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Kyle Schwarber Leads MLB’s 20 Most Mind-Blowing Hitting and Pitching Feats of 2023

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year … except for one thing:It’s no longer baseball season!But that’s where we come in. It’s our not-so-solemn duty to get you through these long, chilly, baseball-free months by helping you relive the best of the Strange But True baseball season of 2023. Don’t tell us you already forgot that …

An unforgettable on-base streak ended even though the man who compiled that streak was standing on first base. … And we really did see a real human being steal third base and home on the same pitch. … And a team pitched a no-hitter despite the minor hindrance of also allowing seven runs — in the same inning!

We’re not making any of that up. We spend the whole year keeping track of wacky stuff like this so you don’t have to. So join us now as we relive The Strange But True Feats of 2023 … in five parts. Today’s installment: the hitters … the pitchers … and that Shohei guy who apparently does both of the above!

The Strangest But Truest Hitter of 2023: The Schwarbino Kyle Schwarber had 47 homers and 48 singles on the season. (Eric Hartline / USA Today)

“Can you do me a favor?” Kyle Schwarber asked us one day in late September, though not totally seriously. “Can you write a story that tells people I actually had a good year?”

Sure. Why the heck not? It can be hard to know what to make of a leadoff hitter who finished the season hitting .197 with 215 strikeouts. So allow the Strange But True Feats of the Year column to help with that. It beats calculating those December wind-chill factors.

He’s the most unique leadoff monster of all time! Does it seem kinda Strange But True to see a team look at a .197 hitter who leads the league in strikeouts and decide: “Here’s a good way to win the World Series. Let’s have that guy lead off?”

Well, that’s what the Phillies did with the Schwarbino. On one hand, it allowed him to become the first man in the modern era to roll up at least 500 leadoff plate appearances in a season in which his average never made it to the Mendoza Line. (Previous record for lowest full-season average: .211, by Eddie “Sparky” Lake, for the 1947 Tigers.)

But wait. On the other hand, after the Phillies moved Schwarber into that leadoff spot to stay on June 2, they went 65-41 in games in which he led off. Which means they played like a 99-win team when he occupied the top slot in their lineup. So whatever. That worked! Here’s a perfect Strange But True example of how …

He was a leadoff earthquake waiting to happen! For 108 games in 2023, Schwarber was the first Phillies hitter to step into the box. He got a hit to lead off exactly 21 of those games. He hit a single to lead off only six of those games. So you think that was a problem?

Um, not so much. His OPS leading off games still wound up at 1.056. Does that sound good? It should, since it was merely the highest OPS, as the first batter of the game, in the history of a franchise that has been around since 1883 … because, apparently, all those leadoff walks (21) and leadoff Schwarbombs (11) can also be helpful. Which reminds us: If we just talk about his whiffs and his average, we’re leaving out some stuff!

He was also Ruthian! You know what else apparently can be helpful? Piling up massive amounts of homers (47), RBIs (104), runs scored (108) and walks (126). You know who has had that season? Oh, only Babe Ruth (six times), Mark McGwire (twice), Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Barry Bonds and Aaron Judge (once). And also …Kyle Schwarber.

Which meant even more all-time Strange But True stuff was possible. Such as …

He was pretty much as productive as a guy who hit .306! Let the record show that, according to Baseball Reference, Schwarber finished with an OPS+ of 122. And how Strange But True is it for a guy who batted .197 to have an OPS that was still 22 percent better than league average? Well, it’s the highest OPS+ in history by a qualifying hitter whose average started with a “1.” So there’s that. But there’s also this:

Bo Bichette in 2023 — .306 AVG, 123 OPS+
Schwarber in 2023 — .197 AVG, 122 OPS+

How can that be possible? Excellent question. I’m not in charge of OPS+ calculations, but I’m guessing it has something to do with this: The guy who hit .197, amazingly, had a higher on-base percentage (.343) than the guy who hit .306 (.339)! That can happen when one guy draws 99 more walks than the other guy. But nevertheless, here come more Schwarbarian shockers. …

He hit .197 … and still led his team in runs scored! Does that seem hard to do? You should answer yes, because here’s the complete list of players since 1900 who have done that, on any team, with an average below .200, over any full season:

Kyle Schwarber, 2023 Phillies
List ends here — but not this list …

He had 100 more whiffs (215) than hits (115) … but still led his team in runs scored! You’ll love the rundown of all the special offensive forces who have ever finished a season with at least 100 more strikeouts than hits:

Adam Dunn (twice) … Joey Gallo (three times) … Chris Davis (2018) … and Schwarber (2023). What. A. Group. But … how many of those legendary whiffers also had 108 runs scored or led their team in runs (or both)? Here’s that complete list:

Kyle Schwarber, 2023 Phillies
List ends here

Stay out of the WAR Zone — Not surprisingly, Schwarber says even his teammates had all kinds of fun messing with him over his wacky stat line.

“There was a time,” he recalled fondly, “at some point this year, that I was a negative WAR player. So we were all laughing about that.”

Hey, his good news was that, by season’s end, he did in fact climb out of that negative-WAR zone. The bad news was, thanks to glovemanship issues that the WAR gods couldn’t ignore, he climbed to a final figure of only 0.6 WAR. Which meant …

Was it really possible for a man to mash 47 homers and surpass 100 RBIs and 100 runs scored, yet still be worth less than one win above replacement? Eh, we guess so. But had it ever appeared possible before? That would be no.

Incredibly, the only previous, similar monster season to lead to a WAR number under 3.0 was produced by another Phillies masher of some renown — Ryan Howard, in 2008. Somehow, the Baseball Reference WAR room looked at that Howard season — which included a staggering 48 homers, 146 RBIs and 105 runs — and calculated that to be worth just 1.8 WAR. Clearly, WAR can be confusing like that sometimes.

So in the end, did Kyle Schwarber care about his average or his whiffs or his WAR? Nope!

“I mean, did I picture myself doing this, hitting what I’m hitting? No,” he said. “I’m the first to tell you it’s all kind of interesting. … But you know what? At the end of the day, for me, if we’re getting a win, I’m happy.”

Our favorite Strange But True Ohtani-isms of 2023 What can’t he do? Will Ohtani play quarterback next? (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

It’s almost a reflex action to start every Strange But True column with the regularly scheduled Shohei Ohtani highlight reel. But since you’ve been treated to, like, 988 other Ohtani stories in the past week and a half, we’ll let him hit second in this lineup.

Oh, and also: We’ve already dug deep into the wildness and weirdness of that $700 million contract … and compared him to Mookie Betts/Gerrit Cole … and reminded you how many consecutive hits he’d have to give up before his career batting average would drop below the average of Unhappy Hitters Who Have to Face Ohtani. So no need to do that again.

Which means we can just use this space to shake our heads again over our favorite Strange But True Ohtani moments from 2023. Ready? So … on with the Shoh.

He never stopped making Tungsten Arm O’Doyle jokes possible — Do we need to re-tell, for…

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