Tuesday, March 5, 2024
AnalysisMLBNational LeagueNL EastWashington Nationals

What has changed for Kyle Schwarber?

On December 2nd of last year, the Chicago Cubs elected to not tender Kyle Schwarber a contract. About one month later, the Washington Nationals signed him to a one-year deal for $10 million. Fast forward to the morning of June 30th, and only two players in baseball have hit more home runs than Schwarber: Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Amazingly, through June 12th, 55 players had more homers than Schwarber’s ten.

From June 13th to June 29th, Kyle Schwarber has hit fifteen home runs, which leads MLB. Ohtani is second with eleven homers during that time. No player besides Ohtani has hit even half as many home runs as Schwarber has in the seventeen-day stretch, and Schwarber leads the majors in ISO (.714), SLG (1.079), OPS (1.502), wOBA (.598), wRC+ (285), and FanGraphs’ position player WAR (1.8) since June 13th.

After hitting a leadoff homer against Rich Hill on Tuesday, Schwarber broke the record for most homers in a 75 plate appearance span. He’s homered in over 20% of his plate appearances in has last 16 games.

What I am wondering is what specifically has changed for Schwarber. It is certainly not his walk rate that hasn’t budged, and through June 12th it was 10.0%. From 6/13 to 6/29, it was 9.9%. He did lower his strikeout rate by a little (29.4% to 25.4%), but that 5.0% decline is not statistically significant.

All in all, his plate discipline looks pretty much the same.

What is statistically significant is the difference in FB% for Schwarber. His FB% soared from 35.4 to 52.2. The probability of there being a difference of -16.6 or smaller by chance is less than three percent. Unsurprisingly, his average launch angle is up about four degrees. More importantly, he has tightened up his distribution of launch angles (27.1 to 20.7 degrees) and has increased the frequency at which the ball leaves his bat an angle conducive for hitting homers.

Additionally, Schwarber is hitting the ball much harder.

That combined with regularly hitting the ball at optimal launch angles is fueling Schwarber’s success. One can see in the graph below how few balls Schwarber puts in play at extreme launch angles.

Dating back to June 13th, only two hitters (minimum 25 BBEs) have a higher sweet spot percentage (percent of batted ball events hit at a launch angle between eight to 32 degrees) than Schwarber does (56.5%): Starlin Castro and Enrique Hernández.

Schwarber has racked up seventeen barrels in that time, leading MLB in the metric. His seventeen barrels equal the number of barrels that the Pirates have hit and are one more than the White Sox have hit in that time period. Schwarber has more barrels since June 13th (71 plate appearances) than he had prior to that point (16 in 221 PA).

Eight of the seventeen barrels — he only had seven in the 53 games prior — have come off of 4-seam fastballs, pitches whose effectiveness increase as spin increases.

There is a staggering difference in Kyle Schwarber’s wOBA against high 4-seamers in the Statcast Era when looking at FFs with a spin rate of 2100-2300 RPM compared to 2300-2500 RPM. The league is trying to eliminate pitchers’ usage of foreign substances, many of which increase spin rate. This is to the benefit of all hitters, maybe most notably Kyle Schwarber.

Furthermore, after looking at a video of Schwarber’s first homer at home against a right-handed pitcher and his most recent one at home against a RHP, I noticed that Schwarber now stands more upright in his stance before the pitch is delivered. To be honest, I have no clue how big or little of a difference this is making for him; I just thought it was interesting.

top: then and bottom: now

Through June 30th, Schwarber has a .348 predictive weighted on-base average (pwOBA). That ranks as the 16th highest in all of baseball, sandwiched between Freddie Freeman and Yuli Gurriel. His predictive weighted on-base average on contact (pwOBAcon) is .433, which is good for 8th in MLB. The only batters ahead of him in that metric are Ohtani, Ronald Acuña Jr., Aaron Judge, Fernando Tatis Jr., Guerrero Jr., Mike Zunino, and Giancarlo Stanton.

Kyle Schwarber has been hitting at an extraordinary level of late. Obviously, he can’t maintain this pace, but I still suspect he will hit really well moving forward.