Is Kyle Schwarber Primed For A Bounce Back In 2018?

Kyle Schwarber entered the 2017 on an incredible high. After tearing his ACL in the second game of the 2016 season, he had miraculously returned just six months later to serve as the Cubs designated hitter in the World Series. And, after collecting seven hits and three walks in just 20 plate appearances in Chicago's first Championship in over a century, expectations for Schwarber soared. As a result, manager, Joe Maddon, installed the slugger in the lead-off spot, hoping to capitalize on his excellent on-base skills.

As everyone knows by now, the optimism quickly dissipated for War Bear in 2017. He crashed out of the starting gate with a sub .200 batting average in the first half of the season and tacked on an OPS (.694) that was below replacement level. Eventually he was shipped to AAA Iowa to retool his swing.

Using the demotion to try to rediscover his natural swing and reset himself, he returned to Chicago with a second-half surge. The Indiana University product boosted his OPS from that ugly .694 before his demotion to a robust .894 after it. The power remained as well as he finished 2017 with 30 homers in just 486 plate appearances.

The question entering 2018 is a simple one: which Schwarber will the Cubs get? The struggling first-half model? Or the much improved second-half version? The evidence at hand leads me to believe the Cubs left fielder will have a big year.

To begin, Kyle is in the best shape of his life. I know, I know, every player says that. But Schwarber truly is. He lost at least 20 pounds during intensive off-season workouts with a focus on improving his agility. The formerly burly masher has stolen three bases this spring. The next Billy Hamilton he is not, but it still demonstrates his improved conditioning.

Speaking of, that same improved conditioning has allowed him to shed the bulky knee brace he wore all of last year. And, after deciding to give up catching to focus on being a full-time left fielder, his improved speed with no brace should allow Schwarber to have more range in the outfield. His defensive shortcomings have always been overblown, but this year he appears ready to make needed improvements.

As far as the offensive side of game goes, it must be noted just how little time Kyle has had in the majors. He was called up in July of 2015, it was supposed to be a quick look, but his production kept him at major league level the rest of the year. After his knee injury, his first mostly full season was 2017 (i.e. last year!). He only has 764 plate appearances in his career, a little over what a full-time starter would have in a single year.

The reason this writer feels Kyle Schwarber is ready for a big year is psychological. After his World Series star turn, expectations piled on the Ohio kid. 40 homers, .300 batting average, replacing Dexter Fowler in the lead-off spot, all with only 270 plate appearances in the majors. Oh yeah, don't forget the whole recovering from major knee surgery just 11 months before.

A year later, a fully healthy, very motivated Schwarber is back to prove the doubters wrong. Now with an entire season under his belt and more reasonable expectations for success, he should be primed to have a bounce-back year. The talent is there, Cubs scouts feel he has the hand-eye coordination to be an elite hitter. The power is self evident, even in a down 2017, he had 30 homers. Don't be surprised if Kyle Schwarber is back and better than ever in 2018.



Filed under: Analysis, Cubs

Tags: Joe Maddon, kyle schwarber


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  • What do you all think a realistic slash line would be for Schwarber this year? Or perhaps a better question, what do you see as a realistic slash line for his floor and also for his ceiling?

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    I'd expect .250/.350/.500 most years
    and maybe a peak year or two at .300/.400/.600
    I remember Dave Cameron at Fangraphs saying he is basically a left handed Mike Napoli, which I would take.

  • I’m definitely optimistic, although the jury is still out. His improved second half numbers
    last year can partially be attributed to the fact that he became almost exclusively a platoon player. So will he still just platoon? Does Happ play so well that against lefties he plays left field and Almora in center? And the shift really seemed to hurt Schwarber, so can he adjust?

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    One thing I think could help Schwarber is if he doesn’t lead off. Since he has problems with the shift, I think it helps him if people are on base.

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    In reply to Cubswin09:

    That's where the Cubs' depth comes into play. Suddenly they don't have to throw him out there against tough lefties. They can play Happ, or Zobrist in LF. Maybe even give Contreras some time out there to take the strain of catching off his legs. Maybe ease Schwarber against lefties against which he could succeed.

    I don't know that he will ever be a .300 hitter. But I think he could peak at a .270/.400/.500 or something like that (maybe .350 OBP rather than .400).

