Most of the attention on Frank Schwindel, aside from the general delight when an older dude named “Frank Schwindel” is playing great, is paid to the dingers. He hits a lot of ’em, with 6 already in just 105 plate appearances with the Cubs. Give him a full season at that pace, and he’d be hitting close to 40 bombs.
His sixth with the Cubs (and seventh on the season) came last night in the first:
Frank the Tank strikes again. pic.twitter.com/xX4QTcsbOx
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 1, 2021
And hey, I’m all for talking about the tanks and enjoying them. It’s an important part of a player’s game, and Schwindel clearly has the power to be a “home run guy.”
But what I really wanted to talk about is his overall productivity at the plate. Specifically, now that he’s crossed the 100 plate appearance threshold with the Cubs, and aside from the homers, what else are we noticing about HOW he’s doing what he’s doing? How is he hitting .340/.390/.629 with the Cubs and posting a 169 wRC+? Can we *trust* it? It’s still really early, but I wanted to at least start this conversation.
Your first alarm bell should go off the moment you check the expected statistics at Statcast. There, you can see the kind of production you would EXPECT to see from a guy who is hitting the ball the way a particular batter is. And for Schwindel, his .391 wOBA is a whopping 59 points higher than his expected wOBA, the 5th highest spread in all of baseball*. Uh oh, right?
Well, yeah. Kinda uh oh.
The expected stats at Statcast, barrel rate, barrels per PA, etc. all look really middle-of-the-pack on Schwindel, far from a guy who “should” have one of the best slash lines in baseball over the last month. Typically, this would suggest some good batted ball luck (absent some other explanatory factor), and eventual regression.
There is certainly a complicating factor there in the data, though: his A’s numbers are in there, too. Not that I’m saying you want to ignore those completely, but his time with the A’s was almost entirely as a very sporadic pinch hitter, which is pretty hard to say is comparable to being an everyday starter in a new organization. And, for what it’s worth, we can start looking at his contact numbers in graphic form, and it’s all looking muuuuuch better with the Cubs, rather than looking like a lot of mere good luck on the results side.
Also, as a check, we can look at a smaller cross section of the Statcast numbers over at FanGraphs, broken down by team. There we see that Schwindel is doing everything much better with the Cubs: hitting the ball much harder, making hard contact at a more frequent rate, barreling the ball at a much more frequent rate, and, perhaps most importantly, reducing his launch angle from far too steep to right in the sweet spot.
In other words, if Schwindel made some actual changes at the plate with the Cubs, then the full-season data is not quite as useful, and it’s more useful to just see what he’s done with the Cubs. Which has been pretty decent!
It can’t all be rosy, though, right, given the expected statistics? Surely that data is “seeing” something to be concerned about?
Well, when you stack Schwindel’s batted ball data against the rest of the league in August, the picture you get is a guy who hit the ball pretty hard in the month, but only a little better than average among regulars. What he did do well is keep it off the ground – his line drive and fly ball rates are both strong – and with decent hard contact, that’ll get you some better-than-average results. But I don’t see a way to justify the huge .386 BABIP he sported for August, so it’s just feeling to me like there’s some good luck in there.
HOWEVER, that 19.0% strikeout rate, from a guy with his power profile, is definitely very nice, and much less subject to the luck dragons. The 7.6% walk rate ain’t too much to write home about (about 10% below league average), but that strikeout rate? It’s about 16% better than league average! Clearly, Schwindel has a good sense of the strike zone and a strong ability to make contact (as he’s shown throughout the minors). That stuff stabilizes better than batted ball data, so I feel pretty good in saying this is an area where Schwindel really does do well.
On the whole, then, you’d say that there’s some good luck in Schwindel’s .340/.390/.629 line with the Cubs, and he probably won’t continue to perform 69% better than league average (without dramatic changes in contact quality). But I’m not so sure I don’t see reason to believe he wouldn’t remain an above-average bat overall. Enough to carry you at first base without an overwhelmingly strong glove? Oh, maybe not. But enough that you might consider him as part of a cost-effective platoon that would allow you to reallocate those dollars elsewhere? Yeah, I could see that. I would want a lot more data to say for sure – let’s at least see how September plays out – but I think it’s a conversation we should have in October and November. I suspect the Cubs will be.
*(Stray note: Numbers 13 and 14 on the list of biggest wOBA/xwOBA spread? Rafael Ortega and Patrick Wisdom. Are all three just getting SUPER lucky? Maybe so, and it would go a long way toward explaining their later-age break-outs, which are otherwise so rare. Then again, I’m wondering about how there are also three White Sox players in the top 14 (one of whom is incoming Cub Nick Madrigal), and I’m wondering whether there is something about the weather in Chicago this season that is impacting the expected results on batted balls. Could just be a coincidence, of course, and Guaranteed Rate is not impacted in quite the same way as Wrigley Field. But it’s just kinda odd that six out of the top 14 play in the same city. Another topic for another day.)