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Kyle Schwarber and the Phillies might not have come together without a down 2020 — and the bounce back that followed

Philadelphia Phillies fans are, on the whole, rather excited about the addition of Kyle Schwarber.

It’s hard to argue they shouldn’t be.

Not only is Schwarber still just 29 years old, and not only will the four-year deal likely carry him through the bulk of his prime (and perhaps no further), but Schwarber is also coming off arguably the best season of his career: 32 home runs and a career-best .928 OPS. Schwarber’s 2021 — at least offensively — was an objectively good season. 

Kyle Schwarber turned a stellar 2021 season into a big payday. (All-Pro Reels)

Part of the reason Schwarber was able to cash in on that objectively good 2021? An objectively weak 2020.

That year, the final year of the lefty slugger’s tenure with the Chicago Cubs team that drafted him fourth overall in 2014, was a struggle. Schwarber played all but one game of the pandemic-shortened 60-game schedule, hitting below the Mendoza Line and barely cracking the .700s in OPS. The Cubs, who were in cost-cutting mode, non-tendered him after the season.

Schwarber then signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Washington Nationals.

The rest is history.

“I’ll be the first one to tell you — 2020, there’s no excuses for that. It is what it is,” Schwarber said in his introductory press conference Monday. “I knew it wasn’t a representation of me. I needed to go out there and prove to myself first and foremost that that wasn’t the player I am. It’s definitely rewarding to go out there and do what you do, but it doesn’t shock me that I wanted to go out there and perform like that. Because I know what I can bring on the field, and I want to keep doing that.”

It’s entertaining — if ultimately meaningless — to consider whether Schwarber and the Phillies might have linked up last offseason had 2020 gone smoother for the former. At least on the surface, it seems unlikely. With one year still remaining on left fielder Andrew McCutchen’s contract and the designated hitter still a year out from universal implementation, the immediate fit between team and player might not have seemed obvious.

That’s not to say one odd year would have sunk the idea — the Phillies knew that McCutchen’s contract would come off the books and that the universal DH was a likely piece of the impending Collective Bargaining Agreement — but the timing might not have lined up like it did this offseason. 

Certainly, in addition, Schwarber’s four-month tutelage under former Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long only helped. Long helped Schwarber bounce back from that rough 2020 via a series of mechanical tweaks, such as spreading his feet out more and compacting his swing.

Now reunited in Philly, Long will figure to play a significant role in Schwarber’s success this season — just as he did in Schwarber’s recruitment this offseason.

“When we had our meetings down here — actually, and Kevin had just come on board — we came down here and reviewed the different organizations and offseason priorities,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said during the same Monday press conference. “We were setting our list together, and Kevin [said], ‘This is the guy. This is the guy’ … Kevin Long was very forceful, saying, ‘This is the person.’”

Long, just like Schwarber, seemed convinced that 2020 Kyle Schwarber was not the real Kyle Schwarber. 

That year was one of just two qualified seasons in which Schwarber had an OPS below .820. It came sandwiched between his career-best 2021 mark of .928 and his career-second-best .871 clip in 2019. And the year itself, as Dombrowski was sure to point out on Monday, was atypical in every way — sample size (60 games), daily routine, you name it.

So how much stock did that season hold for Dombrowski and co?

“You’re always balancing long term versus what’s happened in anybody’s career with the short term. But in all of our homework, we think the world of Kyle’s ability and his makeup. I look at 2020 as being sort of an unusual year in baseball, period, and to look at last year being more representative,” Dombrowksi said. “I don’t mean to say he’s just tapping into it — but he’s in the prime of his career, has a chance to continue to grow.”

Schwarber’s trajectory is already pointed upward. So if that further growth forecasted by Dombrowski comes to fruition, the Phillies will be quite thankful for their four-year union with him — a union that just a couple years ago seemed quite unlikely.


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