Nick Swisher: a little bit Roberto Clemente, a little bit Von Hayes

With Nick Swisher’s new deal with the Indians, let’s take a look at some comps and projections for his career performance.

Nick Swisher / Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Swisher / Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Here are players who, through their Age 31 season, had a 118 OPS+ (minimum 4000 plate appearances):

1 Roberto Clemente 7031 118 6548 143 841 .310 .348 .455 .803 *9/8745 PIT
2 Carlos Beltran 6520 118 5719 263 987 .281 .357 .496 .853 *8/D97 KCR-TOT-NYM
3 Phil Cavarretta 6459 118 5686 67 777 .293 .370 .413 .783 *3879 CHC
4 Joe Judge 5572 118 4796 40 556 .296 .378 .417 .795 *3/9 WSH
5 Thurman Munson 5486 118 4962 110 662 .292 .347 .413 .760 *2/D9735 NYY
6 Stan Hack 5387 118 4649 43 455 .304 .391 .408 .799 *5/3 CHC
7 Von Hayes 5379 118 4658 139 646 .272 .360 .430 .790 9387/5D CLE-PHI
8 Jesse Barfield 5289 118 4664 239 709 .259 .338 .471 .809 *9/8D7 TOR-TOT-NYY
9 Bill White 5151 118 4645 163 690 .294 .354 .473 .827 *37/89 NYG-SFG-STL
10 Nick Swisher 5013 118 4241 209 673 .256 .361 .467 .828 *9387/D1 OAK-CHW-NYY
11 Kevin McReynolds 5000 118 4519 183 695 .269 .326 .453 .779 *78/9 SDP-NYM
12 Joe Rudi 4959 118 4539 141 654 .273 .318 .436 .754 *73/9D85 KCA-OAK-CAL
13 Curtis Granderson 4799 118 4224 210 591 .262 .341 .492 .834 *8/7D DET-NYY
14 John Stone 4764 118 4281 74 679 .313 .377 .472 .849 798 DET-WSH
15 Nick Markakis 4556 118 4055 117 549 .295 .365 .455 .819 *9/78D3 BAL
16 Elmer Valo 4492 118 3707 43 410 .285 .402 .396 .798 *97/8 PHA
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/23/2012.

This is quite a list. Some guys are greats. Some guys are overrated. Some guys are underrated.

What might the future hold for Swisher? Here’s what the guys on the list above did for the rest of their careers:

Rk Player PA OPS+ From To Age HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS Pos Tm
1 Joe Judge 3606 109 1926 1934 32-40 31 478 .300 .378 .424 .802 *3 WSH-TOT-BOS
2 Roberto Clemente 3180 157 1967 1972 32-37 97 464 .334 .384 .521 .905 *9/8 PIT
3 Stan Hack 3121 123 1942 1947 32-37 14 187 .296 .399 .377 .776 *5/3 CHC
4 Carlos Beltran 1829 137 2009 2012 32-35 71 256 .288 .371 .497 .868 *98/D NYM-TOT-STL
5 Elmer Valo 1599 107 1953 1961 32-40 15 191 .275 .388 .379 .767 97/8 PHA-KCA-TOT-BRO-LAD-CLE
6 Bill White 1527 110 1966 1969 32-35 39 180 .256 .341 .394 .735 *3 PHI-STL
7 Phil Cavarretta 1242 118 1949 1955 32-38 28 143 .291 .383 .430 .813 *3/97 CHC-CHW
8 Joe Rudi 1118 84 1979 1982 32-35 38 156 .227 .283 .385 .668 *7/3D9 CAL-BOS-OAK
9 Kevin McReynolds 1039 102 1992 1994 32-34 28 112 .248 .336 .418 .754 *7/9D KCR-NYM
10 Von Hayes 673 73 1991 1992 32-33 4 50 .225 .304 .306 .611 /*987D3 PHI-CAL
11 Thurman Munson 419 95 1979 1979 32-32 3 39 .288 .340 .374 .714 /*2D3 NYY
12 John Stone 244 86 1938 1938 32-32 3 28 .244 .337 .380 .718 /*798 WSH
13 Jesse Barfield 105 22 1992 1992 32-32 2 7 .137 .210 .221 .431 /*9 NYY
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/23/2012.

These guys are ranked by plate appearances. Three folks from the 1st list don’t show up on this one: Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson both just finished their Age 31 seasons, so they have no stats for Age 32 onward. Nick Markasis is actually still younger, and so he shouldn’t really even be on the first list.

