JAWS and the 2021 Hall of Fame Ballot: One-and-Dones, Part 2

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2021 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Earlier in this series, I profiled 2021 Hall of Fame candidates Tim Hudson and Barry Zito, who together made up two-thirds of the “Big Three” starters who helped the Moneyball-era A’s make four straight postseason appearances from 2000-03 despite their shoestring budgets. Inevitably, the economic realities of playing in Oakland forced general manager Billy Beane to trade away Hudson and Mark Mulder, the third member of the Big Three, as they grew more expensive, and to let Zito depart via free agency.

In doing so, Beane was able to replenish his roster, keeping the A’s competitive for a few more years before heading into rebuilding, and then repeating the cycle. The two players in this installment of my One-and-Done series were part of that endless process. Dan Haren was one of three players acquired from the Cardinals in exchange for Mulder in December 2004, and a key starter on the AL West-winning A’s in ’06. Nick Swisher, the team’s 2002 top first-round pick — compensation for losing center fielder Johnny Damon to free agency — was the starting left fielder on that ’06 squad. Both players were subsequently traded away in the winter of 2007-08, with two players acquired from the Diamondbacks in exchange for Haren, namely lefty Brett Anderson and first baseman Chris Carter, contributing to their 2012 AL West champions, and one player acquired from the White Sox for Swisher, namely lefty Gio González, traded again to net catcher Derek Norris and left-hander Tommy Milone, contributors to the team’s 2012-14 run. And the cycle continued…

2021 BBWAA One-And-Done Candidates, Part 2
Nick Swisher RF 21.4 23.5 22.5 1338 245 13 .249/.351/.447 113
Player Pos Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS W-L IP SO ERA ERA+
Dan Haren SP 35.1 33.2 34.1 153-131 2419.2 2013 3.75 109
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Dan Haren

Though he lacked an overpowering fastball — he only had a few ticks to spare before adopting the entertainingly self-deprecating @Ithrow88 as his Twitter handle — Dan Haren enjoyed a seven-year run (2005-11) as one of baseball’s top strikeout pitchers thanks to his impeccable command of a deep arsenal, striking out more hitters (1,368) than every pitcher this side of CC Sabathia. From 2005-15, the 6-foot-5 righty enjoyed an even longer run as the game’s most durable starter, never making fewer than 30 starts in a season; his 361 starts in that span led the majors, topping even the indestructible Mark Buehrle (354). He earned All-Star honors three straight times from 2007-09, and led the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio three times.

Haren was born on September 17, 1980 in Monterey Park, California, and he spent his formative years in Los Angeles County, earning All-San Gabriel Valley honors as a first baseman at Bishop Amat High School and then attending Pepperdine University on a baseball scholarship. At Pepperdine, where he pitched and DHed, he was named the West Coast Conference’s Freshman of the Year in 1999, and earned All-American honors from multiple outlets as a junior in 2001, when he went 11-3 with a 2.22 ERA on the mound and hit .308 with five home runs and 47 runs batted in as DH. That year, Haren was chosen in the second round of the 2001 draft by the Cardinals, pick number 72 overall, 42 picks after teammate Noah Lowry was chosen by the Giants.

Striking out over five batters for every walk, Haren climbed the ladder quickly in the Cardinals’ organization, and made just eight starts apiece at Double- and Triple-A stops in 2003 before getting called up by the big club. He made his debut on June 30, allowing four runs (two earned) in six innings while striking out three in a loss to the Giants. He collected his first win against the Dodgers on July 19, with six innings of one-run ball, but his overall performance (3-7 with a 5.08 ERA in 14 starts) was uneven. He was up and down in 2004, his stats distorted by a 3.2-inning, 10-run spot start on June 10 against the Cubs; in his other four starts and nine relief appearances totaling 42.1 innings, he had a 2.76 ERA. Included on the Cardinals’ roster during their postseason run, he made five appearances overall. Two of those were in the World Series against the Red Sox, where he threw 4.2 scoreless innings, though he did allow two of the three runners he inherited to score in a Game 1 long relief stint, turning a 5-2 deficit into a 7-2 one. Alas, he never made it back to the Fall Classic.

