Kyle Schwarber is trying for a major league first

No player has ever hit more than 38 homers with a batting average below .200. He now has 45 homers and a .196 average.

Joey Gallo used to own this curious high/low sub-category of the baseball records. In 2021, he set the record for the most homers by a player below .200, when he went yard 38 times while batting .199.

Schwarber already holds the dubious record for the lowest batting average by a player with 45 or more homers. He led the NL in homers last year with 46 while batting .218.

There were players in previous eras that had low averages with many homers, but they were not usually good at reaching base. Dave Kingman batted .210 with 35 homers one year, but his OBP was an embarrassing .255. That was nearly a duplicate of a season posted by Tony Armas three years earlier, when he batted .218 with 36 homers and a pathetic .254 OBP.

Reflecting the new trends in baseball, both Gallo and Schwarber are actually quite good at reaching base, despite their low batting averages. Schwarber has a .344 OBP this year, thanks to 123 walks. Gallo’s OBP was .351 in 2021 because he drew 111 walks.

(Those OBPs are above average. To illustrate, Schwarber gets on base more often than Bo Bichette, even though Bichette’s batting average is above .300. Many all-time greats had lifetime OBPs below .344: Dave Parker, Ernie Banks, Andre Dawson, Cal Ripken, Pudge Rodriguez, Don Baylor, Johnny Bench …)

18 thoughts on “Kyle Schwarber is trying for a major league first

  1. To Scoop’s 1:58 – They did, a little later. The Alexander thing, if I’m remembering right, didn’t make it to a tenth game with Cal then going back to short. It didn’t help that Cal visibly loathed the kid.

  2. I guess the OBP explains it, otherwise I could never understand why Schwarber bats leadoff for a contending team.

  3. Dunn was with the Nats for a bit. He did not hit “Excuse me” homers. Good thing he got the ball up in the air. Otherwise he would have had a few very-ex pitchers on his record.
    Screamers back at the box are no joke. I almost got eunuched by one in HS.

  4. When I started reading the first paragraph, I thought to myself, “I wonder if Scoop is going to mention Kingman”. Oh! There he is.

    My recollection of him in the 80s was a lot a home runs and a ton of strikeouts. Pretty sure he got paid by the strikeout.

  5. Just a heads up, Scoop – if a player reached base less than 35% of the time, he’s not an all-time great. He’s an all-time good, and was a product of an era of ignorance.

    I realize ‘great’, etc., are subjective terms by nature, but I think you get the point. The truly ‘great’ position players don’t make outs at that clip, regardless of pretty much anything.

    A fun quest along these lines could be finding the best defender who also had elite power, but made outs 65+% of the time. That kind of player would come closest to deserving the ‘great’ label you threw on those ‘good’ players.

    1. I think that is position-dependent, era-dependent and power-dependent. Cal Ripken and Ernie Banks (v1.0) were shortstops, while Pudge Rodriquez and Johnny Bench were two of the greatest catchers in history.

      Ripken is in the top 25 of all time in WAR among all players. Bench is #1 among catchers, while Pudge is #3 overall among catchers and #1 in defensive WAR. Given those facts, and the fact that they had power, I think we can safely call those guys all-time greats.

      Banks, of course, is another matter. He was only a great player for a while. He finished his career by playing way too many years as a below-average first baseman, albeit one much loved. Frankly, he wasn’t even that great when he was young. His numbers were wildly inflated by Wrigley Field (lifetime on the road: 259/.312/.462, and as I have written in the past, he was probably the worst clutch hitter of anyone considered great (lifetime in the late innings of close games: .250/.326/.410 – all games – including the Wrigley Field bump). That said, most people feel that he is an all-time great.

      Those four guys are in the HoF.

      Don Baylor was, as you said, a good player, not an all-time great. Andre Dawson and Parker were great at their peaks, and Dawson is in the Hall. All three earned MVPs (although Baylor was one of the worst MVP selections of all time).

      1. Yeah, I’d say Ripken comes closest. But even he had a bit of an oddity (the streak) that inflated his ability to pile up WAR. But as you say, premium position, put up big power numbers during the steroid era (fwiw), and his ability to be available was historically valuable.

        The catchers are less compelling to me, if only b/c we don’t have HQ framing data that can better inform our analysis on just how good they were at the thing they did most. Offensively, Bench was v good for his position. The same goes for pudge as a backstop/run-game denier. But w/o the framing data any analysis of their true value is incomplete. I wouldn’t feel comfortable comparing them to the truly great players of history as such (through no fault of their own).

