Given the way – and the when – Kyle Schwarber was called up to the Cubs, I think many forget that 2017 is just his first full season at the Major League level. And that’s an important distinction.
Here’s the thing. Even if we ignore the facts that Schwarber 1) missed an entire year of development, 2) is playing on a recently injured knee, and 3) struggled mightily at the beginning of this season, I think, on the strength of his recent resurgence, we can call his first full year in the bigs a success.
And that’s thanks primarily to a ton of hard-contact (including last night’s homer, which, according to Statcast, was the hardest-hit home run for the Cubs in the Statcast era) and plenty of fly balls.
— #Statcast (@statcast) September 19, 2017
Check out Schwarber’s full season numbers from 2017 (with league averages in parenthesis):
Soft-hit Rate: 21.8% (18.9%)
Hard-hit Rate: 36.2% (31.8%)
Fly-Ball Rate: 47.2% (35.5%)
As you can see, Schwarber was basically made for this current offensive era. He hits the ball in the air WAY more than the average player and also make a LOT more hard-contact than most. His soft-contact rate is slightly higher than average, but the overall profile is very strong (especially, in what many consider a “down” year).
Now check out those same stats starting from when he returned to the Majors on July 6 (201 PAs) after a short stint to work on things at AAA Iowa:
Soft-hit Rate: 20.9%
Hard-hit Rate: 41.8%
Fly-Ball Rate: 47.2%
His elevated fly-ball rate remains just as high, and his hard-hit rate absolutely explodes to 41.8%, which would be a top-ten hard-hit rate in the Majors this year over enough innings.
As you can probably imagine, that sort of batted ball profile has done wonders for his numbers since returning from Iowa (132 wRC+). But zoom in on a more recent stretch (say, since August 30, which is roughly his last 50 plate appearances), and Schwarber’s production looks even better: .295/.340/.727. That’s good for a 170 wRC+, despite a strikeout rate over 30%. Which, holy crap.
On top of all this, Schwarber has continued to show fairly impressive discipline at the plate. Consider that, compared to the league average, Schwarber has swung at fewer pitches out of the zone and almost exactly the same amount of pitches in the zone – which is probably why he has such a high walk rate on the year (12.3%). And although his swinging strike rate is higher than the league average, it’s down quite a bit since his debut in 2015, which is yet another good sign.
Now don’t get me wrong – there’s really no doubt that he needs to cutdown on the strikeouts, even if there will always be some swing and miss to his game. But fortunately, Schwarber’s pitch recognition (which is not something you can really teach) seems to be quite strong. He’ll probably work to close up holes in his swing, but that is the sort of thing that can be addressed over an offseason’s worth of work (for a dream example, see Kris Bryant’s contact evolution between 2015 and 2016).
In the end, I’m convinced that Schwarber really did make some meaningful changes and developments during his short stint in the minors this year, and that they’ve been working more and better as the season has progressed. And if, down the stretch and into the postseason, Schwarber can maintain something close to the level of production he’s put up here in the second half of the season, well, the Cubs’ offense is just going to be that much more terrifying.
Maybe Kyle Schwarber is The Last Jedi. pic.twitter.com/iJXXF9LduT
— Brett Taylor (@BleacherNation) January 27, 2017