There are a few guys on this list–Munson, Stone, and Barfield–who played just one more season despite a solid OPS+ through Age 31. Munson died late in his Age 32 season, while Stone’s performance trailed off and he contracted tuberculosis in that final season. Barfield was just done.

Two guys really stick out–Clemente and Beltran both blossomed at Age 31 and actually hit much better in the second half of their careers. Beltran, of course, benefits from having not finished his career yet–we can expect his OPS+ to trail off.

Looking at these 13 guys, their post-31 career average performance is 1,516 plate appearances with a weighted average OPS+ of, you guessed it, 118.

The good news for the Indians is that they can reasonably expect Swisher to maintain his career OPS+ of 118, which is a decline from his recent years but well within reasonable expectation. The bad news is that if he manages only 1,516 plate appearances, he won’t have played all that much on his new 4-year contract.

24 thoughts on “Nick Swisher: a little bit Roberto Clemente, a little bit Von Hayes

  1. 1
    Ed says:

    Andy – Thanks for profiling the Indians’ latest acquisition. Indians’ fans seem ecstatic over the signing though personally I thought it was a poor decision. It’s the classic front office maneuver of trying to distract the fan base by dangling shiny, sparkly things.

    The problem I have with the signing is this….the Indians are likely to be bad for at least a few more years. By the time the return to competitiveness in 3-4 years (if that even happens), Swisher will be in decline and his contract will prevent us from signing/acquiring players who could actually help us.

    • 10
      MikeD says:

      It really depends what the Indians do with Swisher over the coming four/five years. Similar to the Cubs signing Sanchez, the Indians could get a good year to year-and-a-half out of Swisher, and then turn around and trade him for another piece or two that will help them in their rebuilding. With the current inflation in contracts and Swishers very consistent production, his contract is certainly moveable. Same thing with Sanchez. He can help the Cubs now, but his greatest value may come in a trade a year or two from now.

      • 14
        Andy says:

        I can’t say I agree with this. At $14 million per year, Swisher is getting paid top dollar for a player of his caliber. If he were to improve a little bit, then I agree that in a year or two he could be valuable to flip at the deadline for a nice prospect or two–however the number of teams that would acquire him would be limited, given his contract. If he were signed for only 2 years, then it would be different. And if, as is much more likely, his performance slips a little bit from his 2010-2012 level, then he’s going to be overpaid and old, and difficult to move.

        • 17
          MikeD says:

          If his production slips, then all bets are off. (Not that Pete Rose has entered the room and we’re betting!) Yet trying to figure out what top dollar is right now might be more difficult than usual. It’s fluid driven by increased revenue from TV deals, the addition of the second Wild Card, coupled with the draft-and-build restrictions in the new CBA. I suppose I can add in the introduction of a new big-spending team in the form of the Dodgers as another driver, although I’d have to see how that plays out more than one season. Are they going to be playing the role that the George Steinbrenner Yankees used to play, or are they the new guys at the table who sat down and bet big, but will play future hands differently?

          This is just personal belief, but the new Wild Card and the CBA are going to alter the dynamics of spending, with teams more willing to double-down and bet big depending on where they are in the development cycle. Hard to say if the Red Sox-Dodgers and Blue Jays-Marlins deals are early examples of that, or if they were both driven by odd circumstances. Maybe it’s both. But, yeah, if my belief turns out to be correct, then a Swisher contract becomes much more moveable. I do think in the case of Sanchez that Theo is taking that into account. I’m not sure if the Indians are int he case of Swisher.

          • 18
            Ed says:

            One other way the signing COULD work out for the Indians…signing Swisher will definitely put more fans in the seats which will give them more money to spend in future years. The fans are clearly excited about the Swisher signing for a variety of reasons: 1) he’s seen as a local boy come home (though his tie is really to Ohio State/Columbus, not Cleveland), 2) the team will likely win a few more games because of his presence, 3) changed perception of the ownership. For many years the Indians’ fans have felt that the owners (the Dolans) were cheapskates who weren’t willing to support the team financially. Many fans reacted by refusing to go to games. Signing Swisher may bring some of those fans back.

  2. 2
    Mike L says:

    Swisher is a solid player. In the comments on Greinke, I noted that his last three years of WAR and OPS+ mirror Greike’s WAR and ERA+. But that’s not really high praise for either. Solid is not superstar. And the problem with free agent contracts is that they usually don’t happen until the player is in his early thirties, limiting his reasonable rate of return in later years. With an OPS+ of 118, it’s not going to take a lot of age-related decline to make Swisher just a bit above average. Big money teams might be able to absorb that, Cleveland, as Ed points out, likely won’t. Swisher is a good player (and will be missed in NY). Great fit for the Indians? Maybe not.

