For such a simple sport on the surface, baseball can get pretty complicated when we start to break it down into the myriad statistical measures they’ve developed. That’s particularly true when we’re viewing stats without the proper context of time and circumstance. For a perfect example of this, one need look no further than Kyle Schwarber, whose impressive performance over the last few weeks — or months, even — has been obscured by a rough start.
Because we’ve already chronicled the changes in his approach that kept him from establishing a firm offensive foundation, I’m going to assume you’re well aware of those things and only need a brief refresher. Schwarber was being way too passive in two-strike counts early on, then corrected by getting overly aggressive as his time at leadoff continued before finally settling in at some point in July.
And lest I make it seem as though we’ve cornered the market on the Schwarber approach conversation, Michael Cerami of Bleacher Nation has been tracking it as well. If you’re interested in adding some dimension to what you may have seen in the aforelinked pieces, check out Michael’s piece.
Schwarber’s performance out of the second spot in the order Tuesday, the result of a lineup change necessitated by Kris Bryant being scratched, offered a perfect example of what he can be. Or rather, what he has been. Yet for some reason, there are actually people out there fixating on his late solo shot as proof that Schwarber can only get it done when the stakes are low.
I know, I know…don’t read the comments. Thing is, reading the comments forced me to look into a different aspect of Schwarber’s performance this season. Beyond just the stigma of his anemic production through May, many fans are unwilling to look past his godawful clutch performance in 2018 and are somehow missing what he’s doing now.
In the chart below, you’ll find Schwarber’s numbers by month in three relatively common offensive categories, broken into overall and with RISP. Note how much worse things were over the first couple months and how that flipped starting in June. And not just a little bit, but in a huge way.
Over the last three-plus months, Schwarber has hit 60 points better with RISP while putting up an OPS that is 225 points higher and a wRC+ that is 50 points higher. Folks, those are monster numbers. Oh, and that solo homer? Turns out it was his 21st in 332 plate appearances with the bases empty, which makes 63.6% of his homers in 64.6% of his PAs.
Wait, that means his home-run rate with runners on base is higher. Huh, no way.
Even if we do afford a begrudging nod to the fallacy that Schwarber loves hitting late homers (he had one Friday afternoon as well), doing so ignores what he did Tuesday night. After Ben Zobrist walked to lead off the 3rd inning, Schwarber doubled to left-center to put Zobrist in position to score on a subsequent sac fly from Nicholas Castellanos.
And after Zobrist dropped down a bunt single to lead off the 5th, Schwarber singled to center to put two men on for the Castellanos homer that effectively put the game out of reach. So to crap on the dinger Schwarber smoked to right later in the game is like getting mad that someone brought out your favorite desert after you refused to eat the entree they placed in front of you.
This probably won’t change your mind if you’re among those who gave up on Schwarber long ago, but I’m nothing if not persistent. Maybe a little petty to boot. For those of you who’ve been following along, though, this is further evidence of the left fielder’s improvement over the course of the season. You may have even noticed how picking up hits to all fields Tuesday was a reflection of his more balanced batted-ball profile.
Whether you believe this to be real or sustainable or not is up to you, I just wanted to share some of the facts I uncovered while refuting some ill-informed Schwarber slander. I understand that, as fans, it’s easy to get caught up in little tropes or narratives or whatever, but it’s never a bad idea to dig below the surface just a little to see if the results really match your beliefs.
Admittedly, even I was surprised by just how much better Schwarber has been with RISP over the last few months. But I won’t be surprised by it moving forward, and neither should you.