With Hudson having one year of club control remaining and Mulder two, Beane decided the time was ripe to trade both. On December 16, 2004, he sent the former to Atlanta for a three-player package that never amounted to much, and two days later sent the latter to St. Louis in exchange for Haren, first baseman Daric Barton, and reliever Kiko Calero. The 24-year-old Haren settled right into Oakland’s rotation, which still included Zito as well as Joe Blanton, Rich Harden, and Kirk Saarloos. Working primarily with a fastball that averaged 91.9 mph as well as a splitter and a slider, he posted a 3.73 ERA (117 ERA+) in 217 innings, good for 3.3 WAR, 0.8 more than Mulder in the latter’s only productive season in St. Louis before a rotator cuff injury wrecked his career.

In September 2005, Haren signed a four-year, $12.65 million extension, guaranteeing him both a solid payday and a future trade out of Oakland. He spent two more years in the green-and-gold, going 14-13 with a 4.12 ERA (108 ERA+) and 3.3 WAR in 223 innings for the 2006 AL West winners, and then 15-9 with a 3.07 ERA (138 ERA+) and 192 strikeouts — his first of five straight seasons with at least 190 — in 222.2 innings in ’07, the year he made his first All-Star team. He made the only postseason starts of his career in 2006, outpitching the Twins’ Brad Radke (in the final game of his career) to complete a Division Series sweep but serving up a game-tying homer to the Tigers’ Magglio Ordonez in Game 4 of the ALCS as the A’s themselves were swept.

In December 2007, it was Haren’s time to go. He and righty Connor Robertson were dealt to the Diamondbacks for a six-player package that included Anderson, Carter, outfielder Carlos González, and more. Despite the move to a more hitter-friendly park, Haren quickly took to the National League thanks to the development of his cutter and curveball. He made All-Star teams and placed fourth in the NL in WAR in both 2008 (6.1) and ’09 (6.5) while striking out more than 200 hitters and leading the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio in both years; his 223 K’s and 5.87 K/BB in 2009 were his better marks. And it turned out he could hit! Haren batted .265/.285/.382 with a pair of homers as a Diamondback, adding another 1.9 WAR from 2008-10.

In August 2008, Haren and the Diamondbacks reworked the final guaranteed year and his club option into a new four-year, $44.75 million extension covering ’09-12, with an option for ’13. Inevitably, just as it did in Oakland, that cost certainty turned him into a bargaining chip. After scuffling through the first two-thirds of the 2010 season (4.61 ERA, 1.5 HR/9), Haren was traded to the Angels on July 25 in exchange for four players including Patrick Corbin, Joe Saunders and, as the player to be named later, Tyler Skaggs. Though he pitched to a 2.87 ERA down the stretch and finished with 216 strikeouts, his 108 ERA+ and 3.1 WAR were his lowest marks since his days with the Cardinals. The Angels finished 80-82, well outside the playoff picture.

Haren spent two more years in Anaheim, the first of which was very good (3.17 ERA, 4.2 WAR, and a league-high 5.82 K/BB ratio in a career-high 238.1 innings), the second not so much (4.33 ERA, -0.1 WAR) as he landed on the Disabled List for the first time in his career due to lower back stiffness. Between the two seasons, his average fastball velocity dropped from 90.0 mph to 88.5, his swinging strike rate from 10.0% to 8.7%. Gulp. It turns out, he had been pitching through discomfort in his hip for years, and kept pushing through back troubles in 2011 as well.

The 32-year-old Haren hit free agency amid these unflattering trends, and effectively became a pricey innings eater. He secured a one-year, $13 million deal with the Nationals, but posted a career-worst 4.67 ERA (81 ERA+), and while his 4.02 ERA with the Dodgers was superficially better, unearned runs made up the difference. He was below replacement level in both seasons. His $10 million deal with the Dodgers included a vesting option, which he fulfilled by pitching 180 innings, but it led to his being traded to the Marlins as part of a seven-player blockbuster alongside infielders Dee Strange-Gordon and Miguel Rojas, with catcher Austin Barnes, utilityman Enrique Hernández, and pitchers Chris Hatcher and Andrew Heaney heading to Los Angeles, with the latter immediately flipped to Anaheim for infielder Howie Kendrick.

