As we count down the days until the start of the season, we’re profiling every player who will be on the Opening Day roster and how he could impact the team. Today, we’re kicking off this series with the Indians’ presumed 2013 first baseman: Nick Swisher.
Background: One of the unintentional stars of Moneyball, Swisher—hailed as one of the few players who could bridge the false dichotomy between statistics and scouting—was taken by the Oakland A’s in the first round (No. 16 overall) of the 2002 MLB amateur draft. He broke into the majors in 2004 and with the exception of his 2007 season with the White Sox he has been a solid player ever since. He signed a four-year, $56 million deal with the Indians in December.
Last year: Swisher’s final year with the Yankees went almost exactly like his previous three. The switch-hitting right fielder had a very typical season, batting .272/.364/.473 (28 percent better than the average MLB hitter, according to wRC+) with 24 home runs, 75 runs scored, and 93 RBI. Combine that with his solid glove and FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Baseball Prospectus all estimated his value at between 3.5 and 3.9 wins above replacement in 2012.
Key factor: Age. Swisher is one of the most consistent players in the game, but eventually he’s going to have to decline and at age 32 that day might come soon. He has plenty of room to decline before he’d wear out his usefulness, but there’s a big difference between the kind of player the Indians would spend $56 million on and an aging veteran who’s just holding his own.
There are two distinct ideas for how Swisher will fare in 2013. One (Bill James and Steamer) is that’s he’ll do what he always does; the other is that he’ll take a tangible step back as he begins an age-fueled decline.
Best-case scenario: There isn’t a whole lot of difference between Swisher’s ceiling and what he usually does. One could perhaps ask that he reverse the slight dips in his still-impressive plate discipline numbers last year while maintaining his higher-than-usual average but it’s not as though he’s a sleeper candidate.
Worst-case scenario: Again, Swisher is incredibly consistent, so the only real downside he has would be from unusually dramatic aging or injury. Look at the Oliver or ZiPS projections for some idea of how that could look.
What to expect: In case I haven’t hammered this point home enough, Swisher is Mr. Consistency. (Attention comic book writers: Please make a new series about a superhero named “Mr. Consistency.” You can have that idea for free as long as you credit me in print.) Just look at what he’s done in years past and you’ll be pretty close to what he’ll do in 2013.
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