Kyle Schwarber on Handling High Heaters

Kyle Schwarber is a student of hitting. Even so, there are limits to how much he wants to learn. The Chicago Cubs slugger crunches video, but he draws the line at spin rates.

Schwarber understands the concept. He knows that four-seam fastballs with a high spin rate have carry as opposed to sink. He knows they are an invitation to pop up when located up and over the zone. Well and fine. An individual pitcher’s ability to defy gravitational pull isn’t something he wants to delve into from a StatCast perspective. Once he’s in the batter’s box, it’s all about seeing the ball and reacting accordingly.

On a recent visit to the Cubs spring training facility, I asked Schwarber the following question: As a hitter, how aware are you of an opposing pitcher’s spin rate?

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Schwarber on spin rate and high fastballs: “Hitting-wise, knowing a guy’s spin rate would just be adding extra information to what I already have. It would probably be kind of a mind-crunch for me.

“When you’re in the box, you only have a split second. You don’t have time to think, ‘This guy’s ball is going to move four inches, because his average spin rate is this.’ There might be hitters who would disagree, but my personal philosophy is to crunch video and go from there.

“I feel I have a good process for knowing what someone’s pitches will do. For instance, Chris Heston is a big sinkerball guy. If you watch his ball coming out, you’ll see points where you think it will be a ball and where you think it will be a strike.

“I watch a lot of video, but it’s obviously going to be different when you’re in the box. You’re seeing the pitch from a first-hand perspective. You see guys… Shelby Miller for instance. He has a fastball that rides up a little bit. You might not see that on film, but when you get in the box it’s kind of, ’Hey, it’s getting on top of me; I don’t know why.’ Maybe that’s because of spin rate. Regardless, it’s something you have to base on feel.

“Again, you’ve only got a split second to make a decision. Just because a guy’s ball spins so much and is riding up on you… if you’re looking for that pitch, and you’re on time for that pitch, why not? You’re probably going to attack it. But if you’re not looking for that pitch, you typically want to lay off. Not much good is going to come out of swinging at a high pitch — a pitch that is over the zone. It’s either going to be a pop up or you’re going to hit it a long way, and the majority will be pop ups.

“You can break (spin rate) down all you want, but while it’s good for the scouting world — this guy’s fastball can do this, this and that — personally, I just want to know the velocity and how it’s going to move. I don’t really need to know more than that.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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jrl133
6 years ago

this is great stuff

not often we get the inside story on hitting from a guy with a 30% K rate and 330 PA above Double-A

keep it coming

Psychic... Powerless...
6 years ago
Reply to  jrl133

In other words, players who don’t meet your personal statistical criteria shouldn’t be interviewed?

output gapmember
6 years ago
Reply to  jrl133

Not often we get the inside story on hitting from a franchise leader in playoff home runs

jrl133
6 years ago
Reply to  output gap

if you’re referring to his place in Cubs playoff history, it’s kind of like being the tallest dwarf

output gapmember
6 years ago
Reply to  jrl133

I’m mocking the selective nature of your original troll post by offering the same comment with equally true data on the same subject.

TL:DR — why so serious?

Art Fay
6 years ago
Reply to  jrl133

Well-said jrl. I’d love this article if it was Miguel Cabrera. A pro hitter with years of experience being dominant- imagine the insight he could provide! Not some random dude with a couple hundred “meh” ABs.

Mark Davidson
6 years ago
Reply to  Art Fay

Oh yes, I’m sure Miggy would provide a fascinating discourse on spin rates. Something tells me that Cabrera is more of a “see the ball, hit the ball” kind of player. Lloyd McClendon once said he had to drag Miggy, kicking and screaming, to watch video. While that’s probably an exaggeration, the point is Cabrera’s innate ability to recognize pitches and patterns isn’t going to make for an interesting article. The interesting thing here is that Schwarber says it’s not going to help him, and he’s right. That’s too much information for a hitter. We’re going to glean more about a major league baseball player’s approach to hitting listening to someone like Schwarber, because while he is extremely talented, there are obviously more holes in his swing than Cabrera’s, but I don’t think it’s because there’s a lack of knowledge or effort..in fact, I think the opposite. Plus, whether you’re reading Cabrera or Schwarber, you’re not going to be able to hit a HR on top of the score board at Wrigley.

Thanks for the good read, David.