In military or police parlance, the phrase “watch your six” is used to keep people aware of what’s behind them. You might also tell a partner that you’ve got their six, which is to say you’ve got their back. At the risk of further enmeshing this lede with hackneyed sports/battle analogies, I’ll now pivot to a more literal view.
Kyle Schwarber has been an absolute terror since being moved down to the sixth spot in the batting order starting with the last game against the Cardinals. And in case you’ve not seen the numbers and are confused about whether I mean that as pejorative or superlative, maybe I should amend “terror” to “freak.” Wait, that runs us into the same issue and still isn’t at all literal.
What I’m trying to say is that Schwarber has been freakishly good, which makes him a holy terror for opposing pitchers. In his last 21 plate appearances, he’s slashing .500/.571/1.000 with three homers, six runs, and nine RBI. What’s more, he’s only struck out once in that time. I’ll understand if you choose to chalk that all up to small samples, you’d be totally validated in doing so.
Beyond just the numbers, though, it’s evident that Schwarber is more comfortable at the plate. That has led to him being more aggressive and ambushing pitches rather than being painted into a corner and forced into swing mode with two strikes. It’s early and the differences in the percentages won’t blow you away with their starkness, but the stats bear out what the eye test tells you is true.
The first thing to jump out at me is that Schwarber’s looking-strikeout percentage is up nearly 16 percentage points from last season (23.3 to 38.9), which is actually a good thing. Wait, what? Yeah, I know that sounds weird, but bear with me. When Schwarber was really dragging last season, it was because he’d spit on good pitches and would then be forced to swing at bad ones after getting down in the count.
So even though he took more strikes (340) than he swung at and missed (280), he struck out swinging over three times more frequently than he went down looking (115 to 35). Looking early, swinging late. As those numbers have evened out, Schwarber’s more recognizable stats have skyrocketed.
He is actually taking more strikes than he did last year, but the important thing is when he’s taking them and also what he’s doing with the pitches he does swing at. His looking strikes are up about two percentage points, but his swinging strikes and fouls are down. While some of those called strikes have surely been perfect pitches, the numbers all point toward Schwarber seeing the ball much better.
Consider that Schwarber is swinging at a higher percentage of first pitches as compared to last season (33.3 to 29.4) despite swinging at fewer pitches overall (40.8 to 44.6). Swinging early, looking late. Not that you want to see any hitter — much less an elite slugger — go down looking, it’s just that the ratios are much more balanced for Schwarber this season. He’s not chasing those pitcher’s pitches that he can’t do anything with.
That’s a clear sign of his more comfortable approach, one in which he’s not simply going up there looking to take pitches for the sake of taking pitches. Jed Hoyer spoke this spring about a good leadoff hitter being one who doesn’t change his approach when he’s batting atop the order. Whether it was his spot in the lineup or simply post-World Series hype, Schwarber was clearly trying to make himself fit the role rather than being who he is.
His offseason weight loss got all the hype and it does appear that Schwarber has gained an extra step and is a little more explosive, but I believe the biggest change has been of the psychological variety. No longer shouldering the weight of starting the offense, the slugger can now settle in as the world’s most dangerous six-hole hitter. And if he keeps hitting like this, he’s one of the most dangerous hitters no matter where he’s at in the lineup.
If the worries about losing power along with subcutaneous fat hadn’t been put to bed already, Tuesday’s display absolutely rocked them to sleep. Doubt this man at your own risk, folks.