Nick Swisher and Prince Fielder, Compared

Dave · November 14, 2012 at 10:57 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Prince Fielder casts a large shadow, both physically and figuratively, as even a year removed from his signing with Detroit, his name still continues to be linked to discussions of what the Mariners might do or should have done in the past. Ever since I advocated for Swisher in the off-season plan, a common response has been that we wouldn’t have to overextend ourselves for a mediocre player like Swisher if we had just stepped up and signed a real difference maker like Fielder a year ago. Any discussion of the off-season always begins with how this is not a good free agent class, unlike last year, when real stars like Fielder were available.

It’s funny how labels often do far move to deceive than inform. Rather than actually stopping and looking at the relative merits of the two players, the perception of the two is vastly different simply based on the kinds of words that are used to describe them. So, I figure its time we just drop the labels and actually show you exactly what the differences between the two have been over the last several years.

First, here are just their raw stats from 2010 to 2012:

Name PA 1B 2B 3B HR BB IBB HBP
Prince Fielder 2,096 307 94 2 100 306 67 48
Nick Swisher 1,894 268 99 3 76 230 8 15

Fielder wins in a landslide across the board. 39 more hits. 24 more home runs. 76 more walks. Swisher’s totals simply don’t stack up, and this is why having a real cleanup hitter like Fielder is just so much more valuable than a complementary piece like Swisher, right?

Well, take a look at the numbers again, only this time, we’ve normalized the number of plate appearances. After all, the argument for Fielder is about quality of results, not quantity. No one’s arguing against Swisher because they think he gets hurt too much, but because he simply doesn’t provide the same impact when he’s at the plate. So, let’s rescale those numbers to 600 plate appearances each, or about one full season for a regular position player.

Name PA 1B 2B 3B HR BB IBB HBP
Prince Fielder 600 88 27 1 29 88 19 14
Nick Swisher 600 85 31 1 24 73 3 5

Three more singles. Five more home runs, but four fewer doubles. This isn’t over a week, or even a month. This is over an entire season. We’re talking a gap of four additional base hits, with only one of those hits being an extra base knock. The real advantage Fielder has over Swisher as a hitter – intentional walks and number of times hit by pitch. The unintentional walk rates are identical, as basically the entire difference in times reaching base is IBBs and HBPs. Those things have value, of course, and no one’s going to argue that Swisher is Fielder’s equal at the plate, but we should at least understand what the actual differences between them over the last three years have actually been.

Three extra singles, one more extra base hit, and two dozen extra free passes to first base, either the hard way or the way that makes us all boo the pitcher for being a coward. That’s what the difference between Fielder’s .291/.409/.521 line and Swisher’s .274/.366/.478 line work out too over one full year’s worth of plate appearances.

I’m sorry, but you just can’t make a mountain of that kind of mole hill. Fielder’s a really good hitter, but there’s no way you can justify the claim that Swisher is just a marginal role player when the actual difference has been four extra hits and 24 extra IBB/HBPs per 600 plate appearances. Especially when a large part of the dismissal of Swisher comes from discounting the value of walks. You can’t simultaneously dismiss getting on base via the free pass and then also claim that Fielder is a dramatically superior offensive player. His durability, and the extra 200 plate appearances he’s received over the last three years by playing everyday, certainly has value and should be factored in, but make sure that you realize that a lot of the offensive gap between them has been about quantity of playing time, not impact on a per plate appearance level.

If you liked the idea of Prince Fielder for $150 million — forget the crazy $214 million that he actually got — then you should love the idea of Swisher at half that price. Yes, he’s a few years older and not quite as good of a hitter, but he’s also a drastically better defensive player who can handle multiple positions, a better baserunner, a switch-hitter, and doesn’t have a physique that screams “knee problems!” There are pros and cons to both. If you’re just deciding which one you’d rather have without any regard to cost, you’d go with Fielder, but a rational analysis of their performance would tell you that the gap isn’t as huge as the perception difference.

