The Nationals got their starting left fielder today, signing former Cub Kyle Schwarber to a one-year deal. Schwarber, much like the other offseason acquisition to this point, Josh Bell, is a power hitter with something to be desired on the average side of things. Schwarber is less of an average/contact guy than Bell, and the two of them combined could make for a very fun, and sometimes very frustrating, middle of the Nats lineup.
Like Bell, Schwarber had a pretty rough 2020. He only hit .188, although his ability to draw a walk and his power allowed a .701 OPS. Assuming that was a bit of an aberration – and that’s exactly what I’m assuming, considering he still managed to rank 11th in exit velocity last year – the Nats got a really good hitter. He isn’t a high average guy, but he draws a ton of walks, and is a true power hitter. He hit 94 HRs between 2017 and 2019, and drew 204 walks.
In 2019, he hit .250/.339/.531, which, much like Bell’s .277/.367/.569 in 2019, is a best-case/dream scenario for both hitters. Schwarber walks at about the same rate as Bell, which is to say, a ton. But while a .250 average would be a pretty poor season for Bell, that’s Schwarber’s high water mark. The difference between the two averages usually comes in the form of a Schwarber strikeout.
I don’t necessarily expect .500+ slugging for either of these 28 year olds, but these guys are both power hitters, with a real chance to hit the crap out of any baseball that comes too close. And if anyone can unlock the power of lefty sluggers, it’s Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long, who has a reputation for doing just that.
Both guys are streaky hitters, Bell went on a torrid streak in April 2019 which contained nearly a third of his total homers that year. Schwarber was insane in the second half of 2019, and crummy in 2020
They’re both a little boom or bust, not just in the three true outcomes sense, but in the hot/cold sense. So again, expect some bad times from these guys, but if they get hot at the same time, it will be insanity.
As for the other side of the ball, Schwarber’s defense isn’t great, but it’s nearly as bad as Bell’s, and it’s better than his reputation would suggest. Despite turning 28 during spring training with the Nats, he will only be five years removed from being a part-time catcher. He was a starting catcher in college at age 21, so he’s always been a work-in-progress in the outfield. As his range diminishes, his ability to actually play the position has improved. He’s never going to be great out there, but in a position filled with “gotta put em somewhere” guys, he’s decent.
2018 was Schwarber’s best defensive year, with positive defensive ratings according to fangraphs. Either way, if you’re thinking they just signed another Adam Dunn to play LF, you’ll be pretty happy with the defense.
Of course, that is literally the lowest bar you could set, and while he might not be horrendous, adding Bell and Schwarber in the same offseason is not a defense-improving kind of move. I expect to see more of Andrew Stevenson to help the outfield defense, especially late in games, and with all those lefty bats, they could use another righty hitter.
Between Bell and Schwarber, though, you could easily imagine 70+ home runs. Behind the team’s great hitters – Juan Soto and Trea Turner – you’ve got a couple of high power, good place discipline and walks, high strikeout guys. It’ll be quite a bit of boom/bust, but there will be times that it will be very fun to watch.
Now all they need is to get a bat flip coach from the KBO to really get this thing going.
Just kidding, they could use a right-handed bat to play a corner position.