The numbers aren’t kind to Kyle Schwarber in the outfield and he knows it, but he doesn’t think he’s a bad outfielder. Schwarber, the 27-year-old catcher-turned-outfielder, has .981 career fielding percentage in left, he’s finished at -3 Defensive Runs Saved in each of the past two seasons, and after -0.9 and -0.8 seasons in 2019-20, he has a 12.7 Ultimate Zone Rating as a left fielder during his time in the majors.
So talk of the now-former Chicago Cubs’ outfielder, who was non-tendered by the team that drafted him this winter, ending up with a team in the American League made sense, but the Washington Nationals decided they liked Schwarber enough in left to sign him to play there in the nation’s capital in 2021 even without a DH in the NL this season (most likely).
In a press release on what is reportedly a 1-year/$10M deal, which includes a mutual option at $11M in 2022 (or a $3M buyout), the Nationals played up Schwarber’s power, touting his exit velocity (92.8 MPH), which in 2020, “... ranked sixth among Major League left-handed hitters, 15th in all of MLB ... according to MLB Statcast,” and his patience at the plate, as well as his prodigious power, but they also noted that he, “... did not commit an error in 73 total chances in left field,” while adding at another point that since the 2017 season, “Schwarber has recorded 28 outfield assists, tied for the second-most among Major League left fielders with Alex Gordon and behind Andrew Benintendi (29).
“Schwarber recorded 11 outfield assists in 2018, tied with Benintendi for the most among Major League left fielders.”
“I have to say, no one likes me in left field for some reason,” Schwarber joked with reporters on a Zoom call on Saturday, after his free agent deal with the Nationals was announced.
“Everyone likes to look at these numbers and stuff and just bang me on it for some reason.
“But I view myself as a good outfielder. You know what, I’m going to go out there and I’m going to make the play that I need to make. I’m going to play 110%. That’s the way I want to play. I don’t care who’s pitching. I don’t care if it’s our Cy Young or if it’s we’re getting blown out in the eighth inning, I’m going go out there and I’m going to still play at 110% and try to make every play that I can.”
It’s taken a lot of work, but in assessing himself as a defender, Schwarber said he thinks he’s made some significant progress in the field.
“I view myself as — I’ve improved a lot since 2015. And I think I became a definitely above average defender.
“I know the numbers don’t say that about me, but you know what, I think that I’ve made a lot of improvement on definitely the throwing side of the game, being able to keep guys from advancing to second base on some borderline doubles, definitely getting to a lot more baseballs that I need to get to and go from there.
“So I’m excited about coming out there playing left field every day for these guys and just playing a good solid defense for everyone.”
Someone who played a big role in getting him comfortable in the outfield, though he had played left and right in college and the minors on the way up, is the former Chicago Cubs’ bench coach who’s now his manager in D.C., Davey Martinez.
“Davey was a huge influence on me,” Schwarber said.
“He was kind of the guy that was in the outfield with the outfielders and me being freshly taken away from catching in ‘15 in the big leagues and just going into left field, I had a lot of work with him,” he explained.
“He taught me a lot of things just about the outfield in general and just how to be a good outfielder, and it took time, don’t get me wrong.
“It was a process out there in the outfield. And I was grateful to be surrounded by Davey and Jason Heyward, Albert Almora, Ian Happ, all these great outfielders, and to just take their information and process it into myself and try to figure out how to become a better outfielder.”
But still, he put a lot of work in to get to where he is defensively as a left fielder.
“Trust me, me and Davey had plenty of conversations and I love him to death,” Schwarber said.
“I’m so excited to be playing for this guy. I know that he’s a baseball guy. He cares about his players. He loves winning, he only wants to win.
“I think we all saw how much he’s going to fight for his players and fight for his win at the end of the day in the ‘19 World Series when coming freshly off that heart deal he had and getting thrown out.
“This is the perfect fit, I’m excited to be here and I’m excited to be playing for Davey and going out there and running around playing some left.”
The respect is mutual.
“I’ve always loved him,” Martinez said in an MLB Network Radio interview on Sunday. “He’s a gamer. He plays hard. You know what you’re going to get every day from him, and he works — probably one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever met.
“He just wants to get better, he loves his teammates and then just wants to go out there and play and win.”