Thursday, February 9, 2012

Hitting the Corners

I continue my player evaluations tonight with some analysis on the Yankees corner outfielders. This post will focus on Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher, two very different players who can both contribute greatly to the team's success in 2012.

In my first post I pointed out that I am an avid fan of Brett Gardner. He is a dynamic player who brings speed and defense to the field every night. In 2011, he led the league in stolen bases with 49 swiped bags. He played a gold glove caliber left field but got snubbed for a Gold Glove award. I am still livid over the snub. Statistically, Gardner played the best defense of any left fielder in 2011. He made seven outfield assists and committed only five errors, even though he will tell you that at least three of those errors could have been prevented. He saved 23 opposing runs from scoring last year, which is a mind-boggling statistic. Gardner's WAR, or "Wins Above Replacement" in 2011 was 5.1. In other words, compared to the league-average left fielder, Gardner was on another level by winning over five games just with his speed and defense. He is not your typical left-fielder when it comes to his power. Gardner hit seven home runs in 2011. He says that he is satisfied if he hits five in a season, but I believe that he will have a breakout year in which he hits at least 20 home runs.

One thing about Gardner that I would like for him to improve on in 2012 are his base-running skills. There is no doubt that he is one of the fastest, if not the fastest, player in baseball. He needs to take that skill and apply it by stealing more bases. He is hesitant to run early in counts, second guessing himself about whether or not he will be thrown out. I say that he needs to run every time he gets on base. He stole 49 bases in 2011 without being aggressive 100% of the time on the base paths! Imagine the numbers he can put up with more aggressiveness on the bases.

Nick Swisher is going into his age 31 season, meaning that he is just leaving his prime. Swisher has been a great player for the Yankees. He is a great clubhouse presence who breaks the mold of the old days of Yankee Stadium. He is loud, easy-going, and loves getting pied. There is no doubt that Swisher has been a clutch player for the Yankees in the regular season, but the postseason is another story.

In the postseason with the Yankees, Swisher has been terrible. In three postseasons with the Yankees, Swisher has hit .160. This is not an easy pill to swallow. He is a great guy who puts up amazing numbers in the regular season. What could possibly go wrong in the playoffs that does not click for Nick? At this point, I feel that it is all mental. He began the 2011 season terribly. He did not hit his first home run until late April and everybody was thinking that it was a lost season for Swish. He finished the year with 23 round-trippers and hit a decent .260.

Entering his walk year, Swisher needs to prove that he can put his mental lapses aside and show up every day. This means that he will have to have a great postseason for the Yankees to even consider resigning him to another deal past this year. Swisher has a lot to prove going into this season. How he does under the pressure will ultimately decide his fate in the Bronx long term.

My predictions for Gardner: .280 BA, 12 HR, 58 RBI, 56 SB
My predictions for Swisher: .274 BA, 27 HR, 90 RBI

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