As you know, we’ve been periodically checking in on Buster Olney’s positional rankings for 2017, taking the opportunity to discuss the players and relative positioning therein.
Already, we’ve discovered that Olney considers a number of 2017 Chicago Cubs among the very best at their position:
- Starters: Jake Arrieta (#8), Jon Lester (#9), Kyle Hendricks (HM)
- Relievers: Wade Davis (#5)
- First Basemen: Anthony Rizzo (#3)
- Second Basemen: Ben Zobrist (#7) and Javy Baez (HM)
- Third Basemen: Kris Bryant (#1)
- Shortstop: Addison Russell (#6)
That’s seven players ranking among the top ten of their position and two others honorably mentioned (just barely) on the outside looking in. It’s hard to argue with that. Next up for Olney is left field, and I think you’ll be fairly surprised by a particular Cubs’ placement on the list.
Before we get to the list, I’d like to point out that the Cubs had 12 different players play at least one inning in left field in 2016 – hilariously, that included an inning from Pedro Strop and five innings from Travis Wood. But even if you weed out the lowest totals, you wind up with six different players who manned left field for more than 100 innings in 2016 (Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Matt Szczur, Willson Contreras, Chris Coghlan, and Ben Zobrist).
Interestingly, none of those players are the Cubs finalist for the position. Instead, that honor goes to Kyle Schwarber and he finished in the top five:
- Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets
- Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates
- Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
- Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs
- Matt Kemp, Atlanta Braves
- Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians
- Brett Gardner, New York Yankees
- Justin Upton, Detroit Tigers
- Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
- Andrew Benintendi (Boston Red Sox)
Honorable Mentions: Jayson Werth (Nationals), David Dahl (Rockies), Marcell Ozuna (Marlins), Randal Grichuk (Cardinals), Kris Davis (Athletics), Adam Duvall (Reds)
Before we get to Schwarber though, let’s discuss the list in general, which is – let’s admit – relatively light. Although there are plenty of familiar names in the rankings, left field comes up a bit short in relation to the oomph provided by, say, the first and third basemen – which feature a collection of super stars and future Hall of Famers.
This fact wasn’t lost on Olney, who comments that baseball is a long ways away from the days of power left-fielders: “In 2006, 21 players whose primary position was left field mashed 20 or more homers,” while in 2016, “only 12 left fielders generated 20 or more homers.” Although there is certainly a different offensive environment now than their was 10 years ago, it is worth pointing out that more home runs were hit in 2016 than any other year but one in Major League history. The left fielders, then, were just not pulling their weight.
Which is probably why someone like Kyle Schwarber manages to rank out as the fourth best outfielder in baseball. Don’t get me wrong, Schwarber’s offensive potential is damn near close to almost any player in baseball – and I’m genuinely not saying that lightly – but the guy played 7.2 innings out of left field in 2016 and only 295.2 innings in 2015.
How can a guy with fewer than 35 games at a position rank among the very best in all of baseball at that spot? Olney has your answer at ESPN.
Without spoiling too much, Olney is clearly weighting Schwarber’s utterly dominant performance in the 2016 World Series very heavily. And you know what, he should be:
I still can't believe it. pic.twitter.com/av4MrSRiKo
— Baseball is Fun (@flippingbats) January 8, 2017
After missing essentially the entirety of his first full professional season in the Major Leagues, Kyle Schwarber managed to return to the Cubs just in time for the World Series and completely destroy the ball against some of the best talent in the game.
And let’s really think about that for a second, because it’s just so fun to consider how ridiculous that return was. Had any player on the Cubs (or the Indians, for that matter) posted a .971 OPS in the World Series, it would have been considered a dominant performance (and the ones that did received love). Yes, it’s a small sample, but doing that well against some of the best pitchers in the last series of the year – where matchups are so frequently in the pitcher’s favor – is extremely difficult. Schwarber managed to do it in what was essentially his first live-game action.
So yes, that was a small sample, and it’s bad to read too much into such little data, but the performance just shouldn’t have been possible. Even though it’s truly unbelievable, his performance really is an indicator of his raw potential and talent.
And frankly, considering what he did in 2015, it’s enough to rank him as the fourth best left fielder in baseball.