So far, it’s been a good run for Kyle Schwarber, new and atypical leadoff hitter.
Although that 30.4% strikeout rate makes you a little nervous, he’s certainly performed like a great leadoff hitter in the other ways you’d hope to see. Schwarber is tied for the 17th best OBP (.380) in the NL, including a whopping 16.5% walk rate, the fifth best mark in the NL. That figure is especially insane when you consider that he’s batting in front of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Who are these nutbag pitchers who are pitching around Schwarber? (*remembers what Schwarber can do to the baseball*) Oh yeah …
Schwarber is also seeing a whole lot of pitches, which not only grinds down opposing pitchers, but it sets up the guys behind him. His 4.44 pitches per plate appearance is fifth best in the NL. You rarely see him out of control up there, as he comfortably works deep counts, punishing pitches in the zone, and generally accepting his walks when they’re given.
Consider that polished approach against the backdrop of Schwarber’s development.
Remember that this is a 24-year-old who missed virtually all of the 2016 season, after playing in the big leagues for only half of a season in 2015, after playing barely one year of professional baseball before that. Really think about what kind of hitter Schwarber must be to pull this stuff off, and it just seems impossible. (*remembers what Schwarber did in the World Series*) Oh yeah …
Now, tasked with an entirely different role, Schwarber is performing extremely well. Overall, he’s hitting .234/.380/.438 with a 125 wRC+, which means he’s hitting about 25% better than the average hitter.
While we’re on the subject of Schwarber the leadoff hitter, here is some interesting pre-game reading from FiveThirtyEight. It’s about the changing style of the leadoff hitter in today’s game, with Kyle Schwarber one of the faces for that change. Based on a variety of calculations about the “modern” game, Schwarber rates as the 10th best leadoff hitter in baseball, one spot behind Dexter Fowler.