But, once you factor in cost — especially now that the Yankees have decided to avoid multi-year contracts in an effort to get under the luxury tax — the choice between the two is a no-brainer. There’s no way that you can spin the difference between them as worth an extra $150 million or whatever the gap in their total contracts ends up being.

The Mariners don’t need to sign an inferior player like Nick Swisher to make up for the fact that they missed their chance to sign a real hitter like Prince Fielder last winter, even if that’s the story people want you to believe. They get the chance to sign a good player like Nick Swisher — and still have a bunch of money left to bring in more talent as well — because they didn’t fall into the trap of labels and drastically overpay last winter.

That’s why I don’t buy into any of this talk about this being a bad class of free agents. That’s like criticizing Safeway for being a bad grocery store compared to Whole Foods. You can probably get a slightly higher quality product at Whole Foods for double the price, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find good stuff at better prices by avoiding the marketing hype and buying things that are on sale. A store isn’t bad just because it doesn’t have overpriced stuff you shouldn’t pay for to begin with. This market might not have high-end players with overinflated price tags, but it has a host of good players who can dramatically improve the Mariners roster without costing them a large part of their future.

Given the reports about the kinds of offers Swisher is getting, he’s shaping up to be a freaking steal, and he’s exactly the kind of player that the Mariners need. Don’t let the labels that have been affixed to him and Fielder distract you from the truth. Just like Fielder, he’s a really good player. And at the reported price tag, getting him this winter would be a far better result for the franchise than signing Fielder last winter would have been.

Comments

37 Responses to “Nick Swisher and Prince Fielder, Compared”

  1. californiamariner on November 14th, 2012 11:19 pm

    Thanks for that breakdown. Breaking down the stats and cost makes me really want Swisher.

  2. Novler on November 15th, 2012 12:00 am

    As a former sports journalist, your analysis never ceases to amaze me, Dave. Great breakdowns. You have a way of turning things on their heads and making the rest of the noise appear upside down. Love it.

    I’m excited about Swisher in spite of his age. Hamilton and his issues too. There’s just so many directions Z could go at this point. It’s exciting and I’m spending far too much time on MLBTradeRumors. Can’t help myself. I sense that ‘playoffs’ and ‘Mariners’ just might fit in the same sentence again. Sooner than I thought they would.

    But the dominoes gotta fall—and they gotta fall right. Hopefully, Swisher is one of the first.

  3. Spracks on November 15th, 2012 12:08 am

    Is it unreasonable to hope the M’s go for Swisher and Bourn instead of Hamilton? I haven’t heard many people bring up Bourn as a potential fit for the Mariners, but I think he is, especially considering we don’t really have a leadoff hitter at this point. Not sure if we can afford both, but I would love to see it.

  4. Malcontent1 on November 15th, 2012 12:15 am

    Then what about Mark Reynolds? He could be had for relatively low trade cost, and it’s hard to imagine that his last arbitration nets him more than 7.5 million, which would be massively less than whatever Swisher signs for. Using the 600 PA adjustment, he nets 31 fewer singles than Swisher, trades 7 doubles for home runs, walks 6 more times and gets hit twice more. Nick Swisher reaches base 27 fewer times with less power than Prince Fielder and will cost less than half as much. Mark Reynolds reaches base 23 times fewer with more power than Nick Swisher and will cost 10% as much. Oh, and he’s 2 years younger with upside if he can continue to lower his strikeouts. Why aren’t we talking about him?

  5. CCW on November 15th, 2012 12:29 am

    I’m curious what folks are saying Swisher is going to get. I’d be OK with $12mm / year for 3-4 years. Anything beyond that seems really risky given his age. I worry that Swisher, like a lot of guys in the pre- and post-steroid era, is going to really decline after the age of 32. He’s 32 now, and it won’t take a lot of offensive decline, especially when combined with likely defensive decline and injuries that also come with age, for him to turn into just another mediocre hitter to add the M’s extensive collection of mediocre hitters. That said, it is just very hard to justify any free agent contract, but if you’ve got money to spend, that’s the only option of where to spend it unless you want to trade away prospects.

