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The Curious Case of Kyle Schwarber in D.C.

Kyle Schwarber has two of the Nationals’ most memorable hits this season. Yet, the totality of his play has fallen well below the team’s expectations.

Once signed shortly after Josh Bell – who has also seen his fair share of tough times in Washington – to serve as the thump in the middle of the batting order, Schwarber finds himself hitting in the No. 7 spot in Thursday’s lineup.

Sure, it’s against a lefty, and Washington seemed to recognize all along that Schwarber was less potent against same-sided pitching. I’m pretty sure they never thought he’d ever be the second-lowest non-pitcher in the lineup, though.

Schwarber enters Thursday’s game batting a smidge over .180 with an OPS+ of 58, compared to a career mark of 111. However, there are two tendencies that should make fans fairly optimistic that a turnaround could be on the way.

His Splits Have Flipped

Depending on how you look at it, this is either good or bad. Sure, the sample size is small, but Schwarber hasn’t struggled against lefties so far this year. It’s reasonable to assume that he’ll improve against right-handed pitching as the season progresses, since he always hits them well. If he can remain this productive against southpaws, any worries about whether he has to sit against them can be put to bed.

He’s Been More Unlucky Than Bad

The traditional stat line won’t indicate as much, but Schwarber is hitting the ball reasonably well, and not as far out of line compared to his career averages as you might think.

Schwarber is smashing the ball as hard as usual, and at nearly the same rate. His expected batting average on balls he makes contact with is low, and his strikeout rate is high, but both of those things have been true for his entire career.

The only luck-independent measure that sticks out against him is his walk rate, which is much lower than normal. That may partly be because he isn’t an overwhelmingly better hitter than anyone batting behind him in Washington – the reverse was often true in Chicago. However, it likely points to him not seeing the ball as well as he typically does. 

I’ll take a leap of faith here, but given that his general tendencies have held up this season, I think this has to do with him adjusting to new pitchers. If his production doesn’t turn around within the next month, perhaps there are some alarms to sound – especially considering he’s often been a better hitter in the summer months. However, fans can realistically be hopeful for – and probably even expect – a rebound.

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Tuesday, 22 June 2021
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