2022 First Base Targets? – Kyle Schwarber
Last week I looked at potential shortstop options for the Yankees going into the 2022 season, ultimately coming to the idea that a trade for Amed Rosario is the best course of action for the Yankees.
This week, I turn my attention to the players fielding throws from Rosario and the rest of the infield: first base. I talked about one player that people are saying should be in a platoon yesterday, so lets talk about who would be the 2nd piece of the puzzle: Kyle Schwarber.
Kyle Schwarber: A Quick Overview
Drafted 4th Overall in the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of Indiana University, the Chicago Cubs immediately gave Schwarber a $3,125,000 signing bonus and sent him into the minor leagues. In his first professional season alone, Schwarber played his way up three levels (starting in Class-A- to Class-A and then Class-A+). This led to Schwarber being a consensus Top-100 prospect going into the 2015 season where he started at Double-A and cracked into the MLB with a debut on June 16th, 2015 and was great his rookie year. Getting ready for a great year in the outfield, Schwarber essentially missed the entire 2016 regular season due to tearing his anterior and lateral cruciate ligaments (ACL and LCL) in his left knee after colliding in the outfield just 2 games into the season. However, he did make a comeback and played in the World Series while hitting great (.412/.500/.471; .971 OPS). Schwarber was an instant star in Chicago and spent the next 4 years (2017-2020) with the Cubs, and then was DFA’ed and signed as a free agent with the Washington Nationals on a 1/$10 Million deal for 2021. At the 2021 trade deadline he was traded to the Boston Red Sox. He is now a free agent again, going into his age-29 season.
Over his career, Kyle Schwarber has hit to a combined .237/.343/.493 (.836 OPS/119 OPS+) triple-slash with 522 hits, 153 home runs, and 350 RBI’s in 664 games over parts of 7 seasons. He’s put in over 4,300 innings in the outfield (most left field) and just 75 innings at first base in his career (all of those coming in 2021 with the Red Sox). As an outfielder, he played to a -13 DRS and a +3.2 UZR and as a first baseman he put up a -3 DRS and a -0.7 UZR. Combined he’s accumulated +9.0 bWAR/+12.5 fWAR.
In 2021, Kyle Schwarber played 113 games split between the Washington Nationals (72) and Boston Red Sox (41) while hitting to a combined .266/.374/.554 (.928 OPS/148 OPS+) with 106 hits, 32 home runs, and 71 RBI’s. (His 2021 first base defensive metrics are above.) Combined, he put up a +3.2 bWAR/+3.1 fWAR season.
Outside of Schwarber’s notable 2016 left knee ACL and LCL tears that were already noted, he has only ended up on the IL two other times in his career. These both happened this past season while he was with the Washington Nationals, the first an undisclosed injury in early April which kept him out just 6 days and the other being a hamstring strain that kept him out from early July until mid-August.
The Case For Kyle Schwarber:
A national league all-star last season, Kyle Schwarber had a 10 game stretch right before his injury where he hit 12 home runs to a .390/.444/1.268/1.713 extended triple-slash. It should be no surprise that the Washington Nationals went 8-2 during this stretch, as Kyle Schwarber is a player who can carry a team on his back. That much is more than clear.
Kyle Schwarber has been a comfortably above-average hitter in his entire career, and the fit with Yankee Stadium (and the AL East) is obvious as a lefty. Especially as he is coming off of his best season to date. Had he put up the same numbers as a Yankee in 2021, Schwarber would’ve ranked 6th in hits, 3rd in home runs, 5th in batting average, 1st in on-base percentage, and 1st in slugging percentage (thus obviously 1st in OPS). The Yankees had the 2nd worst batting average, 5th worst on-base percentage, 3rd worst slugging percentage, and 3rd worst OPS by first baseman last year. Suffice it to say that Kyle Schwarber would help change that for the better. Especially as a left-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium (as opposed to Nationals Park).
And, if that wasn’t enough to get you interested in Schwarber, there is one thing that he has that is likely most important for his case. He’s one of Brian Cashman’s recent “white whales”. Kyle Schwarber has been linked to the Yankees seemingly every year since he broke into the league and Brian Cashman has gone on record many times to talk about how much he wants to trade for/sign Schwarber. It took a while (after a failed trade attempt to the Pirates), and the Yankees were patiently waiting for him to reach free agency, but they did sign another white whale in Gerrit Cole. Brian Cashman does not give up on the players he likes.
The Simple Pro’s: Above-Average Hitter, Left-Handed Bat, Brian Cashman’s White Whale
The Case Against Kyle Schwarber:
There is one glaring reason to go against looking at Kyle Schwarber as the Yankees way to fix the first base problem for 2022. Simply enough, that’s because he’s not a first baseman.
He put up a -3 DRS in just 75 innings at first base in 2021. Over a full season (about 1,200 innings) this comes out to a -48 DRS. To put that into comparison, Luke Voit (who is not a good defender) has accumulated just -26 DRS in nearly 1.5 times that amount of innings (or a rate of -16 DRS over 1,200 innings, or 1/3 the rate of Schwarber). Now, you can say that it takes a while for defensive metrics to standardize (which is a fair point), but Schwarber was also not a good defender in left field either. While a different skill set between LF and 1B, it’s very rare that a poor defensive outfielder goes on to have success defensive elsewhere on the field of play.
Further more, if the Yankees were to bring on Kyle Schwarber and he wasn’t doing a good job at first base then there is only one place for him: DH. The Yankees outfield is already crowded with corner talent (Judge, Stanton, Gallo) of whom also need to utilize the DH position to keep those three bats consistently in the lineup. Kyle Schwarber would only make the line-up as a first baseman.
He’s also not going to take a platoon role off of the season he just had. Platoon players do not make as much as role (or starting) players. Coming off a season with a 148 OPS+, Kyle Schwarber is going to be looking at a team to give him a multi-year deal.
The Simple Con’s: Defensive Liability, Not a Natural First Baseman, No need for a DH, Likely not looking for a platoon role
Kyle Schwarber could very likely be a New York Yankee going into next year. Like I said, he’s one of Brian Cashman’s white whales and it wouldn’t surprise me if he wanted to bring him in as the big left-handed bat addition (because Freeman would cost too much in money and Olson in prospects).
However, when this happens I’m not going to be thrilled. It’s a step in the wrong direction for the Yankees. I’m not concerned about his injury history. I’m not concerned that he won’t produce with the bat. Truthfully, I’m not even that concerned of his defense if they put him in the outfield.
However, it would be another money-over-talent move for the Yankees, as they look to find places to save a few dollars here and there by going after good talent for cheaper acquisition costs instead of great talent that requires someone to pay.
Good teams make the playoffs.
Great teams win in the playoffs.
(And I like Kyle Schwarber. Last year he crushed it and it was incredibly fun to watch the highlights each morning on MLB Quick Pitch. He’s just not a fit for the Yankees right now.)