    The guy is willing to take BB and as his power becomes more feared he could increase those. He is also something of a baseball rat. There was an article on about him soliciting feedback on his defense from Joe Maddon. Maddon mentioned working on his footwork. The next day he was out with Venable (I think) working on his footwork and trying to get a better first step. No, he will never be confused with Andruw Jones. But if he could even be a "slightly below average LF" that can absolutely DESTROY RHP (remember, there are a lot more RHP in baseball than LHP) I will take that to the bank.

    In an odd way what if we platooned him with Albert Almora. No, I am not saying that we should put Schwarber in CF. But since Almora crushes lefties it could work. The Cubs could put Happ in CF against RHP and Schwarber in LF. Against lefties they could put Almora in CF and Happ in LF. Put in a smattering of Heyward in CF if necessary and it could work. Not as a "strict" platoon. But it is fun to say, "Platoon Schwarber and Almora."

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    This is an interesting addition to this conversation:

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I'd like to see:

    LF: Schwarber 135, Zobrist 15, Happ 10, w/Schwarber getting some extra DH time during interleague play

    CF: Happ 90, Almora 70, with Almora getting extra ABs and playing time as a defensive sub when leading late

    RF: Heyward 120, Zobrist 30, Happ 10 with Heyward getting extra work as a defensive sub when leading late

    Happ and Zo also pick up some extra starts at DH and in the infield.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Almora would kind of be like the OF version of 2016 Javy Baez, who only started 95 games, but played in 142 and got 450 PAs. i would like to see him get 70-80 starts and 400 or so PAs.

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    In reply to Michael Ernst:

    The filter ate my reply.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I think Happ becomes the super utility player in the outfield and Almora gets more starts in center.

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    In reply to Michael Ernst:

    The thing with Happ is he looks more and more like the leadoff man. It's really amazing to see how he's embracing that role. We learned last year the offense just didn't work as well without Fowler up there. I think they're going to have to find a way to get him at bats, which suggests (essentially) a platoon between Almora and one or both of Schwarber and Heyward.

    But if Almora starts hitting and forcing the issue against righties, life gets interesting.

    That's assuming Javy and Russell have locked down 2B and SS. That seems more than fair, but if it changes -- mostly Russell stagnating again -- it could give the Cubs a solution with Happ at 2B.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Did you know that the 2017 Cubs outscored the 2016 Cubs, 822-808? I think most people would be pretty surprised by that, but there's also an explanation that suggests that the 2016 offense was, actually better - park factors. Wrigley field yielded 87% of an average park's runs in 2016 vs 113% of average runs in 2017.

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    In reply to discubobulated:

    I do -- but that's deceptive. They got there with some blowout wins. If you look at their median runs per game, it was 5 in 2016 vs. 4 in 2017. That's a pretty significant fall. Essentially what that means is if you took a random game from 2016 and a random game from 2017, the odds are that they score more runs in the 2016 game.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    I'd like to write something on this. Who do I ask these days?

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I would be interested in that article. I think you are right: the 2016 offense was better than 2017; 2017 had lot of blow out wins. And as you once said, every team scored a ton last year.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    You still have author access in WordPress. Drop a line on twitter or email (info is on the updated staff page if you need it), but always room for alum to make a return.

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    In reply to discubobulated:

    Exactly what Moody says, plus offensive was up across the board all over baseball in 2017.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I like your thinking here. But health always seems to be a big factor, too. You have to think Zobrist starts somewhere at least half of the games, probably more like 100, assuming he bounces back from last year. I'm in that camp that believes he will.

    If health is good for the Cubs this year, the two guys who may lose some playing time to the others in the OF seem to be Almora and Heyward. But what a problem to have. Those are both good players.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    If Heyward still struggles. I could see Happ and Almora reducing Heywards starts to 90ish.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Definite possibility if Heyward fails to hit again

    I was more projecting base case scenario of everyone healthy and producing

  • I am very excited to watch Schwarber this year. He is an elite hitter, and part of the "can't run, can't hide" Cubs lineup that MLB pitchers are just going to have to deal with for the next 3-5 years.

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    Was thinking about the topic in that Sun Times article this morning on the way to work. There is a lot of flexibility at Maddon's disposal in the outfield. CF he can play Almora, Happ or Heyward. LF he can play Zobrist, Almora, Happ or Schwarber. RF he can play Heyward, Almora or Zobrist. And Zobrist and Happ can also play 2B.

    Almora could play against lefties in left and he can play Schwarber against righties. Ditto in RF with Heyward. And given the pop both Happ and Schwarber have in their bats it could be a very dangerous all around platoon type of situation.

