Baseball

Can We Turn Kyle Schwarber Into Joey Gallo?

It’s an admittedly random comparison. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about Kyle Schwarber, because I am lost and perhaps helpless. Still, I’ve spent a fair amount of time defending Kyle, rooting for Kyle, hoping this week or this game or even this plate appearance is the one that opens the floodgates for him.

But it hasn’t happened. Schwarbs is still hitting under .240. He’s still slugging under .500. His wRC+ is a mere 107, which is hardly bad, but this offense needs more from left field than that. Especially when Schwarber is not going to provide really anything defensively.

I thought of Gallo, because Schwarber is still on course for 30 homers, 35 if he were to have one more binge this season. That’s something. Homers out of nothing is what Gallo used to be. Gallo of course hit 40 the past two seasons, but while he was doing that he was failing to reach a .210 average or even a .340 OBP, which Schwarber eclipsed last year. Still, there are some similarities.

They both walk more than average, although this year Gallo has walked a ton. They both strike out a lot, but Gallo strikes out far more often than Schwarber. But Gallo is hitting .253 this year, slugging nearly .600, with a 145 wRC+ and on his way to a 4.0 WAR season, something we’d all die for Kyle to become.

Kyle is eight months older, so if you’re hoping for just natural evolution or aging, that’s out. Schwarber does hit the ball hard, but he’s not hitting it as hard as Gallo. Gallo has rocked a 45+% hard-contact rate before the baseball became flubber, and is over 50% this year. Schwarber is around 40%. This has allowed Gallo to run a .368 BABIP, which is obviously high but when you’re hitting the ball as hard as Gallo does, it’s not that high.

Now, it would be easy to say that Gallo just hits the ball harder, is stronger or has a more natural swing or whatever. But if you travel into the StatCast lands, you’ll see that Schwarber’s and Gallo’s average exit velocity are almost identical (92.5 MPH for Schwarber and 93.0 for Gallo). Though Schwarber probably has gotten a boost from the baseball, as this is new territory for him whereas Gallo has always done this. Still, they’re on the same plane, now, so let’s work with that.

So how do we get Schwarber there, if we can? One change Gallo has made this year has been far great discipline. He’s swinging at almost a quarter less pitches outside the zone, nine percentage points less inside the zone. He’s been far more selective. But the thing is, his numbers now are just what Schwarber is doing, as far as what he’s swinging at. The difference is that Schwarber has better coverage, making contact on far more pitches outside the zone than Gallo does. Still, that’s not really it.

It was thought that Gallo would always suffer from shifts, and he would lose out on hits because he would keep lacing balls into infielders standing in right field. It was thought he would have to go the opposite way more often. Well, Gallo told all of that to fuck off, because he’s pulling the ball even more than he has in the past. He’s just doing so more on a line, and that’s where the real difference is. Gallo has a 25% line-drive rate, which will always drive up your BABIP, and Scwharber is at 18%. Gallo keeps his ground-ball rate around 25%, whereas Schwarber is up near 40%. That’s probably the change here. As strange as it sounds, Schwarbs needs to get more balls in the air.

Whether that will work for Schwarber is up for debate. Schwarber crushes the ball to the opposite way, slugging .765 when going that way this year, and being more damaging doing that than when he’s pulling the ball.

While Gallo can still get caught out by change-ups, the ground-ball rates on slider and curves is markedly different, with Schwarber’s ground-ball percentages some 10-15% higher than Gallo’s on those pitches. Schwarbs is going to have to find a way to get those in the air, and hard.

It may just be that Schwarber can’t consistently hit the ball that hard, or that he’ll never learn to get that contact more in the air with some violence. But his hopes, and ours, of being a plus-player kind of ride on it. Whether that’s pulling the ball to the same obscene degree that Gallo does, or whether he can find a way doing that hitting it the other way as he is now. Again, with no defensive contribution, Schwarber has to slug over .500 to be effective, and probably over .550. He has to get his average to .250, and his on-base over .37o or more. Otherwise, we’ll keep seeing these 1.0-1.5 WAR seasons, and you’d have to say the Cubs need better from that spot.

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