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Does Kyle Schwarber deserve down ballot MVP votes?

Now hear me out on this one....

Philadelphia Phillies v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

Ok ok, you’ve read the title and had your laugh.

Ha ha, get it out now, but if you’ve already been overcome by hysterics and can no longer continue, you’re missing the point already.

In no way am I calling for Kyle Schwarber to receive first place MVP votes. Those are the kinds of votes reserved for players that are truly in rarified air during a season. Over in the American League, everyone else is just trying to get runner-up votes to Shohei Ohtani, hoping to snag a finish high enough to trigger some kind of bonus clause in their contracts. Ohtani has that one sewn up already.

In the National League, there seems to be a three player race brewing between Ronald Acuna, Jr., Freddie Freeman and maybe Mookie Betts, depending on how you view the seasons each one of those superstars is having. You want to throw Matt Olson into the discussion? Great, I have no qualms with that. The man is tied with Ohtani for the league lead in home runs with 43. If you are a person that likes to begin you reasoning for why player X deserves to be in the debate by scrolling through the WAR leaderboards of your choice, you’ll have to move pretty far down the list to find Kyle Schwarber.

However, that shouldn’t preclude him from receiving some of those down ball votes that end up on a player’s Baseball Reference page, votes that are given to those players that help push playoff teams into October. In fact, that’s kind of where the idea for this article began. Did you realize that Schwarber finished 16th in MVP voting last year? I surely did not, but yup - right there.

Who, you might ask, would dare put a player who only had a batting average of .218 in his/her top ten players in the league? Well, turns out those plucky writers from Los Angeles also realized that this isn’t 1976 anymore and that there is more to a player than what his batting average is. It probably also didn’t hurt that Schwarber had a league leading 46 home runs last year, but I digress.

Still, an initial pass at Schwarber’s 2023 season doesn’t exactly scream “MVP.” Not being able to get his batting average even above the Mendoza line would cause even the most progressive of voter to take pause before filling out a ballot, but I would argue that were it not for what Schwarber has done, the Phillies might not be in the position they are in now. It’s a somewhat flimsy argument to be sure, but someone has to do it and that might as well be me!

His power has been critical....and very much needed

Coming into the season, there was a bit of concern about the lack of power the team had. Sure, they had some hitters that could put a ball into the gap, but in today’s game, over the fence power is still coveted among teams. Losing Rhys Hoskins for the year, coupled with the uncertain return date of Harper meant the team was going to be looking for home run power they weren’t really counting on. Nick Castellanos has it, but had a disastrous 2022. Bryson Stott and Alec Bohm weren’t yet known for their home run power yet, meaning most of it would have to be supplied by Schwarber and J.T. Realmuto.

It hasn’t been all bad. Is the team 13th in baseball with 156 home runs? Yes. Are they eighth in slugging with a collective .429 slugging percentage? Yes.

But are they still a bit behind where they were last year? Well, also yes.

Some of this can be attributed to not have Harper for an entire year, plus the lack of Hoskins as well. Missing those two power bats has led to a slight dip in their performance. But thanks to having Schwarber as a consistent power threat in the lineup, the dropoff hasn’t been as steep as it could have been.

Think back to the trade deadline. Many people, including yours truly, were pining for the team to acquire a power bat, someone who could help provide some of the missing thump from the lineup. We wanted that power to come from the right side, but had the team grabbed a player who hit from the opposite side of the plate, there wouldn’t have been much arguing. We could all see that the team needed someone else to put in the lineup to be a consistent power go along with Schwarber. His ability to hit the ball over the fence is a valuable commodity on this team. It’s somewhat taken for granted, but we can likely pencil him in to at least 35 home runs each year over the remainder of his deal. That kind of consistency is worth something.

He ain’t the prototypical leadoff guy, but they win with him there

I know I can’t explain it.

You can’t either.

