Trend Spotting: Should the Indians Trade Nick Swisher?

Nick Swisher has at moments represented the very climax of the revitalization of Indians baseball and in others a highly polarizing, swaggering athlete whose abilities appear to be degrading faster than his mojo. To date Swisher has been paid 26 million dollars by the Cleveland Indians, according to WAR value he has been worth 3.1 million, according to eye value in 2014 I would have preferred to watch Casey Kotchman or Ryan Garko. So far the Indians have sacrificed 23 million in dead money and owe Swisher 3o million more over the next two years.

Of course one can argue that based upon the Indians playoff appearance alone in 2013, Swisher has been worth the investment, outside of what we can measure on the playing field.

The question remains should the Indians move Nick Swisher? The answer is yes. The answer is also no.

The problem is the question isn’t the right one. Over the past few days Twitter and the Indians blogosphere has been lit aflame with answers to the wrong question.

It is the wrong question because the answers being  offered are absolutes.  Indeed, many seem to be offering an absolute answer without any sort of coherent information as to the actual return. Of course we have rumors of possible pieces including the likes of Edwin Jackson, Ryan Howard, B.J. Upton and Ubaldo Jimenez. Has anything tangible been reported directly describing the centerpieces of a deal? Of course not.

Thankfully, the entire Indians blogosphere has decided to make absolute decisions based upon mere speculation. I am here to provide my inclinations surrounding Swisher accepting the notion that there are both deals that I would take for Swisher and deals that I wouldn’t.

Further, a more important question to discuss surrounding Swisher is not whether he should be moved as everyone is movable at a certain price but rather if he is a rebound candidate. Further, what does Swisher have left in the tank over the remainder of his deal?

First lets look at the projection of Swisher for 2015 from Steamer: .5 WAR with 500 plate appearances, 14 homers and a .321 OBP.

From 2005 to 2013 Nick Swisher was one of the most consistent players in Major League Baseball no matter the measurement, a stable 20 home run type with only one season with a WAR below two.

At the outset, all it takes is to merely consult an aging curve to see that despite a relative outlier of a performance in 2014, time is against Nick Swisher.

batting

Courtesy of Beyond the Boxscore.

This notes steep decline in offensive value that position players experience during their early thirties, of course as Swisher’s 2014 was an outlier, there also can be outliers to general expectations based on aging curves.

However, if you were going to project someone for a rebound, someone to be an outlier to the regression suggested by declining physical skills, would it be someone coming of season ending surgery on both knees? Would it be a power reliant hitter who has been sidelined multiple times with shoulder issues?

I highly doubt it.

Lets look at Nick Swishers spray charts in 2013 and 2014:

Spray

Spray Charts Courtesy of Fangraphs

What is the most clear difference between 2013 and 2014? The most vast difference I see is the power out put to left field. Swisher’s pull field power as a right handed hitter just disappeared.

In 2014 Swisher’s OPS hitting right-handed was .481, hitting left-handed .658. Though both are putrid, the dropoff from the right side of the plate is distressing. This is particularly concerning, considering for Swisher’s career he has been better from the right side than the left .829 OPS to .795 OPS.

Despite a limited sample, I am willing to draw a few conclusions. The left and right knee were significant issues which one would expect effected each side of the plate relatively equally. However, the left shoulder is particularly essential to creating power and bat speed when hitting right handed, a lingering issue with pain and strength issues in that arm cannot be tossed aside. The right-handed power production which disappeared in 2014,

Right handed offensive production is somewhat essential to Swisher’s value to the Indians going forward for the following reasons:

1) Swisher is no longer a defensive option, he grades out poorly at first base as well as right field. Further, deploying him at either position merely elevates the potential risk of injury.

2) The Indians have a collection of left-handed hitting that could rotate through the DH spot to get rest from the field and be equal to or more valuable offensively than Swisher against right-handed pitching.

3) The Indians need right handed hitting or at least hitters productive against lefthanded pitching as they ranked 23 in MLB against LHP  with a wRC+ of 93.

4) Whether it is the left knee or left shoulder as I suggest, Swisher’s injury issues limit his productivity on the right side, even if he limits pain enough to play more than a 100 games.

5) Ultimately, for the Indians a player limited to DH’ing duties who is better against right-handed pitching just isn’t valuable.

All this to say, 2014 may be an outlier versus left-handed pitching, but in order for it to be an outlier a 34 year old with spiking injury issues must remain healthy.

What the Indians have is a player on the wrong side of the aging curve with a fairly hefty contract remaining, who is limited in terms of versatility and easily replicated by the pieces currently existing. Which leads to the following question, could a gamble on another bad contract or slightly improved payroll flexibility make trading Swisher a good decision? Quite possibly.

The answer I offer is incomplete is because the information we have is incomplete. Do I ultimately favor moving Swisher? Yes. Can I assert that moving him is the best option? Absolutely not unless the specifics and possible pieces become known.

The only absolute I accept surrounding MLB deals is that everyone is movable, everything is negotiable, even Bro-Hio.

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