On-Base Perception

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People v. Nick Swisher

Nick Swisher reacts after striking out during a

Nick Swisher reacts after striking out during a game against the Chicago White Sox. (Aug. 22, 2012) (Credit: AP)

In baseball free agency, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups. Fans who will do anything to keep their favorite players and fans who have no problem kicking any player to the curb.

This is Part 1 of a series looking at upcoming free agents for the Mets and Yankees and arguing for and against keeping them.

(Insert the "Law & Order" clang, clang here, just in case you didn't already catch the reference.)

The case:

Nick Swisher, the Yankees' right fielder for the past four seasons, will be 32 years old at the start of the 2013 season. According to a recent report, Swisher could attempt to match Jayson Werth's seven-year, $126 million contract when he hits free agency this winter. The Yankees are attempting to reduce payroll to the luxury tax threshold of $189 million.

The facts:

Swisher was an All-Star in 2010 and won a World Series with the Yankees in 2009. He's a career .255 hitter with a .359 on-base percentage and .468 slugging percentage, hitting 203 home runs during his nine-year career. He's spent the majority of his time in right field but also has substantial experience at first base and in left and center field. He's even pitched an inning (no runs, one strikeout).

The prosecution:

Swisher is a good player, but not a great player. His batting average has only crept above .262 twice in his career, and one of those seasons, 2012, isn't over yet. Yes, he has a solid on-base percentage and walks a lot. But he has little speed when he actually reaches base (12 stolen bases, 15 times caught stealing in his career).

He's not consistently looked at as one of the better players at his position (as his one All-Star selection and zero silver slugger awards show), and he's never produced an outstanding season (no top-20 finishes for MVP). He's never won a gold glove, and he's prone to spectacular misplays in right field.

His playoff numbers are horrendous: He has a .169 overall average in 124 postseason at-bats and only four home runs.

The defense:

Swisher is very consistent, and that's a pretty difficult attribute to find.

He's hit at least 21 home runs, scored at least 81 runs and driven in at least 69 runs from 2005-2011. He's driven in at least 82 runs from 2009-2011 with the Yankees. He has 18 home runs, 57 runs and 69 RBIs this year.

His defense is widely underrated. Yes, he can make spectacular misplays, but those are rare, even if they do end up overshadowing his solid fielding. He's posted a 3.8 UZR/150 in right field this season and has a 4.6 career UZR/150 there. (UZR/150 is an advanced stat used to measure a fielder's ability to get to balls hit in his zone.)

He's certainly been sub-par in the postseason, but you don't have to go very far back to recall the case of Alex Rodriguez, his own playoff struggles and how he was finally able to shrug them off in 2009. Plus, 124 postseason at-bats isn't a lot to judge a hitter on.

One other item in Swisher's favor: He should age well.

Generally, a hitter's eye and his power fade much slower than a player's speed and his ability to make contact. Power and patience are already Swisher's strong suits, so it's not out of the question to imagine a 36-year-old Swisher with a .250 average, .360 OBP and 23 home runs.

The verdict:

Only the most hardcore Nick Swisher fan could blame the Yankees for passing on the excitable player if he truly seeks a contract north of $100 million. But if he decides to settle for a four- or five-year deal? Then the Yankees might have to seriously consider bringing Swisher back. His stats are impressive, he has a very good relationship with the fans and he's adapted to New York well. Plus, it's not as if the Yankees have any outfield prospects knocking on the door just yet.

Strong, consistent production may not be worth a mega-deal, but it merits a decent payday for sure.

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