Kyle Schwarber Isn't Getting Many Starts These Days - Is His Swing a Factor?

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Kyle Schwarber Isn’t Getting Many Starts These Days – Is His Swing a Factor?

Chicago Cubs

If you’ve been around here the last couple weeks, you’ve noticed us – mostly Michael in the daily lineup posts – wondering loudly why Kyle Schwarber’s starting opportunities, even against righties, have fallen off.

In the last six games, Schwarber has started just once, and hasn’t even drawn a plate appearance in three of the other five games. Even before that, Schwarber started just five of the eight games prior to this most recent stretch.

Joe Maddon offered at least some explanation (Tribune) for why Schwarber didn’t see time last week and this weekend because of the match-ups (and, indeed, the Cubs were facing a surprising volume of reverse-split righties), and maybe that’s all this is. Maybe it was just a small-ish sample of bad match-ups and a bunch of other guys who merit playing time in Maddon’s view. After all, whenever he wants to start Tommy La Stella or Ian Happ, someone like Schwarber, or Ben Zobrist, or Jon Jay is going to have to sit.

In other words, I am not here to pretend like I discovered some specific reason why Schwarber is sitting more lately.

Instead, I did want to point out something I noticed this morning while looking at videos of Schwarber’s swing:

When Schwarber sets up more upright with the bat on his shoulder, he has to lunge a bit more as the pitch is delivered, making the swing a little bit more complicated, and the timing requirements a little bit more precise. (Extremely important caveats: (1) I am #NotAScout, and (2) there are all kinds of reasons why the upright setup might be better for Schwarber long-term, and it’s just not easy for us to see on the outside.)

You may recall that, part of what Schwarber worked on when he went down to AAA Iowa at midseason was quieting his movement a bit, and working to the center and left center of the field a bit more.

On his return, he had tremendous success with that approaching, hitting .261/.356/.557 with a 135 wRC+ through that oppo homer in Cincinnati on August 23. Interestingly, he did that despite a terrifying 35.8% strikeout rate because he was crushing the ball in the air: a whopping 46.4% hard contact rate, and a meager 35.3% groundball rate. You pull that combo off, and you’re going to do serious damage even with a very elevated strikeout rate.

But since that August 23 homer, Schwarber has hit 196/.275/.522 with a 101 wRC+. His strikeout rate shrank to a much more manageable 27.5%, but his hard contact rate also shrank (35.7%), and his groundball rate spiked (42.9%).

(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

Schwarber is also pulling the ball much more lately (17.9% opposite field rate, as opposed to 26.1% during the 7/6 – 8/23 period), which is not a problem in isolation, but if it costs a hitter hard contact, then it is. Is this happening because he’s become unbalanced again thanks to a swing approach that has him lunging as the ball is delivered?

As I said in the EXTREMELY IMPORTANT CAVEATS, I’m not exactly a swing guru, and I have no peculiar insights into what Schwarber, specifically, is working on. But from the outside, it sure seems like he’s strong enough, with enough bat speed, to get a lot less dive-y in his swing, and still generate plenty of easy power the other way.

It’s also important to note in these analyses that batters don’t work in isolation – they are facing pitchers who are, themselves, constantly adjusting to the batter’s changes in approach. For Schwarber, lately, that’s meant a whole lot more pitches up in (and out of) the strike zone. During his hot stretch, Schwarber was seeing a lot more down, and also spread more evenly throughout the strike zone. I’m sure that’s a factor in all of this, too.

In any case, I’m not going to land on any grand pronouncements here. It’s just something I noticed on the fly this morning, and thought worth teeing up in tandem with the questions about Schwarber’s playing time. Tonight’s Mets starter, Robert Gsellman, has been split-neutral this year, so there’s no match-up favoring or un-favoring in Schwarber’s direction.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.