Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber Just Had One Of The Weirdest Seasons In MLB History

It’s World Series week, with the Phillies and Astros set to play Game 3 after a one-night break due to rain. I could follow the script and write about Bryce Harper, Yordan Alvarez, Justin Verlander and Aaron Nola, the teams’ superstars, but that would be too easy. Let’s dig just a little deeper and discuss some of the club’s supporting players, without whom the clubs would not still be playing.

Kyle Schwarber just had one of the most bizarre seasons in baseball history, and has become a local folk hero in the Philadelphia area for doing so. While Aaron Judge was running away with the MLB homer title with an AL record-breaking 62, Schwarber led the NL with 46 of his own. Out of the leadoff spot.

Schwarber does not look, or play the part of the leadoff man. He’s a .233 career hitter, with a .339 career on-base percentage. Despite his status as the premier NL homer producer in 2022, he didn’t reach either of those career marks (.218, .323). He’s batting leadoff because the Phils, like many clubs, don’t have one of those prototypical leadoff types sitting around. He signed a four-year, $79M deal prior to the 2022 season to hit the ball out of the ballpark, and that’s what he does.

And he does it in bunches. Wawa, a regional convenience store chain that is omnipresent in the Philly area, has an annual promotion called Hoagiefest, that was taking place around the time that Schwarber opted to hit 10 homers in 17 games between June 22 and July 10 of this season. Once he hit that tape-measure playoff homer into the second deck in San Diego a couple weeks back, they brought the promotion back, calling it Schwarberfest.

Schwarber’s .218 batting average didn’t quite bring up the rear among NL batting title qualifiers this season – that honor goes to the Padres’ Trent Grisham (.184) who ironically also had a pretty solid postseason. Schwarber was 6th from last. Even in this era of all-or-nothing power hitters, that’s a pretty extreme combination. But not as extreme as that of the most comparable player I have found to the current version of Schwarber.

This season, Schwarber not only led the league in homers, he also did so in Ks, with 200. Despite all of those home runs, he did not knock in 100 runs (he had 94 RBI).

This all conjures up images of 1982 Dave Kingman, then playing with the Mets. He led the NL in homers with 37, and in Ks with 156, and finished DEAD LAST among NL batting title qualifiers with a .204 average.

What else do these guys have in common? Well, both have the reputations of being slow-footed one-dimensional power hitters, but Schwarber was drafted as and reached the major leagues as a catcher. Kingman played third base upon his arrival in the majors with the Giants (in the same lineup with Willie Mays and Willie McCovey) and could run like the wind early in his career. In their respective physical primes, these guys were big-time athletes.

There’s one huge difference – Schwarber is building an extensive resume of postseason individual and team success. He already has a World Series ring with the Cubs, and is working on one with the Phillies.

What might the future hold for Kyle Schwarber? Well, based on his batted ball stats, he was actually a little better than his numbers in 2022. He “should have” batted .233-.333-.529, as he was quite unlucky on line drives (104 Actual/Unadjusted vs. 120 Adjusted Line Drive Contact Score).

Still, there are many red flags in his profile. Like excessive K and pop up rates and grounder pulling that has invited infield overshifts to date but won’t anymore beginning in 2023. Though he creates thunder when he squares the ball up, he actually doesn’t do it all that often – his 15.7% liner rate was one of the lowest among MLB regulars this season.

That said, he was a more complete hitter in the 2nd half than he was in the 1st, improving in most batted ball-based categories. Defensively, he’s well…..a Phillies’ corner outfielder. You know, a guy with limited range who somehow makes a clutch play or two in the playoffs.

His contract is not likely to end particularly well, as there will be quite a battle for the DH spot in the Phillies’ lineup by 2025. That’s an issue for tomorrow, however – right now, there is a World Series to win.