Fun with Numbers: Nick Swisher and Tristan Thompson

Mario's Early Years - Fun With Numbers

I’m calling on you WFNY readers: Starting in 2013, I’m hoping to roll out a consistent stats-related article for Cleveland sports on WFNY. But instead of just doing “Fun with Numbers” bit that was originally Rick’s idea, I need a catchy new name. In the past, I’ve done “The Boots” for Boot Ups and Boot Downs. But that’s not necessarily #math. So please, help me out with a new name — it could be Cleveland-y, related to a day of the week or anything. See ya next year with the winning name and a new logo.

I wanted to start today in continuing my Indians talk from yesterday. With the big Shin-Soo Choo trade done and Trevor Bauer now impacting Cleveland’s starting rotation future, what’s next? If you’ve been paying attention to all of the rumors of late, Chris Antonetti’s remaining winter plans have two final steps: 1) Sign Nick Swisher and 2) Sign a veteran free agent starter.

While the starter could be any guy such as Edwin Jackson, Shaun Marcum et al, Swisher is the clear target for a RF/DH position for the Tribe. Choo’s gone and Drew Stubbs is in, but another outfield role remains for the taking. With Josh Hamilton’s signing with the Angels, Swisher is one of the key offensive free agents remaining. But why exactly is Swisher so valuable? As expected, let’s go to the math.

This table breaks down Swisher’s past eight seasons along with the last eight years of the best WAR player on the Indians:

2005Swisher – 24OAK1313221740.2360.3220.4460.7681021.4
2006Swisher – 25OAK1572435950.2540.3720.4930.8641253.2
2007Swisher – 26OAK1503622780.2620.3810.4550.8361264.1
2008Swisher – 27CHW1532124690.2190.3320.4100.74393-0.5
2009Swisher – 28NYY1503529820.2490.3710.4980.8691221.7
2010Swisher – 29NYY1503329890.2880.3590.5110.8701293.4
2011Swisher – 30NYY1503023850.2600.3740.4490.8221201.5
2012Swisher – 31NYY1483624930.2720.3640.4730.8371263.5
2005Sizemore – 22CLE1583722810.2890.3480.4840.8321236.4
2006Sizemore – 23CLE1625328760.290.3750.5330.9071336.5
2007Sizemore – 24CLE1623424780.2770.3900.4620.8521235.3
2008Sizemore – 25CLE1573933900.2680.3740.5020.8761335.8
2009Choo – 26CLE1563820860.3000.3940.4890.8831365.2
2010Choo – 27CLE1443122900.3000.4010.4840.8851475.6
2011Cabrera – 25CLE1513225920.2730.3320.4600.7921214.6
2012Santana – 26CLE1432718760.2520.3650.4200.7851223.7

(Baseball-Reference lists a WAR of 8+ being MVP-like, 5+ being All-Star worthy and 2+ being a solid starter.)

Yes, Swisher is on the wrong side of 30 now. He has had several disappointing sub 2.0-WAR seasons. He also has never been good enough to be the best player on any of the past 8 Indians teams — let alone what could happen to his career downswing in the next 4-5 seasons. But he’s still very consistent, solid and about as good of a power hitter the Indians conceivably could attract to come to Cleveland in free agency.

In the past seven years, Swisher has played at least 148 games. There aren’t many Indians at all that have remained that healthy that consistently. Over the past four years, since his disappointing 2008, he’s posted at least 30 doubles, 23 homers, 82 RBI, .249/.359/.473. Again, all these stats are just to show that even in bad years, Swisher has been pretty darn good.

As I said before on Twitter, Swisher is notable for having 20+ homers in each of the last eight seasons. After doing some research, there are only 19 guys who have 20+ homers in each of the past four years (new Indian Mark Reynolds is one of them). The list of guys who have done it in 8 straight entering 2013? Just 7 guys: Swisher, Albert Pujols, Alfonso Soriano, David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, Miguel Cabrera and Paul Konerko.

In 2012, both Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis tied for the Cleveland team-lead with a 3.7 WAR. Santana’s offensive numbers — when excluding steals — were more impressive, so that’s why I included him above. Swisher was just behind at 3.5. That’s as close as he ever was to being as good as the best possible Indians hitter in WAR. That’s still an intriguing yet nearly unattainable comparison model, so the fact again that he’s been good enough to be in the conversation is quite impressive.

Overall, I like Swisher. I think he’s an accomplished slugger who perfectly fits the lineup needs of this team. Despite the occasional down season — mostly because of defense — he’s always been solid offensively as you can see by the peripheral numbers above. A combination of him plus Stubbs would be better than Choo + Duncan/Carrera of 2012. I’m OK with an up to $44 million/4-year offer here. But we’ll see if he gets more from some other team.


