When the Washington Nationals signed Kyle Schwarber to a one-year contract in the off season, most fans were expecting to sacrifice some defense in left field for the sake of Schwarber’s powerful bat.
Seven weeks into the 2021 season, their concerns seem to be so far overblown. Schwarber has been charged with one error all season and has a Fangraphs’ defensive runs saved rating of +1 so far this season, despite a career figure of -7.
Schwarber saved a run in the fifth inning of Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Philadelphia with a throw to the plate to catch Philadelphia’s speedy Odubel Herrera trying to score from second base on a single. He also made a running catch on a pop foul the next inning.
Starting pitcher Jon Lester appreciated the defensive support.
“Schwarbs, he once again picks me up,” said Lester. “I was telling somebody in the clubhouse, I still don’t understand why teams run on him.
“I’ve seen it for for now seven years, or five years, six years, whatever it is, where he just continually throws guys out at home plate.”
Schwarber fielded the fifth-inning hit off the bat of Bryce Harper on one hop, stepped and fired to catcher Alex Avila, who was waiting about two feet in front of the plate. The catcher fielded the ball on the fly, and his sweep tag hit the sprawling Herrera in the face, his hands inches away from touching the plate.
The next inning, Schwarber showed some previously unseen range, chasing a pop fly off the bat of Nick Maton deep into foul territory down the left field line and making a running catch.
“He’s obviously not going to blow you away with arm strength, like a flashy arm,” Lester said, “but he’s always accurate. He always gives the catcher a good throw, chest-high bounce or even in the air like he did tonight and nabs a lot of guys at home plate. That was a huge run to keep off the board right there. They get to 2-0, that kind of changes that whole dynamic of that game.
Lester says Schwarber’s defense should get more notice.
“He’s made some really good plays out there, really good throws,” said Lester.
“He kind of hides in the weeds and throws guys out when we need them. So that’s all that matters.”