  6. The_Waco_Kid on November 15th, 2012 12:35 am

    Interesting arguments, Dave. I’m still not thrilled with the idea of giving Swisher 7 years/$100M, but it may be worth it to get a few good years from him. Ideally, it’d be 5 or 6 years (as discussed here: http://www.proballnw.com/article/225/point-counterpoint-nick-swisher/).

  7. Kazinski on November 15th, 2012 12:45 am

    Swisher last three seasons totaled 11.8 war.

    Fielder last three seasons totaled 12.6 war.

    Reynolds last three seasons totaled 3.1 war.

    There really isn’t much similarity between Reynolds and Swisher. Reynolds plays consistently below average defense at 3b and 1b. While Swisher is about average at first and a little bit above average at the corner outfield spots.

    There really is a huge difference. And I can’t see Reynolds beating out Seager at 3rd either. In fact I don’t even think Reynolds could beat out Smoak at 1b. Plus I happen to have it from good sources that Smoak has a new workout regime and is on track to report next spring in the best shape of his life.

  8. CCW on November 15th, 2012 1:07 am

    Seager put up 3.6 WAR last year, at the age of 25. I don’t think Reynolds is really an option…

    The problem is, it’s going to be tough for the M’s to significantly improve by adding 3 WAR players, which is what Swisher is likely to be. I’m not against it – it just feels like such a small step. They need a few superstars – 5+ WAR – to compliment Felix, if they really want to succeed. It’s just really tough to build a team full of 3 WAR players. Even the Giants had 3 elite players, in Cain, Melky and Posey. The best bet for the M’s, really, is for Ackley and/or Seager and/or Smoak and/or Montero and/or Saunders and/or Guti to break out. It’s possible. They’re all young enough and talented enough that it could happen. Combine that with a trade for Upton and one of KC’s good young bats, and then you have the talent and upside to surprise people.

  9. Pete on November 15th, 2012 1:21 am

    Dave –

    “Given the reports about the kinds of offers Swisher is getting…”

    Scoured for reports on Swisher offers, and came up empty. Can you point to sources or relay the info? Would be interested in knowing what he is seeing so far. Thanks!

    For me, Swisher is target number one because he fits our current roster so well. His flexibility to play first base allows us to pursue another outfielder as well. For me, he is step one of the offseason.

  10. terryoftacoma on November 15th, 2012 1:47 am

    I’m sure the organization will kick the tires on just about every FA. I’m sadly not convinced they will sign a major FA. It takes two sides to make an agreement and we have in the past had to overpay to get them to sign here. So I remain doubtful about signing Swisher until I see it happen.

  11. maqman on November 15th, 2012 2:55 am

    I agree with the view of terryoftacoma above. Additionally Z has stated that he doesn’t like the idea of surrendering our 12th pick in next years draft. There are trade options that make more sense. Denard Span with the Twins has the same Fangraphs WAR as Swisher and is four years younger and signed for the next two seasons for $11.25MM total, with an option year for $9MM or $.5MM buyout. We surrender prospects or players of course but I find that more acceptable than the possibility of another albatross contract for an overpriced player. Swisher will cost us $10-$20MM more than a contending team in a media heavy market. That said if Z thinks it’s worth it I’m fine with it.

  12. 9inningknowitall on November 15th, 2012 6:12 am

    I was okay with a Swisher signing before this but now i am really on board. It makes sense to get value talent like this. I just hope the Mariners dont go out and pay Hamilton anything because he is a train reck waiting to happen.

  13. stevemotivateir on November 15th, 2012 6:38 am

    This is an excellent break-down of the two. Really, it drives me crazy when people can’t look at Swisher’s OPS and figure out that he’s a better hitter than his BA suggests. I believe that is where a lot of the ‘mediocre’ labels stem from. And then of course, the price tag. Even at 7/100, it’s more bang for the buck compared to Fielder’s 9/214. A lot more bang for the buck!

    I just hope there’s a mutual interest and a deal can get worked out. I’d be quite content with the team signing Swisher and Cabrera, plus a back-up catcher. Still curious what their plans are for a utility infielder(s) and what they’ll do with Triunfel, Rodriguez, Liddi, and Carp.

