This weekend was a good one for Kyle Schwarber. Not only did he string together consecutive multi-hit games for the first time since the beginning of August, he also launched his 26th homer of the season … just as Cubs (and fun)-hater Hawk Harrelson was receiving an honor on his last day of broadcast action.
Suffice it to say, it put a smile on our faces:
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) September 24, 2018
But keeping the focus on Schwarber, this weekend was really successful. In addition to his 26th home run, Schwarber, who was returning from a back injury, also launched two doubles, and drew three more walks. Now, his season line is up to an impressive .244/.362/.483. That’s good for a 120 wRC+, meaning he’s been about 20% better than the league average hitter. That’s also the 26th best overall production in the NL.
But here’s the better part: Schwarber’s done all of this with a 15.5% walk rate (6th best in MLB, just ahead of AL MVP candidate Jose Ramirez) and a strikeout rate at 27.1%. That strikeout rate is the lowest of Schwarber’s young career, and although it’s not exactly a number you might pine after, it is WELL within an acceptable range, given his power and overall abilities at the plate. It’s also nearly a four percentage point drop from last season, and he did it without really sacrificing power. That’s huge.
So what’s going on? Well, according to Kyle Hendricks, Schwarber simply steps up in big moments and thrives under that pressure. But Joe Maddon has more of a technical answer and it’s pretty compelling, if not strange. According to the Cubs manager, speaking with ESPN, Schwarber’s recent back injury may have helped him simplify things at the plate. Specifically, it’s forced him to use his hands even more and that could be the ticket. “It was not fluke-ish,” Maddon said of Schwarber’s Sunday home run. “In a perverse way, this injury could be helping him.”
Schwarber apparently shrugged off the suggestion, but did add that he feels like his timing is better now. Maybe the week off helped with his timing and the increased use of his hands helped simplify things at the plate at the same time. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Maddon has a valuable take on how Schwarber’s swing looked from the outside before and after the injury – maybe even more so than than Schwarber himself.
On a slightly broader scale, I’d like to point out that in addition to his very good 120 wRC+, Schwarber’s solid early-season defensive metrics have held true through today and, because of that combination, he’s been a 3.4 WAR player. For comparisons’ sake, I’ll point out that most All-Stars wind up in the 3.5-4.5 WAR range, so, yes, this was a very good year – especially after the way last season played out.
In general, Schwarber has leveled out his swing a little bit (more line drives, more grounders, fewer fly balls) and is shooting it up the middle more than he ever has before. He’s also about to finish this season with a well-above average 41.1% hard-hit rate and an impressively low 16.1 soft-hit rate. Basically, every single one of his peripherals have taken a significant step forward this year, and it’s played out in his production.
Of course, I’m well aware that it doesn’t quite feel that way, and perhaps that’s because he hasn’t played against too many lefties and when he does, he tends to be significantly worse. But he’s made improvements in that arena this season (including that homer over the weekend, his first against a lefty all year).
Keep in mind that Schwarber’s 90 wRC+ against lefties is better than the average lefty facing a fellow lefty, and is a dramatic step forward from his first two healthy seasons:
After a couple of knocks against a lefty yesterday, Kyle Schwarber is actually an ABOVE league average hitter for lefties with a platoon disadvantage. https://t.co/SiOkrH1wi0
— FullCountTommy (@FullCountTommy) September 24, 2018
If Schwarber can continue to refine his approach against southpaws over the winter, Kyle Schwarber can be in store for a big breakout next season. But even if that doesn’t happen, that’s okay. He’s already a very valuable player, he’s just hiding right under our nose.