Coming up through the minors, Kyle Schwarber was a one-tool prospect, and has proven to be as predicted, a one-tool player in the majors. However, that one tool has — on occasion — proven to be as electric as almost anyone else’s.
When Schwarber makes contact, he hits the ball as hard as the game’s elite batters, and as frequently hard as anyone else. Over each of the past two seasons, Schwarber finished in the top five percent in average exit velocity, the top fifteen percent of hard-hit percentage, and the top quarter of barrel rate. He does so, in particular, by crushing fastballs. While carrying a .491 slugging percentage against heaters in 2020, he finished sub-.300 against breaking and offspeed pitches.
Schwarber also has an above-average eye at the plate. In each of the past four seasons, his walk rate landed him in the league’s top twenty percent. His Achilles heel — on offense at least — is his propensity for striking out. Only once in the past four seasons did Schwarber’s strikeout rate rank him higher than in the game’s 15th percentile, and he’s never been better than the league’s bottom quarter. While Schwarber is apt to walk a couple times for every 20 plate appearances, he’ll easily mix in a half dozen strikeouts along the way. As a classic three-true-outcomes hitter in the style of an Adam Dunn, Schwarber thrives when he puts the ball in play, though he doesn’t do it as often as his supporters might like him to.
Schwarber’s truly elite power numbers usually buoy his steady offensive production into the above-average to well-above-average range, as he’s concluded the past four seasons with a wOBA over .300, and usually closer to .350. The main problem with his 2020 dip to a 90 wRC+ was that his ground-ball rate soared from 38 percent in 2019 to 50.8 percent. Slow mashers like Schwarber can’t be hitting the ball into the ground that much. In a season of normal length though, that would have surely normalized itself to some degree, making that wRC+ figure more palatable.
Originally a plus-sized, anything-but-spry catcher, Kyle Schwarber was always destined for a career as a designated hitter. While his National League life has required him to don the 12-and-three-quarters-inch leather disguise of an outfielder, he’s been about as effective as sticking the thing on a scarecrow and hoping the ball lands in its mitt.
According to Baseball Savant, Schwarber’s 2020 defensive performance ranked in the bottom five percent of both Outs Above Average and outfielder jumps, despite possessing a hair above average footspeed. Since he made the move from behind the dish to as far away from it as possible, Schwarber has been one of the game’s worst defenders each and every year. His highest year-end finish in OAA came in 2018, when Schwarber was the 213th “best” defender in the majors. At his best, Kyle Schwarber’s everyday presence in the outfield is literally a non-starter.
With the National League possibly waiting another year to reinstate the universal designated hitter, Schwarber’s best fit will be with an American League team. He’s only 27, and with just under $8 million in career earnings, he’s probably looking for a contract that will afford him some long-term stability.
However, as per Brian Cashman’s own admissions to Anthony Rieber of Newsday, it doesn’t seem like the Yankees are the team that’ll come a-knocking. While Cashman raved about Schwarber’s offensive skillset, he acknowledged his defensive limitations, and basically copped to the team’s plans of making Giancarlo Stanton their full-time DH due to the injury risk of regularly playing him in the field. As long as G’s an All-Star if healthy, the Yankees won’t see any Schwarbombs in the Bronx, lest Kyle’s playing for the opposition.