  14. stevemotivateir on November 15th, 2012 6:51 am

    @maqman

    Whether you’re giving up the 12th pick for Swisher (who will likely be years away from the ML level), or trading multiple prospects (-who are likely closer to the ML level) for Span, you’re still giving something up. You can argue the difference in Salary, but you can counter that with the cost of development. Either way, you’re spending money. Why start moving pieces from the farm, which is finally near where it’s suppose to be, when a FA does the job without depleting anything? Losing the first round draft pick doesn’t deplete what’s already in place.

  15. Westside guy on November 15th, 2012 7:18 am

    Oh man, it is really hard staying away from the jokes about why Fielder is HBP so much more often…

  16. stevemotivateir on November 15th, 2012 7:38 am

    ^Funny Westy! Just mentioning it does the trick ;)

  17. Adam S on November 15th, 2012 7:42 am

    Looking at the Fan Graphs pages you linked to, Fielder is a 5-win player and Swisher is a 4-win player. That’s a real difference but it’s not a $10M/year difference.

    M’s could sign Hamilton AND Swisher for the total value of Fielder’s contract.

  18. philosofool on November 15th, 2012 7:42 am

    I’d just like to point out that the industrial chicken at Safeway is really fucked up and you get what you pay for when you buy you meat at Whole Foods. It’s completely irrelevant to this article, but Safeway chicken is more like Mark Reynolds than Nick Swisher.

  19. thurston24 on November 15th, 2012 8:03 am

    I’d much rather have Swisher than Fielder because I think Fielder is going to go the way of his father and fall off a cliff in the next few seasons. If the Mariners can get Swisher for a good price for a 3-4 year contract, I’d be happy. In fact, I may prefer that to Hamilton because of the risk involved. One player that hasn’t been linked to the Mariners that I’d like to see them pursue is Melky Cabrerra. He should be pretty cheap and a short term deal also. If the M’s got Swisher for something like 4 years at $60M and Cabrerra at 2 years at $15M, I’d be happy and like the probability of a good season in the next year with potential playoffs in 2014 if some of the really good prospects cut it.

  20. eponymous coward on November 15th, 2012 9:04 am

    It takes two sides to make an agreement and we have in the past had to overpay to get them to sign here.

    You mean like Ichiro? Oh, wait, didn’t overpay him.

    Or Beltre? Oh, wait, didn’t overpay him.

    Or Olerud? Or Boone? Or…OK, are you getting the idea now? Surprisingly enough, not every FA the M’s have signed is named “Richie Sexson” or “Carlos Silva”.

    Whether you’re giving up the 12th pick for Swisher (who will likely be years away from the ML level), or trading multiple prospects (-who are likely closer to the ML level) for Span, you’re still giving something up.

    Bingo.

    Look, this is really simple. The M’s do not as of present have a contending squad for 2013. They need to add talent. The team shouldn’t be precluding any potential method of adding talent if it makes sense financially and doesn’t do violence to the future.

    A 2013 draft pick doesn’t really help the 2013 team contend. Yes, giving one up does cost the team some in the future (though upper-to-mid first round draft picks aren’t exactly locks to be contributors), but if that’s the argument (“that draft pick is too valuable to lose”) , then you are basically saying the M’s can’t sign upmarket free agents if they have a below-.500 season, ever, since that’s usually where you end up when you win 70-75 (you usually aren’t at the top, but you’re above the teams at .500). It’s probably not a good idea to ALWAYS forfeit those draft picks, but why preclude options if it might make sense one year?

  21. MKT on November 15th, 2012 9:21 am

    “You can probably get a slightly higher quality product at Whole Foods for double the price”

    I almost never went to Whole Foods, but then I discovered that they (or at least the ones in Portland) sell Tillamook smoked cheese for $9/pound, whereas Safeway and even Fred Meyer sell it for $10/pound.

    Back to the discussion: the huge thing that Dave curiously omitted from his post was Fielder’s and Swisher’s WAR stats, so thanks Kazinski.

