This weekend against the Pirates, Kyle Schwarber’s apparent second-half struggles were put on pause, as the Cubs left fielder mashed 2 homers, drew 3 walks, and posted a 1.247 OPS overall. He certainly struck out in more than his fair share of plate appearances (35.7%), but it really was a good weekend in an otherwise bleak second half for the Cubs left fielder … right?
Well, not so fast. This weekend was quite good for Schwarber, but now that I really dig into it, his second-half struggles may not be nearly as bad as we thought. In fact, I would (er, will) argue that I’m about as high on Kyle Schwarber’s bat right now as I have been throughout the season. Really. I know it sounds strange, but I am. With that said, I know you’ve heard this song and dance many times before, so let’s see if we can attack it a little differently.
To show you that we can’t just make the numbers say whatever we want, we’ll also take a look at Willson Contreras’ extremely similar numbers in the second half, to point out the difference in what we expect going forward. I’m sure you’ll find that despite incredibly similar results, the Cubs’ catcher and the Cubs’ left fielder have been heading in very different directions. Take a look.
Second-Half Slash Lines:
Schwarber (101 PAs): .227/.317/.386 (77 wRC+)
Contreras (93 PAs): .232/.323/.329 (78 wRC+)
As you can see, Schwarber and Contreras share extremely similar slash lines here in the second half. Schwarber is hitting for a little more power, Contreras for a little more average/OBP, but overall the two have contributed about the same amount to the Cubs offense (77 vs. 78 wRC+) since the break. The problem, of course, is that level of contribution is about 22-23% worse than the league average hitter, but thankfully (well, for one of them), that’s where the similarities end. Let’s go step-by-step, starting with the K/BB numbers.
Schwarber: 11.9 BB%, 26.7 K%
Contreras: 9.7 BB%, 28.0%
In isolation, there’s nothing wrong with Contreras’ walk rate (it’s nearly as good as career mark), but Schwarber is still walking A LOT during this stretch. And he’s doing it while striking out at a much more reasonable clip – both in general, and especially when you consider how much more power he hits for than Contreras:
Schwarber: .159 ISO, .276 BABIP
Contreras: .098 ISO, .315 BABIP
Schwarber’s got the ISO, but then there’s good old fashioned BABIP to consider. Both guys are posting BABIPs exactly 16 points below their career averages, which might lead you to believe that both are getting equally unlucky with their balls in play, but that’d be wrong (and the differences in their ISOs hint toward that). Consider the quality of the contact both guys have made during this stretch:
Schwarber: 16.1 soft%, 38.7 hard%
Contreras: 25.0 soft%, 26.8 hard%
2018 MLB: 18.1 soft%, 35.5 hard%
While Schwarber is providing less soft contact and more hard contact than the league average rates, Contreras’ numbers go very far in the other direction. And yet, these guys are sharing the same “unlucky” BABIP. If anything, given how far away these batted ball rates are from their career numbers, Contreras’ BABIP should be even lower than it is so far, and Schwarber’s should be much higher. Ditto their overall numbers.
But wait … there’s more.
Schwarber Batted Ball:
LD rate: 27.9%
FB rate: 37.7%
GB rate: 34.4%
IFFB rate: 13.0%
Contreras Batted Ball:
LD rate: 25.9%
FB rate: 29.6%
GB rate: 44.4%
IFFB rate: 18.8%
In general, a batter wants a lot of line drives/fly balls and very few grounders/infield fly balls (well, you want none of that last one, as it is the single worst type of contact, but you get the point).
In the second half, then, Schwarber is getting far fewer groundballs than his career average (40.2%) and many more line drives (17.5%). His career 40.2% fly ball rate is still better than what he’s posted lately, but 37.7% is still a very solid, above-average number, especially when you’re also smacking line drives nearly 28% of the time. Contreras, on the other hand, is hitting more grounders than the league average and is way behind on fly balls. His line drive rate remains strong, but once you include the dreadful 18.8% infield fly ball rate, things are quite bleaker.
Now, hopefully you can see that it isn’t all bad news for Contreras, who is still walking plenty and hitting some line drives (you do that for long enough, things should even out), but for Schwarber … I’m almost excited.
Here in the second half of the season, when his results look as bad as they ever have, Schwarber is still walking a LOT, striking out at a more-than-manageable clip, hitting the ball hard, and is keeping it on a line or in the air. Not only should that be enough to get you excited, it makes it very easy to believe that his BABIP is BS and that a change could be coming almost immediately – in fact, it might’ve already started this weekend.
As for Contreras, well, he’ll have to make some much better contact before the struggles we’ve seen in the second half begin to turn themselves around. We still very much believe in him and his bat going forward, but there’s no sugarcoating the results right now. They’re bad, and they’re earned.