Kyle Schwarber’s Battle with BABIP

Kyle Schwarber is not as bad as the bulk of his numbers this season would seem to indicate. In fact, there’s one really telling stat that lends hope to the idea of Schwarber being quite a bit better than his statistics have advertised this year.

Because he is hitting .181 and reaching base at a .299 clip heading into Monday’s action, there are some who would rank Schwarber among the league’s largest disappointments in 2017. And even with numbers like that, Schwarber has still managed to rank just barely below average according to TAv (.248). And even with a strikeout rate sitting a little high at 28.6 percent, he has the third highest walk rate among National League outfielders working in his favor (13.5), as well as an ISO that is indicative of relatively consistent power, with a .223 mark that ranks 13th among 33 qualifying NL outfielders. While there are obvious flaws in Schwarber’s approach at the plate, there’s one aspect that has overwhelmingly gone against him thus far in 2017.

It’s the BABIP.

Kyle Schwarber’s batting average on balls in play so far in 2017 is at .203. There are 168 qualifying position players across Major League Baseball, and among them, Kyle Schwarber’s BABIP is the worst. The next closest players are Todd Frazier, at .212, and Mike Napoli, at .225. So it’s really Schwarber, with nobody (save maybe Frazier) particularly close. It’s really hard to overcome the rotten luck that Schwarber has faced this season.

There are a couple of aspects working against Schwarber that have led to the unfortunate luck that is keeping his BABIP down. For one, he’s extremely pull-happy. With a pull rate of 45.7, Schwarber has faced the shift in 44 percent of his plate appearances and is hitting only .222 against it. His 22 percent soft contact rate wouldn’t be such an issue if he wasn’t putting the ball on the ground over 40 percent of the time. For Schwarber, there’s going to be an adjustment in order to combat some of the BABIP woes, and it could ultimately come down to launch angle.

Schwarber is doing a lot of things well. His plate discipline has always been good, the high strikeout rate notwithstanding. He is still seeing 4.43 pitches per plate appearance and has a 72.5 percent contact rate that is a very significant improvement from the Contact% we’ve seen from him in the past.

And there’s been at least marginal improvement in the numbers since his return from that brief stint in Triple-A. His ISO during July came in at .316, with his OBP for the month coming in at .326. Even better is that his strikeout and walk rates for the month remained relatively constant for the year. His BABIP in July, while at .261 and higher than it has been all year, is still rather low, so his bad luck is continuing.

The ISO element is intriguing there, because that’s really what Schwarber is going to have to do to combat some of these BABIP woes. It’s going to require some adjustment that combines that strength and some extra lift. We’ve seen other hitters throughout Major League Baseball focus on launch angle, even if it comes at the expense of some of their other numbers. But with Schwarber’s output being as low as it currently is, it could lead to some statistical progression for him, if such an adjustment were made.

What’s rather remarkable is that Schwarber has managed to provide a positive WARP, even in the face of the offensive adversity that he has faced this season. Sure, it’s only a mark of 0.2, but it does speak to the offensive upside that Schwarber still possesses, even when almost everything is going against him.

I’m oversimplifying of course, but the long and short of this is that Kyle Schwarber isn’t nearly as bad as his numbers would indicate. That’s an obvious statement for some, but less so for others. It could be a matter of slight mechanical adjustments and more elevated contact. We haven’t seen such an adjustment take place so far, but with offensive upside like Schwarber possesses, it isn’t unreasonable to think that such an adjustment is just around the corner. Every mammoth home run certainly leaves room for hope of a serious breakout.

Lead photo courtesy Patrick Gorski—USA Today Sports

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