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Nick Swisher: The Indians OBP Solution

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
So the Indians have not been playing well this season, and in particular the offense has ranged mostly from average to putrid on any given night. There are plenty of ways to exemplify the pain that is watching this current iteration of the Indians’ lineup, but the easiest way to visualize the offensive struggles is the table below (stats and records current through April 28):

Team
OBP
MLB Rank
Record
Indians
.297
20 (Tie)
6-13
Rangers
.297
20 (Tie)
7-13
Nationals
.297
20 (Tie)
8-13
Reds
.296
23
10-10
White Sox
.295
24
8-9
Twins
.293
25
9-11
Angels
.291
26
9-11
Mariners
.287
27
9-11
Phillies
.278
28
8-13
Brewers
.271
29
4-17
Pirates
.270
30
11-10











There is a lot that goes into being a winning baseball club besides on base percentage, but to steal a phrase from ESPN’s Keith Law: OBP is life, and life is OBP.  It’s not exactly surprising that there’s just one (barely) winning record out of the bottom eleven teams ranked by OBP.

So maybe the Cleveland Indians are struggling to score runs (they’re 25th in MLB with 71 runs scored) because  they lack right handed power, or maybe they need some more fiery personalities in the locker room to light a fire under everyone’s ass. But the simplest, and in this case the best, explanation is that they’re just making too many outs.

Of course, the traditional “it’s early” caveat still applies here. The Indians’ team OBP will improve some just by virtue of having better luck on batted balls. A few guys are bound to see some positive regression in their walk rate. The Indians finished tied for 11th in OBP in 2014 with a .317 mark, and they have two solid OBP anchors in Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley. But even factoring in some organic improvement, adding a jolt of OBP to a lineup that regularly features Mike Aviles and Jose Ramirez batting second can only help.

Fortunately, the Indians may have a much-need shot of OBP soon in the form of Nick Swisher. Before the disaster that was last season, Swisher was an OBP machine. He posted a .341 OBP in his first year with the Indians and he carries a career .353 mark even when factoring in his abysmal 2014. Any team in Major League Baseball would benefit from adding a potential .340-plus OBP guy to the lineup, and the Indians are no exception.

Of course, there are no guarantees anymore when it comes to Nick Swisher. Having knee surgery is a concerning development for any player in his mid-thirties; having surgery on both knees without any discernable reason for the surgeries other than “chronic knee discomfort” is even more ominous. The reports from Swisher’s rehab assignment are positive thus far, but it’s entirely possible that Swisher’s health will keep him from being a contributor to the club.

But the opportunity is there for him. One of the (very few) nice developments so far this season is that Brandon Moss has been able to play right field most games. The impression was that after undergoing a serious surgery and rehabilitation on a torn hip labrum, Moss have been relegated to designated hitter/first base duties, at least at the beginning of the season. Moss’ ability to play the outfield has opened up the designated hitter slot, and while Ryan Raburn is off to a hot start and David Murphy seems like a really swell guy, neither brings the OBP potential of Swisher.

Whether or not Swisher can play up to the level his four year, $56 million contract calls for is immaterial at this point; the money is a sunk cost. But Swisher doesn’t have to be the same player he was with the Yankees to help the Indians. The current iteration of the Indians has a particular deficiency that Swisher can play a big role in alleviating. If Swisher can return to the lineup with his signature OBP skills still intact, it would be a nice foothold for the Tribe to use as they climb out of their early hole.
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