.
This is because like most closers outside of Mariano Rivera, they frequently become overly expensive, overvalued commodities. I have questions whether Perez is worth the $7.3 million he is currently paid and with an upcoming increase in salary expected as well as hard throwing bullpen depth, fiscally the Tribe must move on after this season. Nevertheless, Perez should settle down and with this club’s potent offense grab himself another thirty plus saves and retain his market value, becoming a tradeable asset in the offseason.
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Today he got hammered and had to leave when he felt something in his arm. He had an arm problem in spring training, too.
I'm really worried about both Perez and Pestano.