Kyle Schwarber is hitting barely .200. He’s a less-than-competent fielder. He strikes out over 30 percent of the time. And yet, as the Cubs prime themselves for a run to October, there are few hitters that are to be feared within their lineup more than the burly left fielder.
Those who have not followed the Cubs throughout 2017, instead choosing to look at his numbers without any context, are likely still under the impression that Kyle Schwarber is the monumental disappointmentment which he was labeled as earlier in the year. On the other hand, those who follow the Cubs with anything beyond regularity know the story of his season, as he begins to catch fire at just the right time.
Heading into Thursday’s tilt with the Brewers, in which he went 1-for-2 with a homer, Schwarber was hitting .207 with a .313 on-base percentage. His TAv, at .263 (as well as FanGraphs’ wRC+ metric at 103) paint him as a just about average hitter for the entire 2017 season, which is a pretty impressive feat considering the lows that he’s experienced over the course of the year. This is a player that had large expectations after a strong playoff performance, only to hit .178 in the first half and spend some time in Iowa. The fact that his entire body of work indicates average production at least somewhat lends itself to us being able to label his season a success.
But at this specific point in time, it’s becoming quite difficult to temper expectations and not go all-in on Schwarber as a hitter for the remainder of the year. His second half numbers are impressive enough on their own, specifically in his time since returning from his stint in Triple-A.
When Schwarber returned to Chicago on July 6th, he was hitting .168. His on-base percentage was .291. His slugging was a mere .372.
Contrast that with where he is now.
While a .207 average doesn’t scream success, it’s a far cry from where he was at that point in the season. He finished the month of July with a .250 average, and while he followed that up with a .238 July, he has managed to rebound extremely nicely with a .282 average thus far in September. His OBP over those three months has been .333, .340, and .333, respectively. In fact, September is shaping up to be Schwarber’s best month of the season. Not only is his average the highest in an individual month, his OPS (at .949) is also the highest it’s been in a single month.
It’s really easy to forget with Schwarber, though, just how much bad luck he’s experienced over the course of the year. His batting average on balls in play during the first half of the season came in at .200. He was the worst player in that regard for a while, and his .240 mark still stands as the sixth-lowest overall among position players with at least 450 plate appearances in 2017. But not only have the months of August and September shown us what happens for Schwarber when some of those balls in play start to fall, but also that he’s combating a low BABIP by just mashing balls over the fence.
In the second half of the season, Schwarber has posted a Hard% of 44.4 percent, according to FanGraphs. That represents roughly about a 13 percent increase from his hard hit rate from the first half of the year. As such, it should come as no surprise that his BABIP during the second half is .310. That’s 110 points higher than his mark from the first half. Additionally, his ISO in the second half is an astronomical .309. Obviously much of his production came from the long ball in the first half, when the production was there, but even so this is still nearly a 90-point increase from the first half. That’s remarkable.
And really what Schwarber has managed to do in the second half of the season, lately in particular, is just the culmination of the adjustments that he’s made and the quiet successes he was already experiencing. His 69.7 percent contact rate could stand to be improved, but is likely better than what his skill set might have indicated. While he’s been somewhat susceptible to strikeouts, he has been relatively good at limiting the whiffs and has demonstrated a decent awareness of the zone, as indicated by his walk percentage over 12. The skill set was there, it was just a matter of mechanical refinement, some luck, and (subsequently) a little bit of confidence. Right now, we’re witnessing Schwarber serving as as large a threat as he’s been at any point this season.
An immense power threat, there are going to continue to be some drawbacks in Schwarber’s game. The strikeouts are never going away and the fielding, as blown out of proportion as it may be, is never going to be anything more than an average element of his game, at best. However, what we’ve seen from Kyle Schwarber indicates that he is potentially every bit the player that we’ve envisioned he’d become after his superhuman performance in last year’s World Series. Appearing to be mentally above where he was earlier in the year, as well as mechanically improved and now successfully combating the BABIP element have all combined to make him one of the more dangerous components of this Cubs team. With every run counting right now, opposing pitchers are likely living in fear of what his bat has done in this second half, and very well could continue to do down the stretch run.
Lead photo courtesy Benny Sieu—USA Today Sports