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February 16, 2012 posted by Patrick DiCaprio

Debate Me: Nick Swisher or Jay Bruce

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Nick Swisher, NYY

This week Tom Saucke and Al Lang debate whether you should prefer Nick Swisher or Jay Bruce. It is a lot closer than you might think:

Al Lang:

Nick Swisher is a better fantasy value than Jay Bruce

Over the last three years, Jay Bruce has a .257/.336/.479 line with 79 HRs and has averaged 70 runs and 75 RBIs a season. Bruce has never scored 85+ runs or knocked in 100 batters. Bruce has the 25th most HRs, 80th most runs, 63rd most RBIs and 157th best average since 2009.

During that same span, Nick Swisher has a .267/.368/.486 line with 81 HRs and has averaged 85 runs and 85 RBIs. He has scored 85+ runs once and never posted 90+ RBIs.

Jay Bruce, according to Mock Draft Central, is the 39th player off the board; Nick Swisher is the 121st player.

Of course, Bruce had a phenomenal year in 2011, hitting 32 HRs and driving in 97, while Swisher posted his lowest HR total of the past three seasons. Still Bruce’s average (.256), runs scored (84) and SBs (8) were pedestrian at best.

Bruce reached 30+ HRs for the first time because he began to hit the ball in the air more: he increased his FB% by three points, while hitting less line drives. When he posted a totally useable .281 average in 2010, Bruce had a 20.1% line drive rate and 43.7% FB rate (the numbers were 16.8% and 46.7%, respectively last season).

In addition, Bruce has a .292 career BABIP. In his one solid average season, his BABIP was .334. When he hit .256 last year, his BABIP was .297. Even if we give him a slight boost in BABIP (perhaps to .310), he’s a long shot to bat better than .270.

In addition, his HR/FB rate doesn’t leave much room for an increase in HRs. If we give Bruce a 17% HR/FB rate in 2012, it’d put him in the upper echelon of sluggers. Only 16 players have a HR/FB rate above 17% over the last two seasons. Basically, if Bruce continues to hit the same amount of fly balls, predicting significantly more HRs is a poor choice (and even if he starts hitting way more fly balls, his batting average will suffer considerably).

When 2012 is done, Bruce will have a .265 average, 32 HRs, 87 runs and 90 RBIs, i.e. he is who he was in 2011. While his HR total last season was tied for 12th, his runs scored was tied for 38th, his RBIs were tied for 21st and his average was barely in the top 130. If you’re playing in a HR-only league, Bruce is a top 30 player, otherwise you’re going to be disappointed in his year-end totals.

Meanwhile, Nick Swisher, going nearly 100 picks later, had a totally normal, pedestrian, useable 2011: .260, 23 HRs, 81 runs, 85 RBIs. Quite the opposite from Bruce, Swisher hit fewer fly balls and more line drives. If Swisher hits a few more fly balls (like he did the previous two seasons) in 2012, he should return to 27+ HRs (he hit 29 in his first two years with the Yankees). In addition, with his ability to get on base, his runs should match Bruce’s and with that Yankee line-up, he could come close in RBIs. Swisher will likely hit .260, add 27 HRs, 85 runs and 88 RBIs.

He’ll lose to Bruce by a handful of HRs and a tiny bit in batting average – but you can make up for that by taking a better player where you would have taken Bruce and then taking Swisher in the 11th round. In reality, Swisher is Bruce without the glam – don’t pay for glam.

Some might say that Bruce is Swisher with upside – however where will that upside come from? It will be difficult for him to hit many more HRs and, if he does, it will likely result in his average cratering. Sure, 100 runs/RBIs is a possibility, but he hasn’t done it before. You are paying for Bruce’s upside. It’s not being discounted, whereas it’s just as likely he looks like poor, pedestrian 11th rounder Nick Swisher.

Tom Saucke:

Let’s play a word association game.

Jay Bruce, CIN

When I say Jay Bruce, how do you respond? Some cookie cutter answers would include upside, plus power, and potential. Everything centers on what his tools make us believe that he can be. No one is quite sure when, or if, Bruce will ever become a 40+ home run hitter. It seems like many fantasy managers would rather be a year early rather than a year late.

Let’s apply the same principle to Nick Swisher. I reckon most people would use words like consistent, mediocre, or benefits from hitting in a good lineup.

If we’re forced to choose between the two, however, it’s a difficult decision for 31 seconds…or the actual run time of this ESPN Sunday Night Baseball Commercial. You want Jay Bruce and it’s all because of age and upside.

