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2023 Phillies in review: Kyle Schwarber

Schwarber had one of the most unusual seasons in MLB history.

MLB: NLCS-Philadelphia Phillies at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

By now, most fans know what Kyle Schwarber will bring to a team. He will hit many home runs, he will walk a ton, and he will strikeout an unseemly amount. He is one of the best poster children for the “three true outcomes” line of baseball thinking. In fact, Schwarber was in the top two in all of those categories, ranking second in HRs (47) and walks (126) and led the league in punchouts (215). But even by Schwarber’s usual standards, his 2023 season was an unusual one.

Only two players in Major League history have hit at least 47 home runs, had an OPS of at least .817, and had a BABIP of .209 or worse. They are Kyle Schwarber in 2023 and Roger Maris in 1961. That was the year Maris broke the then single season home run record with 61 long balls. Schwarber is the only player in MLB history to accomplish all that while also having at least 215 strikeouts and 126 walks. He’s also the only player ever to hit at least 40 home runs and have a sub .200 batting average.

2023 regular season stats: 160 G, .197/.343/.474, .817 OPS, 47 HR, 104 RBI, 126 BB, 215 K

2023 postseason stats: 13 G, .255/.386/.660, 1.046 OPS, 5 HR, 6 RBI, 9 BB, 17 K

The good

Schwarber once again provided elite power for the Phillies, as he finished second in the league in home runs for the second consecutive season and seventh in isolated power at .277. In two seasons with the Phillies, Schwarber now has 93 home runs in 315 games. For comparison, Jim Thome hit 89 home runs across 302 games from 2003-2004 in his first two seasons in Philadelphia. Ryan Howard hit 80 HRs in 247 games across 2005-2006, winning Rookie of the Year and then MVP.

Schwarber’s season took off once he was moved permanently back to the leadoff position on June 2nd. In the ensuing 104 games, Schwarber clubbed 34 of his home runs with an OPS of .875. The Phillies went 65-41 in those games, good for the fourth best record in the Majors. Prior to June 2nd, Schwarber had an OPS of .699 with 13 home runs in 56 games. The Phillies were 25-31 in those games and had the seventh worst record.

His 11 leadoff home runs were second behind MVP-runner up Mookie Betts’ 12 for the best in baseball. Schwarber’s .389 OBP as a leadoff hitter in the first inning was fourth among players with 100 PAs reaching those criteria. His .667 SLG was tied for the best among such hitters. Schwarber became particularly good at ambushing the first pitch that he saw of an at-bat, smacking 12 home runs on such occasions.

Schwarber also set a new career high in walks with 126 and was just three short of tying the Phillies franchise record of 129 set by Lenny Dykstra in 1993. Schwarber’s previous career high was 86 BB in 2022. His 17.5 BB% was second in the Majors behind Juan Soto’s 18.6%.

He struggled through the first two rounds of the postseason before launching 5 home runs in the NLCS to give him 11 total postseason home runs with the Phillies. That puts Schwarber in a three-way tie for the most in Phillies history with Jayson Werth and teammate Bryce Harper, with Schwarber and Harper accomplishing the feat in 30 games compared to Werth’s 40.

The bad

We’ve talked about the two good outcomes with Schwarber. Now we must discuss the bad. His 215 strikeouts were the most in the league and set a new franchise record for the most in a single season, surpassing the previous record of 200 set by Schwarber in 2022. It was the fifth most punchouts in a single season in history from any player, just 8 behind the MLB record of 223 set by Mark Reynolds in 2009.

Schwarber’s batting average of .197 was the worst mark among all 134 MLB hitters who qualified for the batting title. His .209 BABIP was second worst behind Pete Alonso (.205). He also went from bad to unplayable in the field, as Schwarber’s -21 defensive runs saved, -20.4 defensive WAR, and -19 outs above average were the worst among all position players with at least 100 games played in the field.

Much like all of the Phillies other big-name hitters, Schwarber disappeared in Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS. After swatting his 5th HR of the postseason in Game 5, Schwarber would go on to finish the series 1-6 with three walks and three strikeouts. His double in the fifth inning of Game 7 and walk in the 7th looked to be possible rally starters, but ultimately nothing came of them.

The future

Schwarber still has two years and $40M remaining on the four year, $79M deal he signed with the Phillies prior to 2022. He will be entering his age 31 season in 2024 and is all but assured to still be a member of the Phillies. Schwarber has shown himself to be one of the Phillies best hitters and certainly their best source of consistent power. His struggles with strikeouts and putting the ball in play consistently notwithstanding, Schwarber is a major threat when he is in the lineup and provides good-yet-unorthodox production out of the leadoff spot. Schwarber’s home runs often get the Phillies going, as 20 of his HRs gave the Phillies the lead while 3 tied the game and one won the game on a walk-off. He is also a well-respected leader in the clubhouse.

However, Schwarber simply cannot play the field anymore. He is permanently locked to designated hitter barring an injury that forces someone else into that spot, like it did for Bryce Harper the last two seasons. This hampers the Phillies roster some, as in a perfect world they would likely want to rotate the DH spot with Schwarber, Harper, Nick Castellanos, and J.T. Realmuto splitting time there to give quasi-rest. But the reality of the situation is that the Phillies best lineup is when Schwarber is the DH and a better fielder patrols LF.

The three true outcomes will always define Schwarber. How many home runs does he need to make up for the strikeouts? How many times does he have to walk to make up for hitting below the Mendoza line? It will forever be a balancing act.