Year in Review:
Well. Where do we begin? There may not have been a more talked-about player on the Chicago Cubs roster in 2017 than Kyle Schwarber, and much of it really wasn’t for the right reasons. Whether it was his disastrous stint in the leadoff spot (.190 average, .312 on-base, 83 wRC+) or his stint in Iowa, Schwarber tended to attract a lot of negative attention. Some of it was warranted, sure, but much of it was not. In fact, a lot of what plagued Schwarber early on seemed to be mitigated as the season wore on, especially upon his return from Triple-A.
Schwarber’s second-half figures were a sight to behold. He hit only .253, but that was still a 75-point increase from the first half. His ISO came in over .300, while his park-adjusted offense was about 45 points higher, according to wRC+. He hit the ball harder as well, with a 43.9 percent Hard hit rate that was about a 12-point increase from the first half. Whatever mechanical or mental adjustments were made in Iowa were quite evident. And sure, he had his problems in either regard, but he also ran into a ton of bad luck. His .244 BABIP for the year was the ninth-worst among position players with at least 450 plate appearances in 2017. It probably helped that both his line drive and flyball rates increased, while the groundball percentage fell, which is what a player with Schwarber’s skill set should be doing anyway.
It probably says a lot about Schwarber that he was able to put up such paltry average and on-base figures, but still come out above average on the TAv and wRC+ side. He obviously possesses immense power, but he still needs to work on the contact side. His 72.4 percent contact rate was a significant improvement, but even with his second half surge, he still struck out at a clip over 30 percent. Schwarber’s never been knocked for having a poor approach, it’s just a matter of that zone awareness translating into more contact and fewer strikeouts.
Oh, and it’s probably worth noting that both FRAA (2.8) and UZR (3.4) had Schwarber sitting as a positive defender, according to the metrics. Are defensive metrics reliable? Probably not. Is it still worth pointing out to folks that have essentially declared Schwarber a liability and a waste as a defender? Yes.
This is where things get interesting. Kyle Schwarber isn’t getting traded. Does it potentially make sense on paper to move Schwarber for pitching? Somewhat. But the love that this front office possesses for Schwarber is very real. It’s not sentimentality, as some have claimed, but rather a recognition of extreme offensive upside from the left-handed batter’s box. While nobody (at least nobody not named Rizzo, Bryant, or Contreras) is untouchable, Schwarber is going to be very difficult for anyone to acquire, American League be damned.
Instead, the Cubs will likely aim to have Kyle Schwarber be their full-time left fielder in 2017, and developments in the last week suddenly have this as a very enticing prospect. Despite what narratives have indicated, Kyle Schwarber has never been an outright bad fielder. There are lapses, sure, but his athleticism was somewhat under-appreciated, and he played a better left than most had thought he would. With his new body taking shape, though, we could be in for improvements on that end. Schwarber has toned his figure in a way that we haven’t seen before, and it’ll be extremely interesting to see if that translates to more success on the fielding side.
From an offensive standpoint, we’ve already touched on the improvements that need to take place. He needs to make contact with more regularity, but the second half did showcase a lot of what we need to see from Schwarber moving forward. Don’t forget, this was a guy that, despite all his struggles, still hit 30 homers. The power is there. It’s a matter of consistency in the contact department and cutting down dramatically on the whiffs. Elevating said contact would also be tremendously beneficial, as we saw luck play a little more into his favor in the second half when he wasn’t driving the ball into the ground. And in that same vein, it’s extremely difficult to see Schwarber running into the same type of bad luck that he experienced throughout much of 2017.
Not seeing Schwarber in the leadoff spot would be a preference. Despite Joe Maddon’s continued interest (and on some level it makes sense, given his approach and on-base skills), Schwarber is a masher. He should be in a position to mash. But that element is one of many that likely makes Kyle Schwarber one of the most intriguing Cubs pieces, as far as position players go, heading into the upcoming 2018 year.
Lead photo courtesy Jim Young—USA Today Sports