Will the Real Nick Swisher Please Stand Up?

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Jul 11, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians designated hitter Nick Swisher (33) celebrates after hitting a two run home run during the fifth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

After two less than spectacular seasons, can Nick Swisher finally live up to expectations?

Things have been better for Nick Swisher. After nine successful seasons at the big league level split between stops in Oakland, Chicago, and New York, he came to Cleveland in the winter prior to the start of the 2013 season amid lofty expectations. Perhaps those expectations got the best of Swisher as he limps his way into 2015.

In the nine seasons before committing to the Indians, Swisher was an above average player with all around decent skills. He could hit for power and get on base, posting a .256/.361/.467 slash line and 118 OPS+ with 209 homers and 673 RBI. Throw in the fact that Swisher is an alumnus of The Ohio State University and there was a lot to like about the four-year deal he signed.

However, injuries and poor performance have changed the narrative completely. Rather than putting the finishing touches on a successful career, a victory lap for lack of a better term, Swisher is simply trying to hold on. He implied just as much in a recent interview.

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"“I feel great, man,” Swisher said. “I feel really good. We started running this week, so every week, it just continues to keep getting better.“I just miss playing. I miss diving into second base, skinning up my forearms. I miss running into the right-field wall. There’s just a lot of things I miss about the game, and I really realized that after sitting at home when you’re all bandaged up and can’t do anything.”"

That is not a player looking to make an impact in upcoming season. That is a player simply looking to make a positive contribution after so many failures and disappointments in such a short period of time. Anyone who thinks Nick Swisher has enjoyed collecting paychecks is clearly mistaken and Swisher’s words indicate that. The past two seasons have been torturous.

It’s no secret that 2013 and 2014 were hard to watch if you were a fan of Nick Swisher. He clearly looked like a player in decline and the stats backed that up. In his age 32 and 33 seasons, Swisher saw his strikeout percentage increase to 24%, a career worst, while his walk rate dipped below for only the second time in his career. Not only that, but the drastic decline in power production was alarming. For his career, Swisher had averaged a home run once every 20 at bats. In two seasons in Cleveland, that has dropped to one home run every 30 at bats to go along with a .386 slugging percentage.

But, with two years remaining on a four-year contract, is there any chance that Swisher might regain some resemblance of the player he once was; the player the Indians expected to see when they signed him?

No one is asking Nick Swisher to hit 30 homer runs and drive in 100 runs. That ship has long since sailed away. The truth of the matter is Swisher was never going to be that player and was miscast as a clean up hitter in his first season in Cleveland. However, with the emergence of players like Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, and even Jason Kipnis, Swisher would fit nicely in the sixth or seventh spots in what looks to be a solid lineup.

The addition of Brandon Moss in another huge piece of the puzzle. With Moss in the middle of the lineup, along with the aforementioned players filling out around him, this should help take pressure off of Swisher to be something he is not. Instead of focusing on home runs and power, Swisher can focus on things like timely hitting with runners on base, moving runners over, picking up the guys ahead of him when they fail. These are all things that a 34-year-old Nick Swisher can do and probably do well.

Ultimately though, the success or failure of Nick Swisher’s 2015 season will be determined by his health. If he can stay on the field with any sort of consistency there is reason to believe he can still be an effective player making contributions on a nightly basis. Because he legitimately gives a damn, he’s going to continually try his best. The talent is still there, somewhere. Whether his body will hold up is a different story.

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