For some reason, the team goes on a run when Schwarber is put into the leadoff spot. There is no real rhyme or reason for it....if you continue to think of the leadoff hitter the same way you did in 1987. Now that we are engaged in the enlightened age of baseball, we know that a leadoff hitter should be getting on base as much as possible regardless of his speed (or in Schwarber’s case, the lack thereof). Leadoff hitters should no longer be pigeonholed as the speedy little guy who can steal a ton of bases. It’s a great asset to have, speed, when you consider the new rules that have been put in place this season, but in order to use that speed, one needs to get on base. Kyle Schwarber does this with aplomb.

The numbers show that they are a better team with him in the leadoff spot. This year, the team tried using their shiny new toy in the leadoff spot, penciling in Trea Turner to the spot in ten of the first eleven games.

The team hit well, hitting a combined .288/.338/.469, but also only went 4-7.

From April 12 to June 1, they went between some combination of Turner, Schwarber and Bryson Stott in the leadoff spot, trying anything they could do find a solution to the top spot in the order. The team did not hit as well, posting a .244/.311/.392 line and also didn’t win, generating a 21-24 record in that time period. So they did the thing they did last year and put Schwarber in the leadoff spot and, well, they started winning.

Since Schwarber has been put into the leadoff spot, the team has started winning a lot, going 43-26 (through Monday’s game) during that time and hitting at a solid .265/.332/.445 clip. Is it a coincidence that it happened again? After all, the team went on their run last year when Schwarber was put into the leadoff spot and it seems to have happened again this year. There are, of course, a lot of other factors in this run. Among them:

  • the starters getting their footing
  • the bullpen becoming a force
  • other hitters upping their game (Bryson Stott, Alec Bohm among them)

Yet it’s almost impossible to ignore the fact that once again, the team took off into a playoff position once Schwarber was put atop the lineup. Again, I can’t explain it, you can’t but it does seem to be very real.

Are they in the playoff hunt without his and Hoskins’ leadership?

This is one of the more subjective ideas here. Taking Schwarber out of this lineup and it is still a good lineup. Of late, we’ve seen some of the power bats come alive again and produce as expected. But we’ve also seen players disappear for games at a time, going through the slumps that each player goes through in the season. Schwarber is not immune to this as we are painfully aware.

There is something to be said for his leadership capabilities as well. One could make the argument that Schwarber is the unargued leader within the clubhouse even if Hoskins were still present. It’s been mentioned multiple times on broadcasts as well as anecdotally by players and writers alike. Hoskins has been the public face of leadership for a while now thanks to his production and tenure with the team. When he went out for the season, you could almost feel how much it hurt the team to be missing not only what he brings to the field, but also what he brings to the clubhouse. Others have tried to step into that role, Nick Castellanos chief among them, but there still remained Schwarber to help keep things rolling. He’s the one that has played in 126 out of 127 games for the Phillies this year. Being able to ring the bell as often as he does goes a long way with his teammates.

It’s a difficult thing for a voter to quantify this, that extra “X” factor a player brings to the field. Some of the old school voters likely discuss it when trying to decide who to vote for, but the more clinical voters will likely disregard this and just focus on what the player did on the field. With Schwarber, his leadership does play a distinct part of what he brings to the Phillies and shouldn’t be a disqualifying factor.

Listen, I am not here to argue for Kyle Schwarber to win the National League MVP this year. Going by WAR alone, he’s barely a replacement level player. Yet for me, that middle letter on the acronym is where some leeway can be given to how one wants to spend their down ballot votes. Seeing how the team has risen from their early season malaise to get themselves to being the leader of the Wild Card chase can be attributed to a number of factors. Yet it is hard to argue that putting Schwarber atop the lineup, and his subsequent resurgence, hasn’t been one of those factors.

Are there other Phillies deserving of this down ballot votes? Of course! Should a voter decide that the season long development of Bryson Stott, the bounceback year of Nick Castellanos or even the return of Bryce Harper are more deserving of that coveted 10th place vote over Schwarber, I wouldn’t be one to argue with it. But if you look at the voting results in November and see that someone has tossed the left fielder a single ninth or tenth place tally, it also wouldn’t surprise me. It’s happened before and might again.