Schwarber in a 'way better spot,' ready to be primary DH

February 21st, 2024

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- got to BayCare Ballpark bleary eyed on Saturday.

He had just driven the first 12 hours of a 15-hour trip from his Ohio home to Clearwater. He started around dinnertime on Friday. He rolled into town the following morning.

“I love to drive,” Schwarber said.

Schwarber is used to sleep deprivation. A few weeks ago, he became a father for the second time when his wife, Paige, gave birth to their second son, Asher. At least Schwarber got to spend some time at home. In March 2022, the Schwarbers celebrated his four-year, $79 million contract with the Phillies. An hour later, Paige went into labor. Their son, Kade, was born the next day. Five days later, Schwarber was in Clearwater.

Life has been good for the Schwarbers since he got to Philly, but the Phillies’ designated hitter hopes for even better this year.

“We were in a really good spot last year,” he said. “We just weren’t able to get it done.”

The Phillies return mostly the same roster from the team that lost Game 7 of the 2023 NLCS to Arizona, which means they need everybody to be a little better this year to win the World Series. That includes Schwarber. It starts with his health. He battled a knee issue last year, which bothered him more than he wanted anybody to know. Not that Schwarber had blazing speed, but his sprint speed dropped from 26.4 feet per second in 2022 to 25 feet per second.

“I definitely feel in a way better spot than last April,” he said.

The Phillies want Schwarber to be the primary DH, which should help not only his legs, but the Phillies' defense. But perhaps it transfers to the plate, too. Schwarber batted .197 with 47 home runs, 104 RBIs, an .817 OPS and a 122 OPS+ last season. He was one of only two qualified Phillies hitters with an .800 or better OPS, but he also led baseball with 217 strikeouts.

The Phillies think Schwarber should clear .200 and reduce his strikeouts if he stops pulling the ball so much and is a little more aggressive early in the count.

Schwarber pulled the ball a career-high 52.5 percent of the time last year. His career mark is 43.7 percent.

“Trying to obviously get the ball more to left-center field,” he said. “Not trying to guide [the ball] or anything like that, just being able to [adjust] my swing. If the pitch is away, hit it away. If the pitch is in, pull it.”

Easier said than done? Perhaps, but it is doable because he has done it.

“If you look at his spray chart when he hit [.266 in 2021], everything from left to left-center, they were all in play,” Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long said. “Everything was geared over there. He still hit homers. He didn’t hit as many, but he’s going to hit for a much higher average if he hits from left to left-center. If he has that in his bag, it’s just more conducive for hitting for average.

“But the other thing is he has to stay away from two-strike counts. He had the most two-strike counts in baseball.”

Indeed, Schwarber had two strikes in an MLB-high 433 of his 720 plate appearances. He batted .104 with a .503 OPS with two strikes. He batted .352 with a 1.324 OPS without two strikes.

“He’s got to get a little more aggressive,” Long said. “He’s so good at making sure the pitch is right where he wants it. If it’s a strike and he’s got left-center, he’s going to be OK. I think that’s the other part of the equation that he’s trying to solve there, too.”

If it works, it will only help the Phillies offense. And maybe, just maybe, some folks will stop their king-sized obsession about the lineup. The Phillies are 151-100 (.602) when Schwarber leads off, including the postseason. They are 45-48 (.484) when he does not.

“I’ve hit one through nine in my career,” Schwarber said. “Wherever I end up, I end up. That’s where I’ll be. You’ve got to be prepared wherever you’re hitting.”