The Cleveland Cavaliers have been a disappointing 5-18 thus far in 2012-13. You can clearly blame the injuries, the constant back-to-back games and more. But I think most fans would have expected a better record through the first 23 games of this year, which most would consider to be year 2 of the rebuild post-LeBron.

Notably, however, one of the punching bags on Twitter by Cavs fans has been PF/C Tristan Thompson. The No. 4 pick in the potentially historically weak draft of 2011 (outside of Kyrie Irving), Thompson hasn’t improved to quite the level that many fans likely were expecting. For the unfamiliar fan, it would seem his peripheral stats indicate he’s still doing OK, especially for a 21-year-old kid. But he’s undoubtedly the most polarizing player on the team. So let’s go to the stats to figure out why.

Per game


Per 36 minutes


Advanced stats


Expanded shooting stats

At RimAt RimAt Rim3-9 Ft3-9 Ft3-9 Ft10+ Ft10+ Ft10+ Ft

(%FGA = percentage of overall FGA in that shooting range; A PG = attempts per game in that shooting range)

As a little bit of advanced NBA stats 101, an average PER is 15.0, an average WS/48 is 0.100 and the average ORtg/DRtg should be about 100. The most unfamiliar of these stats are probably the expanded shooting details, via the awesome I did a similar WFNY breakdown a couple years back when comparing the various offensive lives of Troy Murphy, J.J. Hickson, Andre Stoudemire, Antawn Jamison and Troy Murphy amidst various trade rumors.

From a scouting perspective, there’s no doubt that Tristan continues to struggle offensively. That’s reflected in his continued poor Offensive Ratings per an estimated 100 possessions on the court. He has very bad positioning, looks awkward with the ball (even next to the rim) and still hasn’t really developed a go-to move.

Thus, unsurprisingly, the elephant in the room when it comes to Tristan’s detailed statistics is his percentage of shots blocked (%Blkd). This season, through the first 21 games, he has had 19% of his shots blocked. No one else with more than 210 minutes (Tristan had 632 at this point) had more than 16.8% of their shots blocked. Thompson ranks fifth in total number of shots blocked (32) despite averaging less than 10 shots per game. The NBA average for %Blkd is 7.5%. It’s not like he was much better in 2011-12 either. And this all occurs despite the fact he continues to average more than 50% of his shots at the rim.

His shooting away from the rim is also bordering on un-startable territory. In his career, according to HoopData, Thompson is just a 27.9% shooter away from the rim. For comparison’s sake, J.J. Hickson is a 34.4% shooter on these shots and Dwight Howard is at 40.5% since the start of 2007 (HoopData’s birth). Tristan’s poor percentage is a combination of bad shot selection and poor shooting ability.

Then on an overall production standpoint, his per-36 minute numbers have dropped this year — not necessarily obvious to the naked eye, since he’s averaging 6.2 more minutes per game — and his PER is down. So when looking toward the future for the second major piece added by the Cavs in their new rebuild, this has to be incredible concerning.

In my mind, Tristan continues to have a limited ceiling. But he doesn’t turn 22 until March, clearly is an above-average rebounder and block-shot guy defensively, and thus will continue to carve out a niche in the NBA. If guys like Desagana Diop and Ryan Hollins can have prolonged NBA careers, then Tristan will certainly. His upside is maybe being a defense-only PF/C coupled with an All-Star quality offensive big man on a potential playoff team.

While Tristan looks awful alongside Anderson Varejao (who’s a better scorer, but nowhere near elite), rookie Tyler Zeller and Samardo Samuels, his deficiencies would not be so obvious while playing with some better frontcourt options offensively. He’s certainly having a bad season — and a disappointing sophomore year after a promising yet mixed-bag freshman campaign. It’ll be interesting to see if he begins developing soon, as otherwise Cleveland fans could keep turning on him and by default, coach Byron Scott.


(Joshua Gunter, The Plain Dealer)

  • Thomas Pestak

    Great look at Tristan’s BA stat. Offensively he has no skills. Lots of people talk about his positioning and the way he has no creativity when finishing etc etc. But I think the root of the problem is that he has very bad hands. I haven’t heard many people say this but it permeates every aspect of his game. He blows about 3-5 rebounds a game because he gets a finger or 2 on the ball but can’t reel it in. He gets blocked so much on seemingly uncontested dunks because his “gather” is so ludicrously long. I believe this is usually because the ball is juggling around in his fingers/hands and he waits until he has total control of the ball before he takes off. He’s terrible at grabbing loose balls as well. In the elbow he threw two nights ago he was frustrated because it was the 3rd possession in a row where he had his hand on the ball and didn’t control it. Here is Tristan’s shot chart.

