There isn’t much doubt about Kyle Schwarber’s hitting prowess. He sandwiched an 8-for-22 (.364 average) week in his cameo as a designated hitter in June in between raking at Double-A Tennessee (1.017 OPS in 58 games) and Triple-A Iowa (1.036 OPS in 17 games) before going 3-for-4 in his return to the majors on Friday.
In 621 plate appearances at the minor league level, Schwarber owns a .333/.429/.613/1.042 slash line in 147 games.
But can he receive the way Cubs pitchers need him to during a playoff push?
Examine the Baseball Prospectus catcher metrics leaderboard and you’ll see a trend. Eight catchers who rank in the top 10 in extra strikes — which accounts for the difference between actual and predicted strikes received — play for teams who entered Saturday’s action at or above .500. Four of the top six play for National League contenders, with Yasmani Grandal of the Dodgers leading the way.
Checking in at fourth is Cubs catcher Miguel Montero. Teammate David Ross ranks 15th on this list, which would show that 11 of the top 15 catchers in this category play for teams that are at .500 or better.
In an era where offense is down and the focus on run prevention is so prevalent, this is probably no coincidence.
Nine catchers who rank in the top 11 in Stat Corner’s Runs Above Average saved are on teams that are in the running for a postseason spot. Conversely, only two of the 12 worst in the category are on teams that are above .500 at the All-Star break.
You can check out that list and where all of baseball’s catchers rank in its entirety here.
That list also features two Cubs with Ross coming in and sixth and Montero ranking 11th. With only 1,594 chances, Ross has the smallest sample of the top 12 catchers.
No one expects Schwarber to be that good at this stage of his career.
However, it is probably a good sign that he was more-or-less a sponge when he was with the team in June as he spent some time surveying the landscape with Montero, Ross and catching coach Mike Borzello. For example, he caught Jason Hammel’s side session and caught Jon Lester between innings while Ross was getting his gear together during the team’s stop in Minnesota.
Schwarber getting a chance to catch Lester a little while Cubs ace warms up and David Ross gears up. pic.twitter.com/EeKzDl6nwa
— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) June 20, 2015
For all intents and purposes, asking a rookie with a handful of games of big league experience to catch a pitching staff whose 3.31 ERA, 3.28 FIP and 3.34 xFIP ranked fifth, fifth and second best in baseball at the All-Star break is baseball’s equivalent to being thrown to the wolves.
All while trying to preserve a playoff spot? Seems like a tall task to ask for Schwarber, but here we are ready to see how things unfold down the stretch.
Though, I suppose if anyone can do it, it might as well be a player who gets “pissed off” when critics say he can’t catch to the point where he has sought to prove them wrong at every level.