Looking at MockDraftCentral.com’s latest ADP Report, we see that Jay Bruce’s ADP is currently 41 and ranks 13th amongst outfielders while Nick Swisher’s numbers are 123 and 32nd, respectively. Bruce is sandwiched between Carl Crawford and Hunter Pence and Swisher finds himself between Jason Heyward and Nick Markakis. While the difference is noticeable, it’s pretty clear (in broader terms) that outfield depth isn’t what it once was. Even players at the top such as Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson have serious question marks about regressions in speed and power, respectively. With a gap of approximately 82 selections, we should first decide if Bruce is actually the better player.

When you glance at their numbers, you may be surprised at how productive Nick Swisher has been comparatively over the last two seasons:

Player Year PA R HR RBI SB BA
Jay Bruce 2010 573 80 25 70 5 .281
2011 664 84 32 97 8 .256
Nick Swisher 2010 635 91 29 89 1 .288
2011 635 81 23 85 2 .260

 

Bruce’s production increased from 2010 to 2011 with a 15.9% increase in his total plate appearances.  Growth is growth, however, and the most encouraging number is his colossal jump in RBI. His BA poses the only cause for concern.

Swisher, on the other hand, regressed in all major categories. The typical logic on draft day for Nick Swisher revolves around the “NYY” next to his name. He’s going to get his chances to create runs and did a good job of that in 2011 out of the #6 spot. The problem with Swisher is something that he really can’t control. He’s 31 years old and has begun the prototypical decline out of his prime years.

Jay Bruce hasn’t even turned 25 yet and continues to improve. The only blemish on his 2011 season, as mentioned above, was the 25-point decrease in his batting average. The biggest factor was a 41-point drop in his BABIP from 2010 to 2011. Bruce’s line drive rate went from 20.1% to 16.8% in this span and his fly ball rate jumped from 43.7% to 46.7%.

Even though his FB/HR ratio increased slightly from 15.3% to 16.0%, it isn’t enough to make sense of his BABIP collapse. Simply put, Bruce popped a lot of balls up and paid the price. If we assume that his 2010 season was better than average and his 2011 worse than average, we could realistically peg Bruce to normalize his line drive and fly ball rates to 18% and 45%, respectively. This small difference could easily push his BABIP back to .305 which would, in turn, see his average jump back to .265-.270. While his .256 BA in 2011 might look ugly on face value, he really isn’t far from being the .270 hitter that his skills project.

The biggest reason to justify Jay Bruce in round 4 compared to Nick Swisher in round 10 is completely tied to the notion that Bruce will continue to get better and Swisher will continue to get worse.  Realistically speaking, my projections for the two players in 2012 are:

Player R HR RBI SB BA
Jay Bruce 92 32 98 8 .270
Nick Swisher 84 24 86 1 .257

 

There’s no question that Bruce is the better player. The bigger question in this debate almost seems to be whether or not it’s worth it to select Jay Bruce so far ahead of Nick Swisher.

To break this down, we examine the 18 outfielders between the two players and filter out every one that doesn’t match their skill set. For the sake of this discussion, it makes no sense to compare the likes of Brett Gardner and Michael Bourn to either Bruce or Swisher as they are completely different players.  You’re targeting a type that will put up an 80 R, 80 RBI, 22 HR, .255 BA floor with room for improvement.  With that said, the only players that merit inclusion in the argument are listed below with their 2012 projections and current ADP.

Player ADP R HR RBI SB BA
Jay Bruce 41 92 32 98 8 .270
Hunter Pence 45 95 25 106 12 .286
Nelson Cruz 50 74 29 81 11 .276
Alex Gordon 62 95 21 80 13 .288
B.J. Upton 67 88 22 83 40 .251
Adam Jones 75 81 25 89 13 .281
Corey Hart 90 80 27 80 8 .275
Lance Berkman 92 90 25 95 2 .290
Jayson Werth 99 86 24 87 17 .254
Jason Heyward 106 81 21 85 12 .269
Nick Swisher 123 84 24 86 1 .257

So, does Jay Bruce justify his ADP? My answer is yes although I tend to go with the numbers and favor Hunter Pence straight up. If everyone on this list has a great season for their skill set, how many are capable of hitting 35 HR? Bruce and Nelson Cruz appear to be the only likely candidates. What about 100-RBI potential?  Bruce, Cruz, and Lance Berkman seem to fit the bill. The point is, there are a lot of guys who are capable of hitting 25 HR, driving in 80, scoring 80 runs, and hitting somewhere between .255 and .275.  Only two players on this list really have the potential to give you 35/100/100 and one has the hamstrings of a 70-year-old man.

Jay Bruce, at 24 years old, is a no brainer over Nick Swisher.  Don’t get me wrong, Nick Swisher is a nice fantasy player and actually has had sneaky production over the last few years.  Bruce’s upside is utterly impossible to ignore.  If you’re drafting him 40th overall, you’re only pegging him for 32/90/90 anyway.   Everything else is a bonus.

 

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