Kyle Schwarber dramatically transformed his body in the offseason in an effort to improve his overall agility, quickness, health, longevity, etc. I think it’s too early to say definitively what the results have been, but certainly, he’s been a very good player here in the early going of 2018.
Schwarber, 25, is hitting .250/.373/.491 (134 wRC+), is running the bases well, and is performing adequately, at worst, in the outfield. He’s already been worth 1.2 WAR, which is just 0.4 shy of what he accumulated all of last season. He’s on pace to be a 5+ WAR player, which is as good as you could have realistically hoped coming into this season.
Although the bat accounts for most of that, his defense has actually contributed a very solid positive to his WAR total so far. And, of course, that’s the thing about putting *too* much stock in WAR at this point in the year. Doing so requires that you put a lot of stock in the small-sample, early-season advanced defensive metrics … which are fun, but really aren’t supposed to be used that way. They simply don’t stabilize until you get much closer to a full season (if then).
Look, I think Schwarber has improved some in the outfield, and I also think his arm is legitimately excellent. But I think we can all agree that having him as the top defensive outfielder in the game – let alone overall player – is a bit like the metrics saying I’m the best hitter in MLB against 100+ MPH fastballs. It, uh, doesn’t really square.
That said, you’d much rather the numbers looked like this than some other direction. UZR/150 is Ultimate Zone Rating prorated out over 150 games. Since we’re so early in the year, you’re looking at a pretty significant extrapolation. But hey, even just by UZR (the actual runs he’s been worth on defense), Schwarber lands 8th. So clearly, UZR loves what he’s done in left field this year.
What exactly is UZR? Per FanGraphs: “UZR is an advanced defensive metric that uses play-by-play data recorded by Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) to estimate each fielder’s defensive contribution in theoretical runs above or below an average fielder at his position in that player’s league and year.”
In other words, the system determines to what degree a player should or should not have made a given play, and assigns value to the fielder’s performance for every single play. Then, the performance is compared to the average fielder at his position, and the value is translated to how much above or below average the player is at that particular position.
So what this extremely early data is saying is that Schwarber has been more better than the average left fielder than almost all other players have been better than the average fielder at their position. And he’s been so much more better that the value he’s created on defense is among the top ten players in baseball.
Again, I don’t know that the eye test would go quite that far, but I do think it’s better than the alternative.
For what it’s worth, by another holistic measure of defense – Defensive Runs Saved – Schwarber is tied as the 59th best defender in baseball (1 DRS), and 5th best in left field. If that were real over the course of a season or two? Heck, you’d take that without blinking.
Mostly, I just wanted to share this with you because I think it’s fun. I don’t want you thinking it says more than it actually does, which is that, using a tiny sample of data that is far too small to actually draw conclusions upon, Kyle Schwarber has been among the best defenders in all of baseball this year. Heh. See? That’s fun.