Maybe it was the Mets series in 2015. Maybe it was a wildly down half year that resulted in a demotion to Triple-A in 2017. Maybe it was a misplay and then a broken shoe over the weekend in St. Louis. Regardless of what caused it, there isn’t a ton of optimism to go around for Kyle Schwarber. That is, of course, unless you hail from or maintain allegiances to the North Side of Chicago.
I’m not going to sift through the internet and find tweets and takes about Cub fans’ favorite Large Adult Son. Mostly because I’ll end up sweating with rage by the end of it. Regardless of the lack of textual evidence presented here, the ire toward Schwarber on the part of various writers and fans throughout baseball is palpable. And probably unwarranted.
Is it reasonable to have some questions about Schwarber’s ceiling based off of his skill set? Absolutely. He’s a power guy with a penchant for strikeouts who still have plenty of developing to do in the field. It’s also possible that folks are putting far too much stock in what was legitimately Schwarber’s first full season in 2017, one which saw him post a .244 BABIP, in addition to that stint in Iowa. It’s also worth nothing that Schwarber’s total body of work fails to illustrate a second half in which he reached base at a .335 clip, posted a .306 ISO, and featured a 129 wRC+, according to FanGraphs. He also made hard contact at a rate of nearly 44 percent. There was a lot of growth there.
And that growth has continued into 2018, which should feed into optimism surrounding the formerly burly outfielder. Yet, outside of Chicago there’s a relative absence of it. But what Schwarber has turned in thus far, even beyond his unbelievable physical transformation that transpired over the course of the offseason, should have his stock pointing up rather than any other possible direction.
The following represents where Schwarber’s production to this point stands among position players with at least 100 plate appearances thus far in 2018, a group that includes over 200 players:
- OBP: .372 – 43rd
- BB%: 14.2% – 28th
- ISO: .278 – 18th
- TAv: .307 – 37th
- wRC+: 147 – 32nd
- K/BB: 0.62 – 51st
Nobody is claiming that Schwarber is an elite player in the National League. Does he have at least one elite tool, in regard to his power, and potentially another, as far as his batting eye is concerned? Absolutely. The numbers above paint an extremely pretty picture for a player that so many had been ready to give up on less than one calendar year ago. Beyond where he stands against his position-playing peers, though, this is a player demonstrating consistent improvement towards what he can be.
Schwarber’s patience and zone vision continue to improve. His 4.31 pitches per plate appearance ranks seventh in all of baseball and fourth in the National League. His walk rate, as a result, has bumped up from 12.1% in 2017 to 14.2% in 2018. And while a combination of working deep counts and struggling to make consistent contact have led to a brutal strikeout rate in his short time at the major league level, he’s managed to cut his K-rate pretty significantly thus far. After striking out over 30% of the time in 2017 (30.9%), he’s gotten that down to just 23.0% this year. His whiff rate has fallen two percent, coming in at 10.1%. That’s significant. And his contact has come along with it.
Schwarber has seen his contact rate on pitches overall rise about three percent, coming in at 75.9%. His Contact% on pitches in the zone has risen at about the same clip, with his 83.8% rate also representing a three percent increase. His contact rate on pitches outside of the zone has remained almost identical, but, and perhaps more importantly, he has cut his Swing% on such pitches by nearly five percent, with an O-Swing% of 23.4%.
As far as the fielding is concerned, it’s a work in progress. And it’s never been downright bad. Room for improvement and development? Certainly. Schwarber lacks instincts in the outfield and has to compensate with athleticism and reps. But regardless of how average, or even slightly below average, his fielding might be, the bat will always compensate and justify his place in the batting order.
As I write this, I find myself becoming even more dumbfounded by those who direct anything other than optimism toward Kyle Schwarber. Obviously some of those are fans of rival teams, but national and certain beat writers don’t tend to favor him either. But this is a player who has demonstrated marked improvement. And this doesn’t even really take into account his work ethic, something that is less quantifiable other than within his body transformation from the winter. He’s committed to his craft and the improvements are quite evident on the stat sheet. As he continues to become more aware of the zone, he could potentially make even more contact, and transform into more of a consistent threat. That’s all in conjunction with the massive power that he already possesses.
We’re looking at a legitimate weapon for the Chicago Cubs, and the numbers absolutely support it. It’s time for the rest of the world to recognize what has been so apparent to the North Side faithful for quite some time.
Lead photo courtesy Jeff Curry—USA Today Sports Images