  • mgbode

    “Mathletics” – my favorite by far. simple, concise, but gets the point across.

    “The Winning Path through Math”
    “The Wrath of Math”

    Or more abstract/witty:
    “Counting to twenty with your shoes on”
    “Constant attempts to be coefficient but not always rational”
    “She was acute, but now Polygon”

    Or boring:
    “The right angle”
    “Circle Logic”

  • mgbode

    to combine my favorite 2 from above…

    Mathletics: The constants attempt to be coefficient but not always rational.

  • JacobWFNY

    Oh wow didn’t know Basketball-Reference had detailed shot location stats now too, just like HoopData.

    And you make a great point about his hands. You can see it in the actual film every game, but there’s no clear way to identify that in the stats. Maybe TOV% captures some of it, but certainly not all.

  • mgbode

    on Swisher – he is the obvious best fit for our needs. but, there will be plenty of other teams that feel the same way I think.

    on TT – the biggest disappointment is that he hasn’t seemed to improve from last year. many of us were hoping some lightswitch might have turned on or that we could point to something specifically as an improved area. still waiting.

  • JacobWFNY

    Here’s a neat comparison about the first two seasons of jump shots only for Thompson and Hickson, via those shooting stats on B-R:

    FGM-FGA per 36 minutes = 1.0-3.9
    FG% = 26.2%
    Assisted % = 50.0%

    FGM-FGA per 36 minutes = 1.2-3.9
    FG% = 30.7%
    Assisted % = 87.5%

    So they’re attempting nearly the same number of jump shots per 36 minutes. Hickson was slightly better (+4.5%), mostly because 70/80 of his FGM were assisted. For Thompson, that number is 30/60.

    Maybe there should be more designed plays for Tristan to get into a rhythm? Maybe his shooting and shot selection on these jumpers will eventually improve (Hickson is at 47.3% this year on jump shots)?

  • JK

    This is much too long & way to many numbers so I didn’t ready it but I just wanted to say that that “Mario’s Fun with Numbers” game was, in fact, not fun. Whatsoever.

  • CB Everett

    Jacob, I don’t know a ton about WAR, but isn’t it adjusted for each position to reflect the differences between say a C (Santana) vs. CF (Sizemore) or vs. RF (Swisher) etc? If so, comparisons for WAR above would be a little apples to oranges. Setting aside sabermetics-like analyses, if you look at Swisher’s raw stats, like you said, remarkably consistent over the past 8 years; great durability; hard-nosed player; great clubhouse guy; etc–I think he would be a great fit here.

  • CB Everett

    I suspect you’re right. If Swisher’s a great fit for us (which I think he is), then chances are he’ll have plenty of other suitors (likely with thicker wallets).

  • Steve

    How would that make comparisons apples to oranges. You make positional adjustments so you can make better comparisons.

  • CB Everett

    That’s what I was asking him because I didn’t know. If in fact a Santana WAR can be compared to a Swisher WAR straight up? Or if a good hitting C like Santana’s WAR is inflated because of positional adjustments (catchers are less productive hitters generally) and can’t be compared to say a RF–and that it’s only meant to be compared to other catchers?

  • Patrick Elder

    A 2nd year project PF is struggling on offense?! No way!

    Seriously, though, offensive statistics aren’t going to encompass what Tristan brings to the team right now. He is not good on offense. Everyone knows this. What he does bring is rebounding, and with that second-chance points.

    Also, you conveniently didn’t mention his defense, which is very good. At 21-years-old he’s in the top third of the league in defense rating, which doesn’t even encompass the fact that the Cavs’ opponents are shooting a whopping 5.5% worse on FGAs when Tristan’s on the floor.

    You can already see the improvement he’s made after working with Big Z on offense for, what, maybe a couple weeks now? If that? I’m not going to sit here and claim his offensive problems will all magically go away, but I think it’s reasonable to assume he will fix some of these problems. He’ll probably never be a good shooter (and I think you vastly overstated this as a problem. How many mid-range shots has he taken? Maybe 10 on the whole season?), but his game will develop.

    He doesn’t need to be an offensive force. Just an adequate finisher, which I think he will be in time. Just be patient. Clevelanders have been spoiled by Kyrie and LeBron’s rapid ascension to stardom.

  • JacobWFNY

    CB — From what I’m aware, WAR is not position-adjusted in that way. Certainly the various impacts you have defensively in terms of run saved can positively or negatively affect your overall WAR. But I don’t think two perfectly equal performers at LF or SS would be different, assuming they produce equally in offense, defense, baserunning, etc.

