Tonight, the Chicago Cubs face Arizona Diamondbacks lefty Patrick Corbin, and the only lefty in the lineup is Anthony Rizzo. Given his pronounced splits, you can see why the Cubs would go that route. Optimize your match-ups, but make sure Rizzo gets in there – when healthy – every time. You don’t bench Anthony Rizzo for a match-up.
But it wasn’t that long ago that the Cubs had at least one other lefty that felt like he wasn’t someone you’d ever consider sitting, even against a tough lefty: Kyle Schwarber.
Given his early career struggles against lefties, his mostly missed 2016 season, and then his early-season struggles this year, Schwarber became a platoon player a couple months ago. In addition to some subtle changes he made in a stint at AAA Iowa, the platoon setup seems to have served him well:
Interesting other angle to Kyle Schwarber's resurgence: he became a platoon player on May 28. Since then? Hitting .211/.318/.544 (119 wRC+).
— Brett Taylor (@BleacherNation) August 1, 2017
So, against the backdrop of the Cubs trying to get him back on track while also improving their own overall offensive production, that result has been good. Desirable. Successful.
Longer term, though, is this really what they want? An average defensive, platoon-limited, decently-productive corner outfielder? If that is truly the upper boundary of Schwarber’s ability, then he’s not a terribly valuable player.
Of course, that’s not what I believe his actual upper boundary is. Neither do the Cubs.
“In general, I think Kyle is very much like Anthony [Rizzo] — he had some struggles early in his career hitting lefties,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer told Mully and Hanley on 670 The Score. “I have no question that over the long haul this guy is going to have no problem with left-handed pitching, and I think he’ll be a guy that you don’t worry about those platoon splits long term.”
Rizzo famously struggled against lefties in his younger days before time, hard work, and active adjustments turned him into one of the best lefty-on-lefty hitters in baseball. (Aside: did you know that Rizzo is having another reverse split year? Against righties, Rizzo is hitting .254/.382/.485 (125 wRC+), but against lefties he’s hitting .267/.400/.574 (149). And yet you still see opposing managers bringing in match-up lefties to face him.)
Can Schwarber be that guy? Can he do better than his career .154/.272/.308 line against lefties thus far? Well, given the natural hitting ability, it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see him become much better against lefties with more experience.
When exactly he’ll *get* that experience, though, is an open question.
“It’s a great question, and where we are in the season and the fact that we’re in a pennant race, I think Joe [Maddon] is very much going to look for the best matchups, look for the best time to play everybody,” Hoyer said on The Score. “We have a deep roster. I think Joe has said on record that he’s had a lot of challenges with trying to figure out how to play all the guys because you want to make sure you keep guys happy. You want to make sure you keep guys fresh.”
In other words, for now, and especially as we head into the stretch run, you’re going to see Maddon continuing to match Schwarber up (like tonight). That doesn’t mean he’ll never start against another lefty this season, but the Cubs do have some very nice options to play left field (via rotations at other positions) when there’s a lefty starter on the mound. So, while it might not be ideal for Schwarber’s development, it’s very likely the best approach for a Cubs team with playoff aspirations.
Perhaps next year, early on, we will see Schwarber deployed much more frequently against lefty starters.