In the lineup post earlier this morning, I discussed my happiness with Kyle Schwarber’s placement near the top of the order (the two-hole, to be exact).
Kyle Schwarber is having a seriously up-and-down season, while the second spot in the order is generally reserved for a team’s best hitter (which, in the Cubs’ case, is almost always Kris Bryant).
But despite all of that, I haven’t seen a ton of backlash in the comments or on Twitter. I suspect – or rather, hope – that the general acceptance is simply because you are all beautiful, knowledgeable fans who are intimately aware of Schwarber’s overall awesomeness … and perhaps the fact that he just finished up a streak of reaching base eight times in a row.
Indeed, after a truly bizarre (and nearly record-setting!) eight straight strikeouts from August 12 – August 14, Kyle Schwarber reached base safely in eight straight plate appearances. Here’s how it worked out:
PA 1: HBP (would’ve been ball 4, so basically a BB)
PA 2: Walk
PA 3: HBP
PA 4: RBI Single (GB – right field)
PA 5: Single (LD – right field)
PA 6: Single (LD – left field)
PA 7: Walk
PA 8: Walk
In his ninth plate appearance, Kyle Schwarber struck out to end his on-base streak.
So in eight plate appearances, Kyle took three walks (4 walks, really), was plunked twice, and singled with two line drives (one the other way) and a grounder into right field. Given that we very much know his power exists but were instead looking for him to make contact, take better at-bats, and get on base more often, this is pretty freakin’ fantastic. His slash line over these past three games then is an hilarious .600/.800/.600.
But that’s more so for fun, let’s actually see how well he’s done over various cutoff points in the recent past. For example …
August (45 PAs):
Slash Line: .278/.422/.472; 2HRs
K/BB: 15.6 BB%, 44.4 K%
Power: .194 ISO
Overall: .391 wOBA, 141 wRC+
Since Returning from AAA (108 PAs):
Slash Line: .261/.370/.554; 7 HRs
K/BB: 13.0 BB%, 37.0 K%
Power: .293 ISO
Overall: .389 wOBA, 139 wRC+
Even if you go all the way back to the beginning of June (last 163 plate appearances), Kyle Schwarber has been an extremely valuable offensive contributor, with a 132 wRC+. Indeed, he’s been “above average” (101 wRC+) since the beginning of MAY. Of course (and despite his two recent outfield assists) Schwarber will have to be more than just above average to be a really valuable guy.
But again, lately, he has been!
Interested in what’s been driving his offensive onslaught lately? How about the fact that he’s absolutely DEMOLISHING the baseball. His 50% hard-hit rate in the month of August is well above the league average (32.0%) while his 12.5% soft-hit rate is similarly well below the 18.8% league mark. That’s unbelievably good contact (the former would be the best in baseball and the latter would be top 15).
The strikeouts this month have been a problem, of course, and it’s not like his above average out-of-zone swing rate, below average in-the-zone swing rate, or ugly 71.4% zone-contact rate are anything to be excited about, but the quality of his contact – when he does make contact – and his ability to get on base has been sufficiently good that he’s been very valuable anyway (and that’s seriously difficult to do when you’re striking out that much).
For what it’s worth, each of those numbers have been at least league average or better over the past three games, so maybe it’s trending in the right direction.
And I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s true, because (like we guessed earlier this week) Schwarber is indeed looking to sacrifice some power in exchange for contact, like other sluggers Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton have down for a while now.
“Really good at-bat,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of one of Schwarber’s hits last night, via CSN Chicago. “He was choking up pretty fiercely right there. Much shorter approach to the ball. He looked really good …. Good for him.”
Travis Sawchik explained the thought-process well at FanGraphs. Guys with raw power like Stanton (of which Schwarber isn’t too far off) can benefit by “sacrificing 470-foot home runs for 400-foot homers and more contact.” We’ve seen Anthony Rizzo succeed with this same approach when he has two strikes all the time, and he still flicks homers over the wall because the power is still there. For his part, Schwarber said he’s just trying to simplify everything down, especially when he has two strikes. Choking up, then, could be part of that strategy.