Why Kyle Schwarber is Still Good Right Now
by head writer Tommy Schwerms
estimated reading time: 1 minute if you’re really smart
His Strikeout number is too high
His K% looks similar to 2015 (28.2% then, 29.8% now), but his contact rate is way up – 67% to 74%
67% is terrible, and most years will be hovering around the bottom of the league, but 74% is more normal for a whiff-prone player. So he’s whiffing less, why are his strikeouts not changing?
Compare to similar players this year –
|Kyle Schwarber||Cubs||27.8 %||66.2 %||43.5 %||62.3 %||81.6 %||74.3 %||41.0 %||46.9 %||11.2 %||12.8 %||29.9 %|
|Francisco Lindor||Indians||28.2 %||66.4 %||45.4 %||71.0 %||92.4 %||85.1 %||44.9 %||61.4 %||6.8 %||8.9 %||15.3 %|
|Michael Conforto||Mets||28.2 %||66.5 %||44.9 %||58.1 %||81.9 %||73.4 %||43.6 %||55.7 %||11.9 %||13.4 %||24.4 %|
Schwarber, Lindor, and Conforto all swing at similar amounts of strikes – Lindor makes way more contact on balls and strikes, so his BB% and K% numbers are lower, which makes sense; his at-bats are more likely to end in a ball-in-play than a walk or strikeout. However, Conforto has similar plate discipline numbers to Schwarber across the board – makes a tiny bit less contact, sees more pitches in the zone, yet somehow walks more and strikes out less. I suspect even Kyle’s plate discipline is somewhat small-sample size dependent, and his K’s should be improved from his rookie season, not unchanged.
His BABIP is impossibly low
Reasons – high pop-ups – but not mind-numbingly high. Lower than players like Xander Boegarts, Giancarlo Stanton, and Zack Cozart, who are all above-average hitters this year. Surely contributing, but not all of it.
Low line drives – 12% is WELL lower than average (around 20%) and mostly out of a player’s control – most players’ true talent is very close to average – Schwarber’s may be a little lower because he’s a flyball/popup machine, but not that low. Line drives are often hits, and Schwarber’s line drives aren’t coming for whatever reason.
Maybe you believe that this isn’t variation – something is off with his timing or batting eye, so he’s just missing pitches and popping them straight up instead of hitting them on the screws – the low BABIP is showing his current problems, not bad luck. Well, let’s look at xwOBA – wOBA is an offensive stat similar to OPS, but weighted with the run values of each event (walk, single, double, etc) and then scaled on a scale similar to average – League Average wOBA is .318. Schwarber’s 2017 wOBA is .286 – much much worse than average – 20th worst in the majors of qualified players, behind mostly defensive specialists. Your DH-bodied left fielder needs to hit much better than average, not that much worse. He had a .364 wOBA in 2015, for example, about 30% better than league average.
With that explanation of wOBA out of the way, xwOBA is a new stat made possible by Statcast – instead of looking at hits, it looks at exit velocity and angle – if someone crushes it into the gap but it’s caught by a flying Billy Hamilton, that’s great for your xwOBA but hurts your wOBA – likewise, if you hit a can of corn to right field that the outfielder loses in the sun, that single is good for your wOBA, but not good for your xwOBA. xwOBA also takes into account walks and strikeouts – Kyle Schwarber’s 2017 xwOBA is .337 – 5-10% better than league average!
(editor’s note: purple broncos are my favorite truck)
So there you have it – Kyle Schwarber, by outcomes that have more to do with his skill (exit velocity and launch angle) than luck (whether a ball is caught or not) has been an above-average hitter. Then, if you assume any positive regression in the line-drive rate, pop-up rate, or strikeout rate, he’s right back to where he was in 2015 – 20-30% better than average and an all-star outfielder.
Kyle Schwarber needs to keep getting at-bats – not because he needs an opportunity to “work out of his funk” or anything like that, but because he has legitimately been an above-average hitter thus far in 2017, and is very likely to be well above average for the rest of the year.