Phillies

Phillies

Phillies

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 17: Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Philadelphia Phillies reacts after his sixth inning solo home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks during Game Two of the Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park on October 17, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Spend one minute on Phillies Twitter, and you will witness one of the most tired debates in Philly sports. The Kyle Schwarber leadoff debate. Schwarber has led off for the Phillies the past two seasons. In that time, they came two wins away from a World Series and 1 away from making it there last season. But clearly, they just aren’t a good enough team with him leading off to win anything.  

The issue lies with him not being your prototypical leadoff hitter. His average was already low. But last year it dipped below .200. He also lacks the speed of your typical leadoff hitter. So if you are looking for an old-school leadoff hitter, Schwarber is not it.  

Who says someone needs to be prototypical though? What the Phillies have done, works. With Kyle Schwarber leading off, they have been one of the most productive lineups in baseball the past two seasons. And he has a lot to do with that.  

But even with all of the success they have had, there are still people convinced that it just can’t work. They spread the same myths over and over again. Even though they all know Schwarber will lead off again. Because you dont fix something that isn’t broken.  And given how many runs the Phillies have put up with Schwarber leading off, it is not broken. 

So I am here to bust some of those myths. Mostly because I have had people in my Twitter mentions all week perpetuating those myths, and I am sick of seeing them. Things like his average is too low to leadoff. He blocks Turner’s speed. Schwarber loses out on RBIs batting leadoff. Or the craziest one, they have come up short because he was the leadoff hitter. All of them are wrong, and I will prove it.

Let’s Bust the 5 Myths of the Kyle Schwarber Leadoff Debate:

  • “He Hits .190, He Can’t Leadoff”

    He did hit .190. That part is not a myth. But the people who say this willfully ignore his .343 OBP. 2nd on the Phillies among qualified hitters. It is also .023 points higher than the league average OBP.

    Now there are advantages to a single over a walk. If someone is on base, it might let them advance two bases, instead of 1. There also could be an error with the ball put in play that lets people advance. But as the leadoff hitter, that matters a whole lot less. There won’t be anyone on base you need to advance.

    He gets on base more often than “prototypical lead-off hitters” Trea Turner and Bryson Stott.

    Dylan MacKinnon on Twitter: "Players Schwarber had a higher OBP than last season Bo BichetteFrancisco LindorOzzie AlbiesBryson StottDansby SwansonFernando Tatis JR. Trea TurnerManny MachadoNolan Arenado / Twitter"

    Players Schwarber had a higher OBP than last season Bo BichetteFrancisco LindorOzzie AlbiesBryson StottDansby SwansonFernando Tatis JR. Trea TurnerManny MachadoNolan Arenado

  • “He Blocks Trea Turner’s Speed”

    I’ll admit that this argument was initially convincing for me. If Schwarber is on first, it feels like Trea Turner will be slowed down running behind him. Not only will he not be able to steal if he gets on base, but he won’t be able to stretch a single into a double, a double into a triple, or go from 1st to 3rd.

    But then I looked into it and realized Turner’s speed wasn’t limited in any meaningful way. In 2022 hitting behind Mookie Betts, Turner had 27 steals, in 30 attempts. Last year, while “blocked” by Schwarber, he had 30 steals in 30 attempts.

    He did have 4 fewer extra-base hits. So you could say that maybe that was because of Schwarber blocking his speed. But I would retort it probably has more to do with him making far less contact. There was way more swing and miss to his game last season that prevented him from putting balls in play to make use of his elite speed.

    Schwarber didn’t limit his speed in any meaningful way. Not that can be proven via Turner’s production. Outside of two seasons where he eclipsed 40 steals, he has hovered around 30 for most of his career. How many steals and extra-base hits he gets has far more to do with how often hit gets hits, or gets on base, than it does with who is hitting ahead of him.

