Getting Kyle Schwarber right has been a surprising season-long quest for the Cubs and their World Series hero. At times, he’s hit the ball hard, but not hit it enough. At other times, he’s hit the ball a lot, but not hard enough. At times, he’s found a good balance, but pulled it on the ground too often.
In retrospect, it was utterly insane for us not to expect some yo-yo’ing after a guy with almost no experience in the minor leagues tore his way to the big league level for a half season, then missed virtually an entire season, and then was asked to lead the team’s offense at age 24, coming off of that missed season. We’ll all take away some lessons from this process.
For Schwarber, hopefully those lessons stick in the form of continued development at the plate, and a path to achieving his full offensive potential, which the Cubs have long believed is borderline Ruthian.
In his up and down season, Schwarber quite literally went down to AAA and came back up about a month ago, and, since then, he’s raked:
In exactly a month since being recalled from Iowa, Kyle Schwarber is hitting .260/.349/.589 (.938 OPS) with 6 HR, 9 RBI, 10 BB, 30 K.
— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) August 7, 2017
It's only 83 PA, but since Kyle Schwarber returned from the minors a month ago…
.260/.349/.589. 139 wRC+.
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) August 7, 2017
Yesterday, Schwarber capped off that hot month with a shot out to left center – how wonderful is it to see him going to left center:
That was Schwarber’s 18th homer, and on the year, he’s now batting .193/.308/.431 (93 wRC+), which doesn’t sound like much, but boy is it trending in the right way:
How is Schwarber getting that production?
Well, it’s mostly coming from a much higher BABIP than he was seeing earlier in the season (.351), a REALLY high isolated slugging (.329), and a REALLY REALLY high HR/FB ratio (35.3%). Typically, you wouldn’t expect those rates to stay quite that high, but at least he’s earning them by way of freaking crushing the ball: during this stretch, his soft contact rate is a tiny 16.3%, and his hard contact rate is a monstrously high 46.5%. Moreover, he’s hitting the ball in the air as much as you’d want to see when a guy is hitting it that hard (tiny 35.7% groundball rate).
Will the BABIP, ISO, and HR/FB rate come down a bit? Probably. But if he keeps hitting the ball in the air this hard, they might not come down that much.
That leaves us with the buts about his production during this hot stretch.
One thing you’ll point to is the fact that Schwarber has long been platoon protected. But I have a but for that but: although it’s true, Schwarber doesn’t start right now against tough lefties, circumstances have compelled him to face a few over this past month, and in those 16 plate appearances, he has a .308/.438/.769. So, the but isn’t really much of a but there.
The real but that has me butting is Schwarber’s 36.1% strikeout rate during this monthlong stretch. That’s higher than any player in baseball has had for the season except for Joey Gallo (who, admittedly, has been productive in spite of his 38.1% K rate thanks to obscene power). In fact, only eight players in baseball have a higher season-long strikeout rate than Schwarber’s 30.5%. Short version here? Schwarber is striking out as much as anyone in baseball.
Producing at a high level offensively with that kind of strikeout rate is extremely difficult, and doing so at a level sufficient to overcome defensive deficiencies in a lower-spectrum defensive spot like left field is even more difficult. I do not believe Schwarber will be an offensive force if he’s striking out 35ish percent of the time.
But the but to the but to the but is that this is still all part of the process of Schwarber finding the balance between power and contact, as well as finding consistent comfort at the plate. If he’s striking out a lot in service of generating hard contact, then these are the results you’d want to see. Now, you just want to see the needle move back a little in the other direction, particularly in two-strike counts, toward contact.