  22. 6-4-3 on November 15th, 2012 9:50 am

    I’d much rather have Swisher than Fielder because I think Fielder is going to go the way of his father and fall off a cliff in the next few seasons

    I don’t think this is fair to Prince. The guy has played all 162 games three of the last four years and 161 games that fourth year. He has proven he’s a durable player. Is there any evidence that fat guys go downhill faster than fit guys? Heck, Tony Gwynn still had some great years in his late 30s.

  23. Dave on November 15th, 2012 9:56 am
  24. 6-4-3 on November 15th, 2012 10:13 am

    Very interesting. Thanks for the link, Dave.

  25. Westside guy on November 15th, 2012 10:31 am

    Is there any evidence that fat guys go downhill faster than fit guys?

    Well I’m overweight, and I’m clearly just as great as I ever was. Humble too.

    Not that you’d want me on a baseball team.

    On a serious and cogent note – I’d love it if the team could get Swisher because he fits pretty much exactly in a role we need. Fielder, even without the future performance concerns, would not fit quite as well… unless you’ve completely written off Montero (DH).

  26. californiamariner on November 15th, 2012 10:37 am

    I don’t understand the people arguing that we can’t lose the 1st round pick. Do you realize it would take a lot of luck to get a player that is as productive as Swisher with that pick? There’s a solid chance whoever is picked there never makes any major league impact. That should never prevent you from signing a big name free agent.

  27. Dobbs on November 15th, 2012 10:44 am

    Dave, did Zimmerman remove catchers from that list? I imagine it’d make for a better study.

  28. stevemotivateir on November 15th, 2012 10:47 am

    @california

    It really depends on how high you’re drafting and who it is you’re targeting in free agency. But yeah, I agree. Losing a draft pick shouldn’t scare you away from a good FA acquisition.

  29. Mariners35 on November 15th, 2012 11:44 am

    Interestingly, if you do the same 600 PA exercise with Josh Hamilton, you get a “line” of 1b 96, 2b 35, 3b 3, HR 34, BB 49, IBB 11 and HBP 4. Higher singles and doubles and HR than Swish, but half the take-base-another-way of both. Hm.

    Spooky also, when looking this up, that Hamilton has exactly the same number of singles, doubles and IBB in 2012 that he did in 2011.

  30. roosevelt on November 15th, 2012 1:35 pm

    Good job Davey boy! Like to see you write more often on the US Mariner blog. I hope you are not losing interest in the M’s organization?

  31. henryv on November 15th, 2012 2:42 pm

    But the real question remains: How the blooming hell did Prince Fielder get 2 triples?

  32. heyoka on November 15th, 2012 5:22 pm

    “Yes, he’s a few years older”
    Age 32 seasons of comparable batters according to bbr

    Similar Batters
    View Similar Player Links in Pop-up
    Compare Stats to Similars
    Jason Bay (946) 0.8 WAR
    Cliff Johnson (933) -0.2
    Jose Cruz (928) 0.5
    Wally Post (927) 1.0
    Pete Incaviglia (926) 0.4
    Preston Wilson (924) 0.0
    Phil Nevin (922) 0.4
    Jesse Barfield (922) -1.3
    Leon Wagner (917) 1.4
    Oscar Gamble (913) 2.5

    avg 0.55 WAR

  33. Dave on November 15th, 2012 8:28 pm

    Baseball-Reference’s list of comparable players is completely useless.

  34. mwb on November 15th, 2012 10:33 pm

    How the blooming hell did Prince Fielder get 2 triples?

    Have you seen him run? He sure looks surprisingly fast to my untrained eye – it’s an awesome sight.

  35. Westside guy on November 16th, 2012 9:05 am

    How the blooming hell did Prince Fielder get 2 triples?

    Momentum.

  36. msfanmike on November 17th, 2012 2:39 pm

    Inertia

  37. goat on November 19th, 2012 11:34 am

    1) This article makes me believe that somewhere in a cupboard of the Cameron household is a box of top ramen packages purchased from Costco at an average cost of 30 cents each.

    2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UFc1pr2yUU

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