  • The Cubs did not do Schwarber any favors with the way he was rushed through and kept up. When Bryant was clearly ready for the Majors, all the talk was how a full season in AAA was so important to the development of young players. Now I believe that they honestly believed this, and it showed with KB. But then the process was completely abandoned with Russell, Javy, and Schwarber. And all of them have struggled to perform with consistency.

    It's a moot point now. Schwarbs is clearly primed for a good season, but as pointed out, we really don't have a history to go by. Last year's essentially rookie season, or the 2016 post season that was an insane, magic hot-streak.

    And for what it's worth, I think Russell is primed as well. These two guys together could be potent and scary combo at 5-6 in the order.

  • In reply to JohnCC:

    Russell has looked pretty good so far this Spring, no HRs as yet, but good contact and steady in the field. He's got to see if he can avoid another leg injury though - that seriously slowed him down last season.

    But yeah - being able to put together a position-player lineup with Heyward or Zobrist as its (likely) weakest links and with Happ, Bryant, Rizzo, Schwarber, Russell, Contreras and potentially Almora all capable of 20+ HR in a season - that's going to be fun to see IF they can all stay healthy.

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    In reply to JohnCC:

    In fairness to Schwarber he absolutely RAKED throughout the minors. Completely raked. 665 AB, .334 average, .432 OBP, .619 SLG, 1.051 OPS, 38 HR, 111 RBI. And he did not have a hiccup at any level of competition in those ABs. I get the sample size wasn't massive, but the guy pushed his way up the line. Getting hurt sucked. The idea he won't adjust and hit better than .211 seems way misplaced. He'll probably be a .250-.270 type hitter who will easily post 30 HR while still being a very solid OBP guy.

  • In reply to Dave Sampsell:

    IMO Schwarber's floor (assuming again he can stay healthy) is Adam Dunn, but with considerably better OF defense. And Dunn is a guy who averaged out at about 0.250/0.380/0.520 with 6 straight 40 HR seasons in his prime with Cincinnati.

    If he can keep is K's under control - Schwarber's floor is quite a bit higher than that. I know that often Dunn gets maligned, but that's still some impressive offense in his prime.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    The Cubs have so many "lifer players", by that I mean guys who don't just enjoy playing and want to improve at it, but who center their whole life around being an excellent player in every phase of the game.

    But if I had to choose two guys who I wouldn't label as "this is his ceiling as an MLB player", it would be Javy and Schwarber. The intangibles for both of those guys are just so high, possibly higher than we can know, that it's hard to predict where they will end up in their careers.

    It will be fun to follow them, as well as our other amazing players (too many to list really). I'm glad they ended up with the Cubs.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    Agreed. Those two guys have the potential to be really special. And I don't mean to malign guys like Rizzo or Bryant by stating that. The difference is with guys like them, and for that matter Contreras or potentially Almora, is that we've probably got a far better idea where they will max out as players.

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    In reply to drkazmd65:

    I don't get the people who talk down about Dunn. "He is what he is" is how I described him. He is a "true outcomes" player (BB, K, HR). And he had some seasons where he was actually pretty good. Never great. But there was always a chance to see something exciting.

  • Small bone to pick: As an IU grad, it is the Indiana University , not University of Indiana, therefore why we are known as IU and not the sorrowful University of ILL or University of Iowa, two of which did not offer me scholarships while IU did.

    Anyway, Kyle is our guy and he will challenge the league for OPS and HR's this year.

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    In reply to rnemanich:

    I made the adjustment for you.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    As a fellow IU grad,... I support your statement completely!

    BS, Biology, 1987!

  • We are all reading tea leaves on Schwarber at this point. Recall that last spring training, Schwarber posted a .997 OPS. He started the season confident, and no one predicted the first half he had. Supposedly he was swinging for too many homers in the last first, but yet, it was his second half power numbers that saved his year. (In the second half, he had an average OBP for a starter of .335, a very high 34% K rate, but a .559 slugging percentage -- which would have put him the NL top 10 if achieved for a full season.) Then an awful postseason hitting just .176 and a major defensive error in LF.

    But he's a year more experienced. A year more comfortable in LF, and perhaps more controlled with his hitting approach. So we'll see what the year brings once the games start counting.

  • Schwarber just hit a 2 iron out to RF and killed a family of 6. Rebound season confirmed.

  • In reply to Kramerica20:

    Don't tell Greg.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    The family was picking daisies and Schwarber wanted them left alone for him to pick when he I’d done with baseball in May.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    I am wondering what Greg's guy in AZ is seeing now.

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