Haren fared well enough in Miami (3.42 ERA, 2.0 WAR) that the Cubs traded two prospects for him on July 31. While he helped the Cubs reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008, he already had his eye on the finish line due to the pull of family and California. Despite allowing just one run in 13.1 innings over his final two starts, wins against the Reds and Brewers, he was left off a postseason roster for the second year in a row. When the Cubs were eliminated by the Mets, he tweeted, “Thank you baseball. I played this beautiful game for 30 years. I took my jersey off for the last time tonight. It was an honor. #ithrew88”

Nick Swisher

Nick Swisher had swagger. An ebullient chatterbox with power and patience, he never seemed to lack for confidence or volume. “The way he goes about the game, the way he struts, the way he points to the sky — on the field, the way he handles himself is a little loud,” A’s third baseman Eric Chavez told Sports Illustrated’s Gennaro Filice in 2006. Swisher’s bat spoke as loudly as his mannerisms. In a 12-year career spent with five teams, most notably the A’s and Yankees, the switch-hitting slugger bopped 245 homers (26 per 162 games), made an All-Star team, and helped his teams to the playoffs seven times, most notably as a member of the 2009 World Series-winning Yankees.

The son of Steve Swisher, a light-hitting catcher who spent parts of nine seasons with the Cubs, Cardinals, and Padres from 1974-82, Nick Swisher was born on November 25, 1980 in Columbus, Ohio, but went to live with his grandparents in Parkersburg, West Virginia after his parents divorced when he was in eighth grade. He starred in three sports in high school, and was recruited by Division I football programs including Notre Dame as a strong safety, but baseball was his first love, and he chose to return to Columbus via Ohio State University, where he was a two-time All-Big Ten selection, once as a first baseman and once as a center fielder.

As detailed in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, Swisher was the apple of Beane’s eye as the 2002 draft approached to such an extent that the A’s GM avoided seeing him in person, lest he tip off the rest of the industry. “Oh, he’s noticeable. From the moment he gets off the bus, he never shuts up,” one scout told Beane. The A’s scouts liked Swisher’s raw athletic ability, while Beane and assistant GM Paul DePodesta loved his penchant for home runs and walks. After some intrigue over whether he would still be on the board when they picked, the As nabbed him at number 16.

Swisher moved quickly through the A’s system. He began the 2004 season with Triple-A Sacramento, and after hitting .269/.406/.537 with 29 homers and 103 walks, received an end-of-season call-up. He debuted with a 1-for-3, two-walk showing against the Blue Jays on September 3, doubling off Ted Lilly. Two days later, he homered off Toronto’s Sean Douglass, one of two he hit in his 20-game cup of coffee.

After placing 24th on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list the following spring, Swisher broke camp as the A’s right fielder, and homered twice against the Orioles in the season’s second game. After struggling through April, he separated his right shoulder crashing into the outfield wall and missed three weeks, but heated up after returning. His .236/.322/.446 (102 OPS+) line with 21 homers and 1.7 WAR made for a modest rookie season.

Splitting his time between left field and first base, Swisher mashed 10 home runs in April 2006. He couldn’t maintain that clip, obviously, but finished the year with 35 — a high he would never surpass — to go with a .254/.372/493 (125 OPS+) line and 3.5 WAR. The A’s won 93 games and their fourth AL West title in seven seasons, then swept the Twins in the Division Series before being swept by the Tigers in the ALCS; Swisher hit a lopsided .200/.407/.300 along the way.

