Kyle Schwarber Is Back, Wreaking Havoc

Kyle Schwarber was the show, or at least the story, in last night’s Game Two of the World Series. After five plate appearances in April without a hit — followed by a six-month layoff that prevented him from facing even one major-league pitcher in a game situation — Schwarber has been up to the plate nine times on the biggest stage baseball has to offer. In those nine plate appearances, Schwarber has reached base safely more often than he hasn’t, and has yet to be retired when hitting the ball in play. Last night, his hits proved timely, producing the second and fourth runs for the Chicago Cubs as they evened a series that now heads back to Chicago. How has Cleveland approached him, and how has he responded?

It’s often said at the beginning of spring training that the pitchers are ahead of the hitters; batters don’t yet have their timing back and can have difficulty recognizing pitches. The chart below depicts all 40 pitches Schwarber has seen this postseason, color-coded by the result of the pitch. From Baseball Savant:


Of the 20 or so pitches clearly outside of the box above, Schwarber has offered at just three of them.

One of those swings occurred in the first inning of last night’s game. The pitch was an inside four-seam fastball just off the top of the zone against Trevor Bauer, an offering that he fouled off. He would end that same at-bat by swinging at and missing a pitch in almost the exact same spot, as shown below.

That isn’t necessarily rust. That’s the book on Schwarber. Last season, Schwarber saw 408 four-seam fastballs and he whiffed on 69 of them (16.9%), per Baseball Savant. When the four-seamer was up in the zone, he swung and missed on 41% of his swings and whiffed on 22% of all four-seamers in that area despite many of them appearing outside the strike zone. The chart below from Baseball Savant shows Schwarber’s swings on four-seamers up last season.


Those pink dots are the swings and misses, and they are heavily represented. The green dots are the foul balls, which leaves a remainder of just 16% — that is, the portion of swings resulting in an actual ball in play. Schwarber has struggled to get around on high heat even when he hasn’t spent six months away from the game. His batting average on those pitches last year was .073 (3-for-41), with just two singles and a home run, although he added another home run on an outside fastball from Matt Harvey in the playoffs last season.

As for the other two outside pitches from this World Series at which Schwarber has swung, both were sliders against Andrew Miller. On one, he fouled the pitch off; on the other, he swung and missed, which seems par for the course against Miller’s sliders. Schwarber faced Miller twice, walking his first time up and striking out the second time, both in Game One. Against Miller, Schwarber fared better than most.

Schwarber has taken six called strikes so far, which could be another sign of rust. One of those pitches was a 3-1 sinker in the upper half of the zone and just a little inside of the heart of the plate. It was probably a better pitch to hit than the next pitch from Corey Kluber, which went to Schwarber’s trouble spot.

Of the other five pitches Schwarber took, three were located in the middle of the strike zone, but all occurred in the first pitch of the at-bat. Schwarber has taken the first pitch of an at-bat seven of nine times up, but pounding a pitch in the strike zone to get ahead isn’t necessarily a great strategy, even with an offspeed pitch. In Game Two, Schwarber fouled off the first pitch he saw from Trevor Bauer, a curve, and in the fourth inning of Game One, Kluber tried to sneak a sinker over the heart of the plate.

During the regular season, 146 balls were hit with the same exit velocity (96 mph) and launch angle (27 degrees) as that batted ball. Of those, 52 were hits according to Baseball Savant, including 33 doubles, one triple, and 18 homers. This particular batted ball traveled 378 feet. To get out of the park, it either needed to benefit from a warmer temperature or hug the right-field line more closely.

Of the other two called strikes on Schwarber, one was a slider on the outside corner from Andrew Miller on a 1-0 count, a very understandable take. The other one came on a 2-2 count from Dan Otero. Otero had gotten a whiff on a 1-1 change earlier in the count and set up the 2-2 pitch with a sinker that was just off the outside corner. Otero threw the pitch just a little bit closer to the plate and got the call.

Schwarber didn’t like the call, but replays showed it was a near-perfect pitch over the black of the plate. We’ve shown some of Schwarber’s failures. These have been the exception more than the rule. He has shown a very good grasp of the zone.

Schwarber has that double against Kluber as well as two run-scoring singles, but his most impressive plate appearance might have been one of his two walks. His walk last night against Danny Salazar wasn’t particularly impressive; Salazar had a little bit more difficulty shaking off the rust than Schwarber and the former walked the latter on just four pitches. Schwarber’s plate appearance against Andrew Miller was also impressive. The pitch sequence is shown below.


That might not seem impressive, but that is exactly the same type of pitch sequence that Miller has used to strike out 24 of the 51 batters he has faced in the postseason. Miller has walked just four batters this postseason and Schwarber’s walk was the first that Miller has issued to a left-handed batter since arriving in Cleveland.

Miller seems frustrated by his execution here, perhaps locating the ball a bit lower than he would have preferred. When facing Schwarber again in the next inning, however, he showed slightly more respect for Schwarber’s knowledge of the strike zone after getting to two strikes. (Miller also might have simply executed a bit better).


This pitch is an example of Miller just doing what he does best, and Schwarber couldn’t get a hold of it.

We’ve taken a bit of a meandering tour of Schwarber’s plate appearances without discussing his hits last night. In his first plate appearance against Trevor Bauer, Schwarber was aggressive, swinging at the first two pitches in the zone, taking a high fastball well out of the zone before whiffing on the next pitch. Perhaps hoping to capitalize on Schwarber’s aggressiveness, or perhaps due to Bauer’s inability to throw strikes, Bauer threw three straight balls to Schwarber before grooving a 3-0 pitch down the middle. Schwarber stayed aggressive in the strike zone.

That ball was a hit 65% of the time this season based on exit velocity and launch angle, per Baseball Savant, so it wasn’t luck-induced by any stretch of the imagination. Schwarber’s other hit was less impressive, a hard grounder hammered up the middle that made its way through the drawn-in infield with a runner on third, but nevertheless did reveal a solid approach by Schwarber. After taking strike one and swinging through a cutter for strike two, Schwarber laid off the high-and-inside strike, and then on 1-2, needing to make contact with the runner at third and one out, Schwarber took an outside pitch back up the middle.

There you have it. The full Kyle Schwarber experience. He has shown good knowledge of the strike zone and been aggressive with pitches to hit. As the four strikeouts indicate, there are still some flaws in his swing and he can be gotten out. Eric Longenhagen took two looks at Schwarber in the Arizona Fall League and concluded that Schwarber’s bat and feel for the strike zone were sufficient to help the Cubs, regardless of the layoff. The Cubs agreed and have now benefited from that risky decision. Schwarber’s comeback has been remarkable, and there’s no reason to think he can’t make a difference in Chicago, even in fewer plate appearances.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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7 years ago

I believe Schwarber’s walk off Miller was only the 2nd walk Miller has given up to lefties in 2016. Great post, thanks Craig!