  3. 3
    bstar says:

    The market is paying at least $7 million/WAR for free agents. At $56 million, all Swisher has to do is produce 8 WAR over the next 4 years to earn his contract. He’s not getting paid to be a superstar, just to be an average outfielder. He produced about 10 WAR over the previous four seasons, so his contract seems reasonable enough to me.

    • 5
      Andy says:

      A year ago Fangraphs had it at $4.5MM per WAR. Where do you get the $7MM figure?

      • 7
        bstar says:

        Yes, the model I was looking at was estimating $5 million/WAR for all position players on average, but right fielders grade out highest among all positions with left and center field next. This was written a few months ago by Matt Swartz of FGraphs & Hardball Times who estimated that RFs on average make closer to $8mil/per but I rounded down to seven for a more conservative look:

        These figures are for those players already signed, but the free agent market should be a little more pricey as the signing team usually has to make a slight overpay to get the player, so I think $7 mil/WAR for a free agent RF is a pretty fair estimate.

        • 12
          Ed says:

          Just to clarify…Swisher’s contract is 4 years guaranteed, but there’s a 5th year team option that can be made automatic if Swisher meets certain performance levels. At this point, no one knows what those performance levels are, but Swisher came out and said they would be easy to reach so the speculation is that they’re playing time based (as opposed to hitting a certain # of homeruns, for example).

          Also, there’s speculation that the Indians may move Swisher to 1st base either now or later in the contract. So that has to be considered as well in deciding if it’s “fair value”.

          And the Indians lose a 2nd round pick as a result of the signing. Obviously most 2nd round picks don’t work out but that can’t be ignored when evaluating the contract.

          Overall, I agree with the title of Keith Law’s article: “Swisher is good value for the wrong team”. (it’s on ESPN insider so I can’t read the article).

  4. 4
    Hartvig says:

    While I don’t think that $56 M was a huge overpay for Swisher what Ed says makes a lot of sense. If they were a player or 2 away from contending I could see it but if they’re building for the future I don’t get it. It’s not like he would be a great bargaining chip at the trade deadline for a great prospect with that much money still owed.

    It’s kind of like management is telling the fans: We don’t think we have any chance of contending for the next 4 years but we don’t want you to think that we’ve thrown in the towel either.

    And I had completely forgotten about Jesse Barfield being washed up at such an early age. Whenever I think of Barfield I also think of Mark Whitten who always seemed to be just on the cusp of stepping his game up and becoming the next Barfield without ever quite making it to that level or if so, just barely and only for a couple of seasons. Yet amazingly Whitten managed to stick around until he was a year older than Barfield.

    • 19
      John Autin says:

      “It’s kind of like management is telling the fans: We don’t think we have any chance of contending for the next 4 years but we don’t want you to think that we’ve thrown in the towel either.”

      Perfect summary, Hartvig, and one that I would endorse. It’s the reason I wish the Mets would have re-signed Dickey, even though I think they ended up with a good trade.

      Cleveland hasn’t topped .500 in 5 seasons, and 3 of those 5 saw 69 wins or less. They just traded their best offensive player of the past several years, mainly for prospects. Their 2012 attendance was next-to-last in the AL, and they didn’t have a 20-HR man.

      Even if you don’t expect to content, you have to give your fans *some* reason to come to the park. I think Swisher is an entertaining player, and his consistency — OPS+ of 120-129 each of the last 4 years and 6 of the last 7 — creates a solid chance of being able to trade him for a decent return before the contract runs out.

      In today’s MLB economy, $14 million a year is not an overpay for what Swisher brings. And just looking at last year’s salaries, no retained Indian made over $4.6 million. I don’t know what raises have kicked in for 2013, but Swisher’s deal should not be an albatross.

      BTW, during his 4-year Yankee tenure, Swisher hit 59 HRs away, 46 at home.

      • 20
        Voomo Zanzibar says:

        2013 Cleveland:

        $6.5 Asdrubal
        $6 Mark Reynolds
        5.75 Ublaldo

        Estimated Arb:

        7.2 Chris Perez
        5.7 Masterson

        Nobody else over 3

        Swisher is barely a downgrade to Choo, and certainly a plus in the clubhouse (it seems).

