FanGraphs: Kyle Schwarber’s Season Makes Him Worst Clutch Hitter of All Time

With all due respect to warnings of small samples and arbitrary data sets, we’re at a point in the season where we can pretty fairly judge a player’s performance. In the case of Kyle Schwarber, that performance has been very good…except when the pressure gets turned up.

According to FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan, Schwarber is about to wrap up the worst season of all time when it comes to hitting in the clutch. In 56 high-leverage plate appearances this season, Schwarber has only two hits and three unintentional walks with 19 strikeouts, good for -62 wRC+ that is 59 points worse than the next-lowest hitter with at least 50 such PAs (Alcides Escobar).

What’s wilder is that Schwarber’s 137 wRC+ in low- and medium-leverage situations means the gap in his clutch performance is a whopping 199 points. That’s the greatest disparity in MLB this season, 80 points more than Mallex Smith, who has a 129 wRC+ in low/medium leverage and a 10 in high.

Oh, and it gets worse.

No hitter in MLB history who’s made at least 50 high-leverage plate appearances in a season has ever posted a such a low wRC+ or had such a wide spread as the -62 and 199 Schwarber’s responsible for. Ryan Zimmerman’s -54 in 2016 and Jim Thome’s 140-point gap in 2008 are both in danger of falling from the top (bottom?) spots, for the sake of context.

And before you go hucking rotten tomatoes at Sullivan for writing the original post or me for using the title I did — though most people who might do that probably haven’t read this far — consider that it’s done with full self-awareness. Sullivan referred to the terrible clutch numbers as “the silliest thing” in a campaign that’s otherwise been quite good and I don’t think many bigger War Bear fans exist than yours truly.

While the performance in big moments — and those are defined by FanGraphs’ leverage index, by the way — goes wanting, Schwarber’s overall 117 wRC+ and 3.2 fWAR prove his worth. And even though I spent my lede giving credence to small samples, the plate appearances in question make up barely more than 11 percent of Schwarber’s season. So proceed with caution when using this data as a source of real truth.

After all, Schwarber’s probably the last person whose performance we should question when it comes to the highest pressure and the biggest stage.

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