Welcome to our 2021 Boston Red Sox in Review series. This is, as you can probably guess, where we will be reviewing all of the players who made at least a modest impact on the Red Sox in 2021. Every weekday we’ll be deep diving into one player, describing the season in a sentence, looking at the positives from the year as well as negatives, looking back at our one big question from our season preview and looking ahead to the 2022 season. Today we look at Kyle Schwarber’s 2021 campaign.
2021 in one sentence
Kyle Schwarber’s start with the Red Sox was a bit delayed due to injury, but he was a game-changer in the lineup once he was activated and became a big engine to their run through the postseason.
The Red Sox were not a team that was in desperate need of offense at the trade deadline, but that doesn’t mean the addition of Schwarber into the mix gave them a new wrinkle they were clearly missing. While they scored plenty of runs in the first half, it always seemed to run the risk of cold streaks more than perhaps other offenses with similar overall run totals, and that was largely due to the team’s approach. Boston was one of the most aggressive offenses in the league, and they saw both the good and the bad of that.
Enter: Schwarber. With their biggest deadline addition, the Red Sox suddenly got a patient hitter right in the middle of their lineup, and not only did he work some counts and produce thanks to the plate discipline, but he started to rub off on players as well, most notable among them being Bobby Dalbec. The first baseman’s surge actually served to complicate things for Schwarber, somewhat ironically, but it was huge for the team in the second half and has opened up the paths they can take at first base looking forward.
But we should not, in the process of praising Schwarber for the effect he had on this team as a whole, forget about the things he actually did at the plate. He was nothing short of elite when he was able to get in the Red Sox lineup, starting with that plate discipline. While also cutting his strikeout rate down to 23 percent after the trade compared to 29 percent before it, he also walked just under 20 percent of the time, which is an absurd rate. Throw in a ton of hard contact, and he hit .291/.435/.522 for a highly impressive 161 wRC+. That final mark put him among the top 16 hitters in baseball from August 13 (his first game with the Red Sox) on.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the trade to acquire Schwarber was a major win for the Red Sox and a significant reason they were able to stay alive in the second half to sneak into the postseason and then make a run to the ALCS. But there were still some negatives, starting with that availability. Again, it didn’t end up mattering, and it’s certainly not a situation where we can blame the player, but the fact is Schwarber was unavailable for the first two weeks after he was acquired, which also happened to be a point of free fall for the Red Sox. They recovered and snuck into the postseason, but it shouldn’t have been that close, and the injury made things tougher for the Red Sox.
The other negative I have here is also one that we can’t really blame on Schwarber and is actually more of a fit issue than anything else, but there was never a great defensive home found for him. It was clear he had to be in the lineup most every night, but J.D. Martinez was the DH, the outfield was mostly set, and Dalbec was setting the world on fire at first base. Schwarber did settle in at first base in the postseason, and while it’s understandable given his lack of experience at the position, he made a few mistakes there with the glove. Again, it’s not really a Schwarber problem and his positives at the plate outweigh everything in this section, but we have to put something here.
The Big Question
2022 and Beyond
Schwarber was able to be acquired by the Red Sox for just Aldo Ramirez (a solid prospect, but still just one player) in part because he was only under contract for 2021. He is now a free agent, and there does seem to be a fair amount of interest there. The expectation that the National League will add the DH in 2022 helps his market, as does the fact that he just raked for all of 2021, including his time with the Nationals in the first half. After trading Hunter Renfroe, Schwarber would certainly make sense for the Red Sox to play left field and perhaps a little more first base, though Chaim Bloom did mention a desire to find a right-handed bat. I think Schwarber is exempt from that consideration, but his market will be very interesting to monitor whenever markets can become a thing again.