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Player Review: Casey Schmitt

Schmitt played baseball like the kid we all wish we still were...if only he could harness that energy into offense production!

MLB: San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

2023 Stats: 90 G, 277 PA, .206/.255/.324, 59 wRC+, 23.5 K%, 4.7 BB%

Casey Schmitt rocketed onto the Major League scene in early May. The first of many position players to make his debut in 2023, Schmitt, who had won a Minor League gold glove award in 2022, wasted no time in flaunting his potential with the bat. He homered over the left-center in his second career trip to the plate. He collected 11 hits including three doubles and two homers in his first 5 games. By the end of May, Schmitt had hit safely in 15 of his first 22 appearances with 9 multi-hit games while hitting .325 with 1 walk to elevate his OBP to .329 and was slugging .470.

But the hotter they burn, the quicker they die out. Big League pitchers took umbrage to the rookie’s swat and hit back. Schmitt’s 27 hits in May plummeted to just 8 in June (64 PA), and 6 in July (65 PA). He managed only 5 doubles and 0 homers over those two fallow months. By the time he was optioned down to Sacramento on August 6th, his OPS over 218 plate appearances was humbled to .548. In maybe the first white flag of the season, Schmitt who had been filling in frequently at short for Brandon Crawford was replaced by Mark Mathias. Schmitt returned two weeks later, ending his homer drought of 70 games with a solo shot in Atlanta on August 27th, while being relegated to a utility bench role, being plugged in around the infield while the experimenting continued at short with Paul DeJong.

Schmitt got tossed back to Sacramento again in mid-September before being called up for the final series against Los Angeles. He ended the season as he began it, launching 2 homers off Ryan Pepiot (recently traded to Tampa in the Tyler Glasnow deal) in his final two trips to the plate.

What do we do with a send-off like that? Best not to read too much into it given the low stakes nature of the situation and the game, but it still felt like a tease. A perplexing and infuriating “hello-goodbye” after months of waiting, like a student returning home for the holidays, only to stick around for 15 minutes before grabbing a Fruit-by-the-Foot from the pantry and heading out the door to hang-out with friends.

This is my own bias—half of my high school ended up at San Diego State—but Schmitt does have that air about him. It’s easy to misinterpret as unconcerned, SoCal apathetic. But really it’s kid-like—seriously unserious and consistently inconsistent—but in the best way. Growing up, he was probably the kid who couldn’t let a ball roll by without chasing it down, corralling it, kicking it, picking it up and hucking it. Asked to solve fifteen single-digit multiplication problems, it’d probably take him forever, not because of inability, just disinterest. Yet, once released, he’d run outside and be able to throw a tennis ball against a wall for hours.

Once I was teaching a grammar lesson about proper nouns (hint: you capitalize them) and a third grader sat up from his desk and, from the middle of the classroom, squared up and shot a balled-up paper towel into the trash can like it was a basketball. Asked what he was thinking there was no answer, a blank stare, as if he had entered a fugue state and had no memory of what he had just done.

It’s primal, instinctual—this pursuit of the ball. It’s easy to mock, but do we not spend our days on a spinning blue sphere hurtling through the galaxy? Most of us—even some professional baseball players—button down our wants and bind our limbs in starch and pretend like we don’t care or understand. We watch stained with jealousy as Schmitt, all too aware of life’s harshness, unabashedly scratches the itch. He wants the baseball. He squirrels around the infield after it. He holds onto the ball a half-second longer than he needs to so he can hurl it across the diamond as hard as he can. He starts to vibrate in the batter’s box waiting for the pitch to come. Anything close, he swings because what else is there to do? Why would you let a ball go by you? What’s the point in that?

100% of every home run ever hit in baseball history resulted from a swing. If a player is in that headspace, it makes sense they’d step into the box ready to hack. I don’t think any professional is driven by that specific mindset, but it’s clear Schmitt’s plate strategy is to not be there long.

He swung at 55% of the pitches he saw in the 2023 season (the MLB average is 47.1%) and swung at 71% at the pitches he saw in the strike zone (average 67%). He made contact with those pitches 82% of the time (about league average). On top of that his First-pitch swing rate of 38.6% was 9 points higher than average. Though he hit .333 with an .899 OPS when he put that initial pitch in play (11 H on 33 AB/ 37 PA), if he didn’t his average dropped to .182. He only saw six 3-0 counts and fourteen 3-1 counts all season. His 3.49 pitches per plate appearance was the lowest on the San Francisco Giants (min. 200 PA).

But if the relationship between batter and pitcher is an exchange of adjustments, it’s not hard to counter aggressiveness—just stop throwing it in the zone. It was an effective strategy when pitchers did: Schmitt’s 38.5% chase rate was 10 percentage points higher than the MLB average while his contact rate of 54.1% when he chased was 4 percentage points lower than the average. But Schmitt also saw the highest percentage of strikes on the club (69.4%) while having the second-highest rate of putting the ball in play on total strikes (28.9%) behind Luis Matos. He didn’t whiff nearly as much as someone like Blake Sabol, but similar to Matos, the quality of contact was often mediocre. Hitting a baseball is hard, hitting it well is even harder. The Run Value he produced against sinkers (171 pitches) and sliders (195 pitches) were both -2 while maybe most telling is that he was bamboozled by four-seamers (294 pitches), mustering a meager -8 Run Value against.

My hunch is that learning discernment at the plate isn’t a viable option for Schmitt. He’s never going to be Mike Yastrzemski. Every fastball taken is a missed opportunity to smash it! So if he’s going to swing, make the swing better, more consistent—because it was all over the place last year.

Easier said than done, but there’s time since J.D. Davis took Brooks Robinson’s (RIP) Master Class in playing third base last offseason and inserted himself in early All-Star/Gold Glove conversations. If not for Davis’s defensive renaissance, San Francisco would be reliant on Schmitt to start at the hot corner in 2024 at the expense of his bat. Davis has one more year of arbitration eligibility (projected $6.8 million) before he becomes a free agent, so Schmitt has this next season to get more dangerous offensively while providing infield utility. I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts the season in Sacramento or in San Francisco, either way he’ll probably be taxi-ing between the two throughout the season given the club’s needs.

I imagine it won’t be a role he’s satisfied with.