Baseball

Yes Movement – 2020 Chicago Cubs Player Previews: WITNESS ME

I’m one of the few who take Kyle Schwarber as a given. And even I think that feeling is fragile. Schwarber gave us a half-season of a dominant hitter. But it’s only a half-season. And it took us a while to get here. Which means it feels like it could easily slip back into the whiff-happy, Dave Kingman routine again. But this is what our large adult son has always been billed as, and the organization was so patient with him to get this, it feels like this has to be the time. Will it be?

Kyle Schwarber 2019

155 games, 610 PA

.250/.339/.531

.357 wOBA  120 wRC+

11.5 BB%  25.6 K%

-7.1 Defensive Runs

2.6 WAR

Overall, the numbers don’t look gargantuan. It’s the second half that has people staining their shorts, where The War Bear went .280/.366/.631 for a 151 wRC+. And that came about without a huge spike in BABIP, or an abnormal amount of fly-balls leaving the park, and what it did involve was making more contact. Schwarber’s walk-rate dropped in the second half by a couple percentage points, but his strikeouts went from 28.3% to 21.0%. And considering how hard Schwarber hits the ball, hardest on the team, the more balls he gets in play the better it’s going to be for everyone. So can he keep it up?

YES! YES! YES!: So in order to figure out if Schwarber figured something out and that 151 wRC+ is something he can do something like that over a full season (which is obviously patently ridiculous because that would make him a top-10 hitter in the league)?

One adjustment for 2019 was Schwarber being able to take fastballs up in the zone the other way and with authority. And he was able to make more contact on them:

And in the second half, Schwarber was able to make more contact on pitches just high in the zone and a little above, and as we said, more contact means more good things for Schwarber. And you. And me. And the world. So that feels like a permanent swing change.

Which means Schwarber is going to have to be on the lookout for breaking pitches now, Considering he slugged .561 on sliders in the second half last year, and hit .267 against curves, he might have already made that adjustment. Things will always change in baseball, and eventually Schwarber will be attacked in a different way, but he seems more equipped than he was before.

The final hurdle for Schwarber is to succeed in high-leverage situations, which has been something of a bugaboo. If you believe in that sort of things, which a lot of people don’t. Overall, Schwarber was average last year in them at a 96 wRC+, after putting up…deep breath…-64 in them in 2018. So you’d have to say that was an improvement, Captain Obvious. Likely to be batting fourth behind Bryant, Rizzo, and Baez, you’d have to guess he’s going to have a chance to take a run at 120 RBI here. Even being average as he was gets him near that.

Given the thinness of the lineup, Schwarber might have to hit against lefties a fair amount of the time. Which he did well in the second half, though he did strike out nearly a third of the time as well. The Cubs could go Happ-Almora-Souza on those days…but those aren’t days you’re going to want to watch much. If he does play against lefties, it’s sliders breaking away from him that he’s going to have to watch out for. He whiffed on over half of the ones he saw.

You’re a B+ Player: The amount of ABs Schwarber has with men on base and medium to high leverage gets to his head again, and suddenly those high fastballs aren’t something he does anything with but goes back to whiffing on. Or popping out softly. He begins to lean that way, and then suddenly the curves and sliders he was waiting for are being jumped at. Which means more grounders, as his success was partly based on getting more balls in the air. He gets worse in the field, and now that he doesn’t have many chances to throw guys out with his arm, he provides even more negative value. And then it will feel the Cubs have missed on the window to cash in on him at his highest value. That sound like a lot, doesn’t it?

Dragon Or Fickle?: I’m all in on Schwarber, making the top of the Cubs’ lineup as dangerous as you’d find in the National League (though a tad K-heavy). Something definitely clicked for Schwarbs, and at 27 now this is his time. Andrew Cieslak’s favorite Cub is going to be tearing down padding on. the outfield wall all season.

 

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