        1. Bench and Pudge ARE the truly great players of history. WAR provides that context. (Josh Gibson excluded, of course. Gibson appears to have been far ahead of any other catcher, although it’s difficult to assess his context.)

          As for Ripken, the prime of his career was in the low-scoring period from 1981-1992 when he earned 61 of his 78 career offensive WAR. When he won his MVPs in 1983 and 1991, there were fewer runs scored than in 1970, lower even than some of the years in the first deadball era! By the time offenses started to explode in 1993, he was already playing out the string. Ripken’s offensive numbers were sub-par -( OPS+ 97) in the 1993-2001 era.

          (Yet he made 80% of his career salary in the era when he was no longer an outstanding player, 1993-2001. That always seems to happen in modern baseball. Pujols made about 70% of his career salary with the Angels.)

          Like Banks, Ripken played too long. Unlike Banks, his longevity had little effect on his percentage stats because his dotage came in an era of explosive offense. (Banks had to play out the string in the second deadball era.) Ripken was certainly fortunate in that regard. On the other hand, if he didn’t take steroids, I suppose he gets some credit for playing straight against juiced pitchers.

          The key point is, though, that he averaged 7.0 WAR per year for a decade (1982-1991). Luke Appling never topped 7.0 in his entire career, despite his .400 OBP. In that decade, Ripken’s WAR was as high as Jeter’s entire career! Over an entire career, Ripken is below Honus Wagner, and I’d rank him below the under-appreciated Arky Vaughn, but he’s otherwise on the top of the heap for shortstops.

          How about peak performance? Per baseball-reference, he had the single best year for shortstops (ranked by WAR), and two of the top eight. His two best years are approximately equal to Honus Wagner’s two best. That’s elite.

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          1. I had a ringside seat, the O’s being the locals then, for the bad vibes when Cal first moved to 3rd with Manny Alexander at short. Had thought I thought I’d never see anything again like the general indignation when Doug de Cinces, a very good player but inept flim flam man, took over for Brooks at 3rd. Wrong.
            “In New York they name candy bars after Reggie Jackson. In Baltimore they name children after Brooks Robinson.”

          2. What I’m saying re: Bench & Pudge is that WAR cannot possibly capture any catcher’s true value w/o accounting for the relative quality of their pitch-framing. It’s the thing catchers do most, and represents more potential runs saved (or unsaved) than anything having to do with CS%, for example.

            Because we lacked the data infrastructure at the time, our ability to understand a catcher’s true value, pre-pitchFX, is diminished. Just counting up b-ref WAR and calling it a day is not sound analysis, and especially so with catchers.

            Yeah, we’ve mostly agreed re: Ripken

          3. We have not have all the metrics we’d like, but by the best tools we have, imperfect though they may be, Bench and Pudge are #1 and #3. (Really 2 and 4 if you count Gibson, whose talents appear to be far beyond anybody else’s.) We don’t have some other reasons to say that Bench, Pudge and Berra (also below .350) were not as great as the old-timers.

  6. This reminds me of the success I had the first time I played golf. The first time I shot a 70. But then on the second hole I dropped to an 80 🙁 and on the third hole I lost the ball :((

    1. And that reminds me of the time I went bowling, and got a score of 100. I assumed that was perfect and was quite happy.

      1. And that reminds me of the time that I was playing in a hockey game and my team was trailing 9-0 because our opponents could score at Will. So, what happened is we pulled Will from the net and ended up winning the game 10-9!

  7. I was going to say as you did that with his OBP of .344, it’s not as bad as it seems. That’s a decent OBP by MLB standards.

  8. I think of Adam Dunn for high HR, low BA players. Apparently his worst year was 2012 when he hit 41 homers on a .204 batting average. That was his second-highest HR total and his second-lowest batting average season.

    1. As of this minute, Dunn still holds the record for the lowest batting average by a player with 40 homers or more. Gallo came close one year with 40/.206. It appears that Schwarber will hold that title when this season is over, unless he goes on an unlikely late-season tear to raise his average.

      Fifty seems to be a magic number of homers, as nobody has ever accomplished that with a truly pathetic batting average (never below .260, with no OBP below .347). I have to think somebody will accomplish that soon. I suppose Schwarber could still do it this year if he goes on a homer binge.

      Dunn was the same kind of hitter as Schwarber and Gallo. I suppose he was the prototype. He drew a ton of walks, leading to some good OBPs with poor batting averages. Few realize that Dunn once posted a .400 OBP! Tony Gwynn once had a lower OBP than that in a season with a .358 batting average.

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