    Still, great point about his consistency. That’s the main thing I was trying to get across with the table. WAR just is the end-all-be-all for many sabermetricians out there.

  • JacobWFNY

    Pat — Great stat about the shooting with Tristan on/off the court. Wish I could have explored that a little more too for this piece. As shown by the 108 DRtg in both years, he’s clearly quite good. So that’s why I mentioned he’ll continue to carve out a niche in the league for a long time. He’s way more skilled than a guy like Ryan Hollins, at least.

    Take a look at my comment below to Tom Pestak. He gave me another site to look at for jump shots on the season. You can see how Tristan’s first two years compare to Hickson’s. Not shockingly dissimilar.

  • BenRM

    That’s what bothers me. He looks like the same player from last year. On a rare occasion I’ll think, “oh that’s new.” But it was just a trick of the light.

  • Jaker

    “Fun” with numbers? That last part was more like “depression” with numbers. Yes he’s only 21, but he really hasn’t looked good at all. I will remain optimistic, but he better start to improve.

    On Swish, I say go for it. He’s going to be overpaid, but a switch hitter in the middle of this lineup would do us well. Plus, the stability would be nice. And cal, me crazy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a better season than Choo does

  • mgbode

    dare we dream? they reportedly wanted an OF and Choo is now gone. Ruben Tejada shows some promise, but I would think that they could make room for Asdrubal (is Daniel Murphy really their 2B? I like Ike Davis, but Asdrubal is a big upgrade over any of these 3 guys).

    also, their BP stinks. so, Chris Perez would have value here.


    Asdrubal and Perez
    Dickey (if we can work out a 4yr deal with him first)
    Alonzo Harris (not a top level prospect, but he’s blazing fast and worth a flier)

  • JacobWFNY

    Jaker — Yeah, that’s the problem with the name “Fun with Numbers.” When I delve into stats, it’s way too often to research things that aren’t so “fun.” That’s the Catch-22 with being a Cleveland sports writer. So if you have any other more creative name suggestions, I’m all ears!

    Agree with your points though entirely about TT. When accounting for health though, the Choo-Swisher argument is kind of interesting. Last 5 years of stats (since Choo became a regular) averaged over 162 games :

    Choo — total = 634 games played (3.92 full seasons)
    39 doubles, 21 homers, 89 RBI, 21/28 SB
    177 hits, 81 walks, 148 strikeouts
    .291/.384/.471 with 136 OPS+ and 5.0 WAR

    Swisher — total = 751 games played (4.64 full seasons)
    34 doubles, 28 homers, 91 RBI, 2/5 SB
    147 hits, 89 walks, 144 strikeouts
    .259/.360/.469 with 118 OPS+ and 2.5 WAR

    Yes, this includes Swisher’s abnormally bad 2008 season. But still, you can see how Choo is a all-around better contributor — when healthy. That was a huge question mark in ’08 and ’11. Yet, we’ve had zero production from LF all this time. Stubbs will be OK, and Choo was going to walk anyway eventually, so overall, Swisher + Stubbs is just fine with me.

  • JacobWFNY

    mgbode — Call me crazy, but as much as I like Dickey (and trust me, I do, since he’s a great story and he had a phenomenal season preceded by two good ones), I think that’s a bad deal for the Indians. Cabrera could net us someone way younger with much more upside. Those are at least my initial reactions because at the end of the day, Dickey is 38 years old and 4-year/$60+ deal is incredibly risky. So yes, I think the Mets are playing a lil bit of hardball with him, but I think it partially has to do with the fact no one expects him to maintain this level of production for much longer — despite the fact he already is a late bloomer and is a knuckleballer.

  • mgbode

    pretty sure I’m the crazy one with that deal, and I’m okay with that (more later). and hmm, I saw 4yr/$48 at some point (maybe that’s what the Mets offered?). an extra $3mil per year.

    i’m not worried about his age, but am worried about consistency. knucklers tend to really struggle with that in the past (even Wakefield). perhaps we should be targeting a better prospect to get back with that deal too? could we get Gorski or Fulmer?

    at the end of the day though, to go Bauer then Dickey (or reverse) in the rotation would be ridiculously fun as a fan. and, at this point, I am rooting for fun (to make the Tribe better too, yes, but fun is part of it).

  • Jaker

    Agree 100% about everything, need to sign Swish first though. Also, was Reynolds signed to play 1st or 3rd? I was kind of hoping Chiz will be full time starter this year.

    How about “Cleveland by the numbers” and show a picture of jerseys or yard lines or something?