Kyle Schwarber is a mythical player for the Chicago Cubs, and frankly, he has been for quite a while now. It all started when he went 4-for-7 with two home runs and four RBI against Cincinnati in an unbelievable back-and-forth win on July 11, 2015. The lead in the Tribune the following day said it all:
“While you were sleeping, a legend was born.”
That was his eleventh game with the Cubs—eleventh!—and he was unequivocally crowned as The Next Big Thing. What has the young smasher done since then?
– Belted his first career postseason home run into the Alleghany River to help drown the Pirates championship hopes in the 2015 Wild Card game.
– Smacked a home run so monstrous against the Cardinals in the NLDS that it was encased in freaking glass atop the new video scoreboard.
– Helped the Cubs win the World Series with one of the greatest injury comebacks of all time by slashing .412/.500/.471 on the biggest stage in franchise history. Which included a 3-for-5 performance in Game 7 with a stolen base.
Legendary stuff, for sure. He earned his status by performing at the highest levels and in the biggest of moments for a normally downtrodden franchise and has cemented himself as one of the favorite players of many Cubs’ fans.
When trying to project Schwarber’s 2017 season, though, we should all try to check our expectations as much as possible. This is a guy who has only played in only 85 games (including the postseason) in his career, and despite all the flashy moments, there were plenty of struggles along the way.
Obviously, the largest sample we have to go off of is his rookie year of 2015 when he played in 69 games and made 273 plate appearances. He finished the season with a .246/.355/.487 slash line which was good for 1.9 WARP and a .307 TAv.
Zoom in on the year and you see a tale of two seasons. In Schwarber’s first 36 games, he hit .311/.407/.613 with 10 homers and 19 walks to 38 strikeouts with a .375 BABIP. Over the next 33 games, the league adjusted, and Schwarber struggled to re-adjust. During that stretch, he hit .177/.301/.354 with six home runs, and 18 walks to 39 strikeouts and a .206 BABIP.
The good and the bad are both small sample sizes, so neither is a determination of his day-to-day capabilities. All we know is that Schwarber broke into the bigs like a bat out of hell and then stumbled into the playoffs a little bit before going berserk against the Pirates and Cardinals. This could also be a function of good luck versus bad based on the BABIP of each half of the season. With the league average always around .300, Schwarber was both exceptionally lucky and unlucky at various points throughout his rookie season, so his year-long numbers are a decent barometer to the kind of player he could be.
2016 was supposed to be the year we learned if Schwarber was capable of re-adjusting throughout the season, giving us a larger sample of data to determine who he really is. But because he tore his ACL and LCL against the Diamondbacks in his second game of the season, it’s still up in the air. Even though he made such an impact versus the Indians in the World Series, we are dealing with too small a sample to truly know what to expect from Schwarber this season.
This isn’t to suggest that Schwarber is going to be a bust, or that he won’t be a successful major leaguer for many years to come. It’s just to put Schwarber’s career into perspective in case he still has some growing pains to go through this season. If there are any struggles, it’s only reasonable to expect him to work his way out of them eventually as he’s proven to have an unquestionable work ethic. Schwarber is going to be a consistently valuable player—it just might come in bursts and spurts here and there throughout the upcoming season.
For what’s it worth, in 2017 he projects for 597 plate appearances with a .248 average with 31 home runs, 91 runs scored, 84 RBI and four stolen bases for a .288 TAv and 2.8 WARP. If he meets those expectations, he will almost certainly be a top-ten left fielder in the game.
When it comes to young and exciting players in the sport today, Kyle Schwarber is near the top of the list thanks to the unbelievable at-bats he’s had for the Cubs over the past two postseasons. Because of what he’s already accomplished, Schwarber is, and always will be a Cubs legend. But it still might take him a little time to show that he’s capable of doing what he’s already shown us he can do more consistently.
Lead photo courtesy Tommy Gilligan—USA Today Sports