Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney dropped a good general read this morning on the state of the Cubs roster as of this moment – what has changed, what hasn’t, what it means for 2021 and beyond – and it’s worth checking out.
One small aspect of the article that jumped out at me, though, as something I hadn’t considered in relation to the Joc Pederson swap with Kyle Schwarber, and one of the more obvious, and very specific, Achilles heels for the lineup in recent years:
While Schwarber and Pederson have similar offensive profiles, there are some minor differences that could impact a lineup that had become way too easy for opposing pitchers to attack. During a sweep at the hands of the Dodgers in 2017, the Cubs’ offense was exposed by the high fastball. It happened again when the Dodgers quickly disposed of the Cubs in that fall’s NLCS. It’s an adjustment that the group has largely struggled with since.
Schwarber did improve in this area, as far as the percentage of fastballs in the upper third of the zone and above that he was swinging through. Over the last four seasons, Pederson is slightly better than Schwarber in that category. But where Pederson towers over Schwarber is the actual damage done on those pitches. Since 2017, Pederson has slugged .633 against high fastballs while Schwarber was at just .430 (the league average over that time was .522). Schwarber may not be whiffing on those pitches as much as he was in the past. But unlike Pederson, Schwarber wasn’t doing much with them, either.
What a specific note, and the kind of subtle change we talk about when asking for a different type of banana.
It’s unquestionable that the results from these two hitters over the careers have been strikingly similar, and you can’t just focus on what Pederson does well as though Schwarber didn’t also do a lot of things really well. His next level power, his walk rate, and his arm will be missed, among other things. But if you’re aiming to diversify the lineup a bit, then finding a guy who actually does a lot of damage against high fastballs is among the first things you’d look for in a batter for this group.
Among the other things you’d look for? More contact.
And on that front, we’ve already mentioned it, but it bears repeating. Since 2017, Pederson has a 21.0% strikeout rate, which is 3% better than league average over that time. In that same time period, Schwarber has settled in as a 28.0% strikeout rate guy, which is *29% WORSE* than league average. Pederson’s overall contact rate during that time is 76.7%, almost exactly league average during that time. Schwarber’s contact rate is just 73.0% during that time. Pederson’s swinging strike rate is 10.5% in that time. Schwarber’s is 11.6%.
In terms of strikeouts and contact, these two hitters with similar overall production could not be more different. That’s not necessarily to say one way is definitely better than another, but it *is* to say the Cubs were clearly looking to improve the contact throughout their lineup. Pederson is a significant change in that regard, and as The Athletic points out, he is also a significant change in production against elevated fastballs.
Also, there’s the financial difference between the two, that kinda made it like trading Schwarber for Pederson and Trevor Williams …