Can Swisher Rebound in 2014?

After a surprising 2013 Cleveland Indians season the organization has higher expectations for 2014 than any season dating back to 2008. The Indians and their fans will expect a playoff team and World Series contender. For the month of October, we’ll look at the how the Indians became a contender, but most importantly, How Do the Indians Reach the Next Level?

With the Cleveland Cavaliers starting their 2013-14 season this week, a lot of focus is on new Cavs big men Andrew Bynum and Anthony Bennett.  It will be important for the two newcomers to stay healthy and to dominate the paint as the Cavs talented, young backcourt makes plays on the perimeter.  Bynum and Bennett must score and rebound for the Cavs to have any kind of legitimate chance this year.  Ironically, however, it is not either of those two post players who must grab the most important rebound in Cleveland sports over the next year.

Indians first baseman Nick Swisher needs to rebound in 2014 more than anyone if the Tribe is to have a chance in the Central Division race next season.  Back in January, Swisher signed the most lucrative free agent contract in Indians history as the team inked him to a $56 million contract that includes a $14 million vesting option for 2017.  If the option is achieved, the contract would make Swisher the highest paid player in Indians history.

With that kind of money comes a certain amount of pressure and Swisher seemed to let it get the best of him for much of 2013.  The former Ohio State Buckeye batted a pedestrian .246 with 22 homeruns and a career-low 63 RBI for the season.  He posted his second-worst statistics since his rookie year in homeruns, walks, batting average, slugging, OPS, total bases and on base percentage.  Most of those stats were only “bettered” by his woeful 2008 season with the Chicago White Sox.

“I’m one of those guys who puts a lot of pressure on themselves,” Swisher said of his contract in a Paul Hoynes article back in July.  “You want to live up to that.  You don’t want to let anyone down.  I think that was probably half my battle.  I was worrying so much about that and I forgot about going out there and playing the game you love.”

Swisher might have felt like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he kept smiling through the tough times early on.  Midway through the month of August, Swisher was sporting a .238 batting average with just 12 homeruns and 37 RBI.  Those are certainly not the numbers desired from a man who was hitting cleanup, but the Indians fans generally gave Swisher a pass.  Tribe fans seemed to look past his poor numbers simply because of Swisher’s smile, his consistent use of the word ‘bro’, and his hand signing of ‘O-H-I-O’ whenever he did do something well.  Clevelanders seemed to be generally ok with the team paying $56 million to the most expensive cheerleader in history.

“Coming over here, and being in the four hole, I felt like I had to hit 40 home runs and this and that,” Swisher said. “I don’t know if I’m capable of hitting 40 home runs.  Maybe trying to play outside my game has been kind of my downfall a little bit.”

Swisher’s down-season came somewhat out of nowhere, as the 32 year old switch hitter has been remarkably consistent throughout his 10 year career.  He has basically stayed between the .260-.275 range in batting average, with a couple of deviations from the norm in both directions.  The same goes for RBI’s, where Swish has stayed consistently between 75 and 90 almost every season. 

One excuse for his early season decline could be an injury that seemed to hamper him throughout the first few months of his campaign.  Swisher injured his left shoulder in late-April/early-May that caused him to miss some time, just as the Indians were getting hot.  The injury flared up again in mid-June and it’s possible that the pain lingered deep into the summer as well.

It wasn’t all dark days and rainclouds for Swisher, however, as the veteran got hot when his team needed him the most down the stretch run to the playoffs.  Over his final 40 games, Swisher—now batting in the second spot of the lineup—posted a .269 batting average with 10 homeruns, 26 RBI and a .506 slugging percentage.  Not surprisingly, Swisher’s increase in productivity resulted in a lot of Cleveland victories, as the Tribe played to an outstanding 27-13 record over those 40 games and stormed into the postseason as the first wild card team.

“This game came put you on top of the mountain and it can put you down in the gutter,” Swisher said.  “You have to take the good with the bad.  I know what type of player I am.  I’ve proved it every year I’ve been in the big leagues.  Sometimes you have a little down year, but if we win and I don’t do as well as I would like, I don’t care because it’s all about winning.”

Looking ahead to 2014, Swisher could see some changes in his role as he looks to bounce back from his worst season in half of a decade.  With the Indians perhaps in search of a legitimate cleanup hitter—a piece of the puzzle that most would agree is needed—Swisher could find himself in a new spot both in the lineup and perhaps in the field.  While the Tribe will keep all options open, acquiring a new first baseman or designated hitter to bat fourth does not seem out of the question, and such a move would likely push Swisher to right field and spell the end of days for 2013 regular Drew Stubbs in the Tribe outfield.  A move made in the DH role could push Carlos Santana into more time at first base, as 2013 breakout player Yan Gomes will likely get the majority of the time at catcher, thus moving Swisher back to the outfield as well. 

Regardless of where Swisher plays in the field, he is NOT a second-hole hitter and needs to be moved back into the middle of the Tribe lineup where he can drive in runs.  This will require a turnaround on his part, as the slugger will need to return to form for it to make sense…and the Indians need the move to make sense if they want another taste of the postseason next year.


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