Kyle Schwarber’s start to the 2017 has been meh. The smooth, controlled lefty tank owns a .298 wOBA in 120 PA, bringing about concerns from anxious fans. Some even suggested that the leadoff role has shifted Schwarber’s approach at the plate.
The former two- and five-spot hitter finished his rookie year with a stellar .364 wOBA. Despite the robust offensive numbers, he missed on 32.4 percent of the pitches he saw, which was nearly 45 percent higher than the league average. He’s stopped whiffing at so many pitches in 2017, but improved contact hasn’t produced more runs.
Schwarber’s struggles are multi-faceted, but perhaps can be consolidated into one broad category: pitch selection. Although War Bear’s swing rate of 43.5 percent is close to his 44.5 rate in 2015, the location of specific pitches at which he swings has changed. As you can see below, this version of Schwarber is swinging at more low pitches, much more than the 2015 iteration.
2015: Swing heat map
2017: Swing heat map
The left fielder is not only swinging at more low pitches, he isn’t hitting high pitches with the same pop he showed in 2015. In fact, Schwarber only has a handful of belt-high batted balls greater than 90 mph.
2015: Pitches Hit > 90 MPH
2017: Pitches Hit > 90 MPH
Why has Schwarber lowered his zone and failed to mash belt-high pitches like he did during his rookie year? While it’s convenient to say that the new leadoff role is to blame, we don’t know for sure. What we do know is that Schwarber is capable of destroying those pitches, and, as the season progresses, it’s hard to imagine this current trend of futility will continue.
From a different perspective, I’m actually encouraged by Schwarber’s ability to hit low pitches harder. Let me pose this question to you: Do you think it’s easier to hit belt-high pitches or pitches at the knees? The answer, of course, is the former. Imagine a Schwarber who continues to mash low pitches and eventually dents those in the middle of the zone.