Swisher signed a five-year, $26.75 million extension with the A’s in May 2007, and while he dipped to 22 homers, his 126 OPS+ and 4.4 WAR represented improvements. The A’s, after missing the playoffs, went into cost-cutting mode, trading away Haren, Marco Scutaro, Mark Kotsay, and Swisher. Sent to the White Sox in December for a three-player package headlined by González, he endured a miserable season on the South Side (.219/.332/.410, 93 OPS+, -0.2 WAR). To be fair, he had never batted leadoff before — something the White Sox tried with him for the first month — and had relatively little experience in center field, where his metrics were decidedly poor (-11 DRS). Though he made fans with his charisma and his work ethic, he made fewer friends in the clubhouse, where he was said to tune out coaches, and was benched by manager Ozzie Guillen for moping due to his late-season struggles. The White Sox nonetheless won the AL Central, but Swisher made just one start during the team’s four-game stay in the Division Series. Even 12 years later, Guillen called Swisher “fake,” and declared, “I hate Nick Swisher with my heart.” Whew.

In November, the White Sox unloaded Swisher on the Yankees as part of a five-player deal headlined by infielder Wilson Betemit. The Yankees, who had missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993, needed both a first baseman and a right fielder given the free agent departures of both Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu. When they signed first baseman Mark Teixeira to an eight-year, $180 million deal — part of a free agent haul that also included Sabathia and righty A.J. Burnett (whose profile in this series is pending), Swisher was bound for a job share with Xavier Nady. Then Nady wound up needing Tommy John surgery, and Swisher staked his claim to full-time duty. While he again struggled defensively (-8 DRS), he rebounded to hit .249/.371/.498 (122 OPS+) with 29 homers and 97 walks. The Yankees won the AL East, then stormed through the postseason for their first championship since 2000, and while Swisher hit just .128/.255/.234 in the postseason, he came up big in Game 3 of the World Series against the Phillies, sparking a go-ahead, three-run rally with a leadoff double off Cole Hamels (who had been chosen one pick later in 2002) in the fifth inning, and hitting a solo homer off J.A. Happ in the sixth. The win gave the Yankees a two-games-to-one series lead; they would finish the Phillies off in six.

Swisher made his lone All-Star team in 2010 on the strength of a .288/.359/.511 season. While his 29 homers matched his 2009 output, his WAR doubled from 1.9 to 3.8. He was only slightly less productive on the offensive side in 2011 and ’12 (OPS+ of 120 and 125, respectively), but due to wide swings in his DRS finished with 2.2 WAR in the former year and 4.0 in the latter. What was consistent in all three seasons, alas, was his October miseries; he hit a combined .181/.250/.349 in 92 PA as the Yankees made the ALCS in both 2010 and ’12, but aside from swinging a hot bat during a three-game Division Series sweep of the Twins in the first of those years, he didn’t have much to show for it.

The Yankees had picked up Swisher’s $10.25 million option for 2012, and when he reached free agency, they made the 32-year-old slugger a $13.3 million Qualifying Offer, which he declined (they chose Aaron Judge with the compensatory pick). He returned to Ohio on a four-year, $56 million deal with the Indians, but after a promising start — a 115 OPS+ and 3.7 WAR while playing mostly first base for a team that made it as far as the AL Wild Card Game in 2013 — his career went off the rails. He hit for a 70 OPS+ with -1.8 WAR in 2014 before undergoing season-ending surgery to debride the menisci in both knees, and his recovery carried over into the next season, with setbacks and similarly miserable results. During the August waiver period, he and Michael Bourn were traded to the Braves in exchange for Chris Johnson, with the Indians sending $15 million to cover the remaining salaries of both outfielders.

The Braves released Swisher in March 2016, as he entered the final year of his contract. He signed a minor-league deal with the Yankees, and spent a couple of months playing for their Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate, but failed to light up the International League. After the birth of his second daughter, he announced in early July that he was stepping away to spend the remainder of the season with his family. While he left the door open for a return, in February 2017, he announced his retirement via The Players’ Tribune with typical panache: “The Dream Is Over, Baby!”

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
3 years ago

Swisher, namely lefty Gio González, traded again to net catcher Derek Norris and right-hander Tommy Milone, contributors to the team’s 2012-14 run. And the cycle continued…

Mayday Milone is a LHP