Heading into full spring training, and into the season, one of the things intent Cub watchers are curious about is how, once again, Joe Maddon will juggle all the players he needs to get into the lineup. We know there are five guys for infield spots in Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Javy Baez, Addison Russell, and Kris Bryant. All of them are calling for a lot of playing time because of various skills. And we know there is even more of a jam in the outfield, where all of Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Jason Heyward, Albert Almora, Bryant, Zobrist, and even Willson Contreras if necessary can take a day out there. And now I’ve punted Matt (Can’t Fight The) Szczur into the mist, which really isn’t nice of me.
So, because none of us really want to work during the day, or talk to anyone, or think about the pointlessness of our existence and the imminent danger that surrounds at every corner, we try and come up with the permutations of how rotate everyone in and out.
One notion out there, which has hardly been taken as a definite, is sitting Schwarber against lefties to get Zobrist a spot in the outfield and then Baez a spot in the infield. This is based on 61 plate appearancess in 2015, in which War Bear looked definitely hobo-like against southpaws. But hey, we’re all nerds here, and there’s nothing we nerds love to yell more than “SAMPLE SIZE!” It’s our raison d’être. It’s our oxygen. And it applies here.
As Larry Scott wrote last week, there probably isn’t a player that has seen his stature or legend so greatly outsize what he’s actually done than Schwarber. And that’s not to criticize him. He got to the majors in a ridiculously short amount of time, and then he got hurt. He’s been such a story that we sometimes forget that we only have a half-season in the majors to study and really barely only a season’s worth in the minors. There’s just so much we don’t know.
But oh, that half-season. Now that the Cubs have gone on to accomplish the only thing that really matters, it may have faded that in only 69 games in 2015 he was worth 1.9 WAR. At age 22. And looking back through the past 30 years, there aren’t a lot of left-handed only hitters who put up a 4-WAR season at 22 or younger, which we can sort of extrapolate Schwarber would have done. And that’s without any defensive value whatsoever.
Here are the lefty hitters to put up a 4.0 WAR season or better at age 22 or younger. Bryce Harper in 2015, Cory Seager last year, Griffey in ’91, Heyward in ’12, Grady Sizemore in ’05, Bonds in ’87, Griffey again in ’92, Carl Crawford in ’04, Hank Blalock in ’03, Heyward again in ’10, Harper again in ’12, Christian Yelich in ’14, and Adam Dunn in 2000. It’s not a long list considering the timeframe. Keep in mind that some of these were enhanced by fielding value or speed value, which Schwarber isn’t going to provide.
And none of them were shielded from lefties in that year or the year following. All of them managed 150 PAs at least in the year they put up that kind of performance and the one after. Not a one was restricted to a platoon.
And while we don’t have much to look at in his past, Schwarber clocked lefties in Double-A, the level in the minors he spent the most time at. It was only 58 games, but an OPS of 1.178 in 58 games is an antihistamine number (not to be sneezed at, for those of you who haven’t spent much time in an OTB, which is probably all of you).
Quite simply, given what little we have on Schwarber and how impressive it’s all been, he appears to be in that next class of hitter and really should be turned loose as much as his legs can handle. It’s Heyward and Jay who should probably move aside at times to get Baez and Almora the at-bats they need. Schwarber, so far, has stepped aside for no man.
Lead photo courtesy Mark J. Rebilas—USA Today Sports