Kyle Schwarber’s 2017 season has been well-documented and widely-discussed by now, and I’m willing to bet you know the general story arc (slow start, deep slump, sent to the minors, returns to the Majors, gets a little hot, stays a little hot, but strikes out a lot).
I’ll spare you the long-winded recap of what’s already happened, but there is some stuff I do want to discuss. Namely, Schwarber’s struggles with left-handed pitching, and where they might be going.
At the beginning of the season, Kyle Schwarber struggled against just about everybody. Left or right-handed, his 77 wRC+ before going to Triple-A tells you all you need to know. But I do think it’s worth pointing out that his issues with southpaws were particularly rough (55 wRC+).
Here’s a closer look:
Slash Line: .140/.300/.246
Strikeout Rate: 35.7%
Soft-hit Rate: 34.4%
Hard-hit Rate: 21.9%
As you can see, before going to Triple-A, Schwarber simply couldn’t do much (other than take walks) against left-handed pitching, and that really affected his ability to hit the ball hard and/or for power. And in reality, those struggles weren’t limited to just the first half of the 2017 season.
For his career, Schwarber has posted just a slightly better (but still terrible) 57 wRC+ against lefties, with an ISO over 100 points lower than what he flashes against righties. More granularly, his batted ball data reaffirms the fact that he just hasn’t made much hard contact against left-handed pitchers:
Of course, this isn’t really news to anyone, especially after Schwarber essentially became a platoon player. Earlier this season, Jed Hoyer discussed Schwarber’s obvious problems against left-handed pitching, and implied that he’s aware of the problem, but still believes Schwarber would one day hit left-handers. After all, given his mediocre defense, he’ll have to be much more than just a righty-mashing platoon bat.
Well, I’m here to tell you that he may be evolving into a guy who can hit lefties.
In the second half of the season, as we know, Schwarber’s overall numbers look a whole lot better than they did in the first half: .264/.362/.549 with seven home runs (135 wRC+). Of course, he’s also gotten a lot more chances against righties than lefties (basically being platoon-protected), but perhaps that’s not entirely necessary anymore.
In 21 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers here in the second half of the season (which is quite small, but probably more than you realized he’s gotten), Schwarber is slashing .222/.333/.500, which is good for a 114 wRC+ (literally twice his career mark and 14% better than league average). Moreover, he’s hitting the ball really, really hard when he faces them (50% hard hit rate) and that’s led to a absolutely fantastic .278 ISO against lefties in the second half.
Now, of course, 21 plate appearances is a small sample, and you can take it only so far. But Schwarber’s not just succeeding during that stretch in the results, he’s doing the one thing he’s never been able to do against southpaws: make hard contact/hit for power. And he’s walking at a 14.3% clip. His strikeouts are still out of control, but that’s the case against righties, too, and remains a separate issue (for now).
I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, because I’m aware of how small a 21 plate appearance sample is, but it’s undoubtedly better than the alternative, and, at least arguably, is very encouraging. Hopefully, with a taste of success in the area he struggles most, Schwarber will get more and more opportunities, and everything can sorta precipitate from there.
We’re not in the end zone yet, but color me optimistic.