        But I’ve got to question a front office that deliberately acquires Mark Reynolds and Drew Stubbs.

        Estimated strikeouts from the 2013 Indian lineup:

        100 Kipnis
        200 Stubbs
        100 Santana
        130 Swisher
        200 Reynolds
        100 Cabrera
        60 Brantley
        ? 1B
        ? DH

        • 21
          Ed says:

          Reynolds will probably play 1st. The 3rd baseman will be Lonnie Chisenall. So far in 374 PAs, he has 76 Ks. So he should fit right in!

  5. 6
    Doug says:

    What do you think about the staying power of switch-hitters? Do they last longer because they always have the platoon advantage? Or, do they not last as long because they’re not really as good as non-switch hitters with the same OPS+? That is, if they were as good they should have a better OPS+ because of that platoon advantage.

    • 8
      Doug says:

      Since I asked the question, I’ll offer the answer that initial indicators look good for Swisher and the Indians. These are the 10 switch-hitters, including Swisher, with OPS+ in the 113-123 range through age 31 (min. 4000 PAs). Pretty decent group.

      Rk Player OPS+ PA From To Age R H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Tm
      1 Howard Johnson 123 4960 1982 1992 21-31 672 1092 204 672 576 891 .253 .340 .456 .796 DET-NYM
      2 Victor Martinez 121 4224 2002 2010 23-31 509 1120 131 638 411 482 .300 .369 .469 .838 CLE-TOT-BOS
      3 Roberto Alomar 119 7583 1988 1999 20-31 1117 2007 151 829 758 796 .304 .375 .446 .820 SDP-TOR-BAL-CLE
      4 Nick Swisher 118 5013 2004 2012 23-31 684 1085 209 673 669 1070 .256 .361 .467 .828 OAK-CHW-NYY
      5 Carlos Beltran 118 6520 1998 2008 21-31 1035 1605 263 987 683 1043 .281 .357 .496 .853 KCR-TOT-NYM
      6 Chili Davis 117 5971 1981 1991 21-31 736 1410 185 752 634 1011 .268 .345 .431 .776 SFG-CAL-MIN
      7 Frankie Frisch 116 6981 1919 1930 20-31 1134 2038 89 876 495 194 .324 .376 .456 .832 NYG-STL
      8 Dmitri Young 114 4381 1996 2005 22-31 557 1157 147 576 324 730 .291 .348 .479 .827 STL-CIN-DET
      9 Carlos Guillen 113 4089 1998 2007 22-31 595 1053 94 518 385 624 .290 .358 .450 .807 SEA-DET
      10 Tom Tresh 113 4897 1961 1969 22-30 595 1041 153 530 550 698 .245 .335 .411 .746 NYY-TOT
      Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
      Generated 12/23/2012.
    • 9
      Doug says:

      And, here’s what they did after age 31. One was already done and the rest were split half-and-half between decent contributors and not. Which half will Nick be in – my hunch is closer to the “decent contributors” group.

      Rk Player WAR/pos OPS+ From To Age G PA BA OBP SLG OPS Tm
      1 Chili Davis 12.7 126 1992 1999 32-39 984 4026 .284 .382 .482 .864 MIN-CAL-KCR-NYY
      2 Carlos Beltran 12.2 137 2009 2012 32-35 438 1829 .288 .371 .497 .868 NYM-TOT-STL
      3 Roberto Alomar 11.4 108 2000 2004 32-36 657 2817 .291 .362 .435 .797 CLE-NYM-TOT
      4 Frankie Frisch 10.3 95 1931 1937 32-38 746 3118 .298 .353 .378 .731 STL
      5 Victor Martinez 2.9 131 2011 2011 32-32 145 595 .330 .380 .470 .850 DET
      6 Carlos Guillen 2.0 103 2008 2011 32-35 290 1188 .266 .345 .421 .766 DET
      7 Dmitri Young -0.6 115 2006 2008 32-34 234 872 .297 .364 .455 .819 DET-WSN
      8 Howard Johnson -1.2 87 1993 1995 32-34 252 755 .217 .336 .382 .718 NYM-COL-CHC
      Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
      Generated 12/23/2012.
      • 13
        Hartvig says:

        Of course the jury is still out on VMart- however unless he catches more than I’d expect him to it’s not likely he’s going to put up big WAR numbers- altho if he hits like he’s capable of and can catch 40 to 60 games without embarrassing himself I think he certainly has a chance to put up a couple more 3+ WAR seasons.