    Dylan MacKinnon on Twitter: "Here is you Schwarber should lead off stat of the day. Turner with Schwarber "blocking his speed on the basepaths" - 30 steals in 155 gamesTurner with the Dodgers in 2022- 27 steals in 160 games.He doesn't impede Turner's speed in anyway you can prove though the stats. / Twitter"

    Here is you Schwarber should lead off stat of the day. Turner with Schwarber "blocking his speed on the basepaths" - 30 steals in 155 gamesTurner with the Dodgers in 2022- 27 steals in 160 games.He doesn't impede Turner's speed in anyway you can prove though the stats.

  • “They Came Up Short Because Of Him Being The Leadoff Hitter”

    He had the 2nd best average on the team when they lost the World Series and by far the best OBP and OPS. In the NLCS, it was even more pronounced.

    No one who watched those series can reasonably argue they lost because he was leading off. He hit over .300 combined in those two series, with an OBP over .500, and an OPS well over 1.000. He was their best hitter both times, and it isn’t even close. While Trea Turner struggled and swung at pitches down by his shins, Kyle Schwarber was perhaps the only consistent hitter on the team. Brandon marsh is the only other guy who didn’t see his numbers dip as they started losing.

    So please hold the arguments that they came up short because he was leading off. If it wasn’t for him, those series wouldn’t have been as close as they were.

  • “He’d Have More RBI Chances Further Down The Lineup”

    This is another thing that on paper makes for a convincing argument. But also it is also something that the facts don’t quite back up. For one, he was still 2nd on the team in RBIs. But also ranked up there in terms of RBI opportunities.

    Schwarber averaged 1.5 chances with RISP per game. Tied with Turner, though Schwarber did have slightly more overall chances. Castellanos, Bohm, and Stott all averaged 1.6. Only Bryce Harper, at 1.8 chances per game. And Harper is the guy you want up with runners on the most.

    Does he miss out on some RBI chances? Sure. But not as many as you think. The key is the back of the lineup actually got on base for him. Brandon Marsh is a high OBP guy. Rojas in the regular season had a high batting average. There are chances to be had there. And the small dip in RBI opportunities is made up for by him having more plate appearances overall than he would if he hit 4th or 5th.

    Dylan MacKinnon on Twitter: "Castellanos- 157 games, 671 Plate AppearancesSchwarber- 160 games- 720 PAsThat is the difference batting leadoff makes. People who want to move him to 5 are taking chances at HRs off the board. Casty hit 5th or higher in 138 games. Schwarber still had 49 more PAs / Twitter"

    Castellanos- 157 games, 671 Plate AppearancesSchwarber- 160 games- 720 PAsThat is the difference batting leadoff makes. People who want to move him to 5 are taking chances at HRs off the board. Casty hit 5th or higher in 138 games. Schwarber still had 49 more PAs

  • “No One Has Done This Before”

    This part is true. Few teams in MLB history have hit a guy like Schwarber leadoff. But my response is, so what? Who cares? Most things in sports were never done before until they were. If we limited the things we do in sports to things that were done before, Football would still be more like rugby than the game we know today.

    The way teams view leadoff hitters has changed. Now many people believe that the lineup is about maximizing at-bats for your best hitter. You want your 3 best hitters going 1-2-3. And the Phillies 3 best hitters, the guys you would most want to get an extra at-bat at the end of the game, are Harper, Schwarber, and Turner.

    If Harper was comfortable leading off, I would be all about him being there instead of Schwarber. But he doesn’t like leading off. Their next-best hitter overall is probably Turner. And I would be okay with him leading off if Schwarber hit 2nd. But in that case, you would then have lefty-lefty at 2 and 3. Either that or one of them would hit 4th or even 5th, and they would lose at-bats throughout the season. The easiest solution to maximize their at-bats, and ‘optimize the lineup’, is to have Schwarber leadoff.

    No team has someone like Schwarber leading off. But lots of teams have guys who aren’t your prototypical leadoff man there. More and more we see teams just put guys with power at leadoff. It used to be that leadoff hitters were high-contract guys that maybe lacked pop. But now teams want a high-impact bat there.

    Schwarber is just the most extreme case. It has worked for them though. So who cares if it hasn’t been done before? This is what you get from having Kyle Schwarber getting that extra at-bat at the end of the game.

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