      • 24
        mosc says:

        swisher does look a lot like hojo stat wise doesn’t he? Their swings aren’t terribly similar. Hojo had that ridiculous bat speed you can never fully appreciate without seeing in person. He was also more consistent from both sides of the plate. Swisher has a nice power swing from the left but there’s lots of length in it. From the right he slaps a lot of balls. Swisher’s power numbers from the right are nothing special where hojo was equally feared (though later in his career he struggled against lefties when that bat speed just evaporated).

        Hojo was pretty similar from both sides, swisher’s like a contact hitter from the right and a power guy from the left. I don’t know what that means for their longevity.

  6. 11
    MikeD says:

    Trying to project what a player will do as he ages is always interesting. I think with Swisher I wouldn’t be looking at players with similar OPS+’s at similar ages, but I would try to identify similar type hitters. Swisher for example is not a good match for a Clemente or a Munson. He’s a patient hitter who doesn’t expand the strikezone and attempts to get himself into a good hitter’s count, or more likely a fastball situation.

    Von Hayes feels like a good comp. Von Hayes’ career pretty much ended after age 32, but he’s only one data point. Chili Davis feels right, too. He’s even a switch hitter. The Indians would be quite happy if Swisher is similar to Chili Davis, since Davis remained quite productive through his 30s, still hitting up until he decided to retire. His age 32-36 seasons rated slightly better than his prior seasons. That would be a best-case scenario for Swisher and the Indians. More comps like Hayes and Davis might be more instructive…or not. : -)

  7. 15
    Edmundo says:

    Note that Chili Davis played all of 40 innings in the field after age 30, 2 of which were as pitcher! I’m not sure how that figures in to any comparison other than he couldn’t get nicked up in the field.

  8. 16
    Ed says:

    Here are two interesting comps for Swisher: Pat Burrell and Paul Konerko.

    First, let’s look at Burrell:

    OPS+ ages 28-31: 128, 122, 128, 125

    And now look at Swisher:

    OPS+ ages 28-31: 122, 129, 120, 126

    An almost perfect match. Both are slow, strike-out a lot and draw a lot of walks. Both had an uncharacteristically poor season earlier in their careers (Burrell had an OPS+ of 90 at age 26; Swisher had an OPS+ of 93 at age 27).

    The Burrell comp is pretty depressing since he’s been hurt and/or played poorly post age 31.

    Now Konerko. Both Konerko and Swisher became regulars at age 23 and put together 4 solid seasons before having an off year at age 27 (and both did it with the White Sox!). They both then bounced back at age 28 and put together 4 more solid seasons.

    Here are Konerko’s OPS+ from age 23-31:

    116, 111, 119, 124, 83, 127, 136, 134, 116

    And now Swisher:

    101, 102, 125, 126, 93, 122, 129, 120, 126.

    Pretty damn similar. I count Konerko as having a 22 point OPS+ adavtange, about 2.5 points per year. Again, both players are slow though Swisher draws more walks and strikes out more.

    Post age 31, Konerko put together two more solid seasons (OPS+ of 103 and 114) before going on the best run of his career and putting together OPS+ of 160, 141 and 128.

    So as an Indian’s fan my hope is that Nick Swisher becomes the next Paul Konerko.

  9. 22
    Tom says:

    With their payroll the Indians will always have a tough time competing, but that doesn’t mean they should close up shop. Orioles happen. Cardinals happen. Swisher improves their chances greatly over the nothing they had after trading Choo and he is a solid bet to earn his pay.

    And forget rebuilding, they’ve rebuilt with Kipnis, Brantley, Cabrera, Santana, Chisenhall, McAllister, etc. The only way you rebuild more than that is buy a tee ball team. They need to take a shot with the group they put together. They have to hope Francona can somehow get them to play a full season and straighten Bauer out. Like the Royals, even a .500 season and holding out hope for the WC late in the season would be a victory.

    If only Masterson (or LaPorta!) was the real deal they might have a shot. Or if they had traded for anyone but Jimenez.

    Sorry to ramble but to me the bottom line is Swisher makes them better, they have (and almost had to spend) the money, and he is as likely as anyone to earn his contract.

    • 23
      Hartvig says:

      To be completely fair, the idea that Tampa Bay has managed to remain competitive in the AL East for the past 5 years has surprised me (at least a little) almost every year. The Indians do have some talented young players and if a few things break their way maybe it wouldn’t be out of the question them to compete in the Central in a year or 2.

      If Baltimore could do it this year then I’m not ruling anything out except for the Cubs winning the World Series.

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