Chicago Cubs analysis: Designated hitter slot would benefit Kyle Schwarber


Chicago Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber would benefit greatly with the implementation of the designated hitter into the National League lineups.

On Thursday, MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred said that league owners have become more receptive towards adding a designated hitter to National League lineups. This is good news for Chicago Cubs 22-year-old slugger Kyle Schwarber.

In 2015, Schwarber compiled -0.2 defensive wins above replacement (dWAR) in 64 games. He played right field, left field and catcher last season.

Schwarber’s value stems from his power-hitting ability and if a DH slot becomes available the Cubs could retain his bat in the lineup without having to watch him struggle defensively. This could become a reality within the next couple of seasons.

Although league owners didn’t address the possible implementation of the DH into National League lineups during MLB owner meetings in Coral Gables, Fl. last week, the idea has gained momentum due to declining offense and the risk of injuries for pitchers when they bat and run the bases.

The MLB will discuss this issue again when it negotiates a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with its player’s union after the current agreement expires on Dec. 31, 2016. If the impending CBA includes a DH slot for the National League, this change could be implemented during the 2017 season.

Schwarber’s strengths come almost exclusively from his hitting ability and a switch to a DH role would benefit him.

Oct 21, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber (12) dives for and misses a ball during the first inning in game four of the NLCS against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 21, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber (12) dives for and misses a ball during the first inning in game four of the NLCS against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cubs played Schwarber out of position for the majority of the 2015 season.

According to baseball reference, Schwarber played 21 games at his natural catcher position while appearing in the outfield in 43 games. No matter where the Cubs played him defensively, he struggled.

Schwarber, who played catcher for the majority of his minor league and collegiate careers, hasn’t developed the necessary skill set to succeed as a Major League catcher.

"If there is any rain to fall on Schwarber’s parade, it’s his defense behind the plate. His mechanics as a catcher tell the tale of a big man. Defensively, he is a work in progress. His footwork is still a bit slow and unrefined. The transfer of the ball from glove to hand is also slow, reducing the time to challenge potential base stealers. He needs more development time behind the plate and has to show improvement handling breaking balls and calling a game. —-Content created by writer Bernie Pleskoff"

According to FanGraphs, Schwarber threw out 3/14 (21.4%) base runners last season. He had a 96.7 fielding percentage and was to blame for two passed balls.

In the outfield, Schwarber fared even worse. According to FanGraphs, his Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) collectively at both corner outfield positions was -0.3. Schwarber misplayed several fly balls in the postseason that proved costly for the Chicago Cubs.

If the MLB implements the DH role into the National League, the Cubs will have the ability to move Schwarber to this role because they have players who can effectively replace him at either catcher or outfield.

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Former shortstop Javier Baez projects as a reserve moving forward due to the breadth of talent on the Cubs current roster. In 2017, if the Cubs move Schwarber to the DH slot, Baez could play in the outfield. The Cubs also have minor league options.

According to, five of the Chicago Cubs top ten current prospects play outfield positions. Albert Almora, Billy McKinney, Donnie Dewees, Mark Zagunis and Ian Happ are at various stages in their respective careers but at least a few of them could be Major League ready within the next couple of years. If Schwarber forfeits his right to play left field to become a DH, the Chicago Cubs will have viable options at this position.

Furthermore, although the Cubs originally planned for Schwarber to become the long-term option at catcher, this plan has changed due to the emergence of another minor league player.

Chicago Cubs prospect Albert Almora
Mar 18, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora against the Los Angeles Dodgers during a spring training game at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

On Saturday, named 23-year-old Cubs prospect Willson Contreras as the number one rated catching prospect for 2016. In 2015, Contreras put together the best season of his minor league career with the Chicago Cubs Double-A affiliate the Tennessee Smokies. In 126 games, he slashed .333/.413/.478 with eight home runs and 75 RBIs.

The Cubs have a plethora of young position talent both on its current roster and in the minor leagues. If they move Schwarber to the DH slot, this would allow the team to utilize more of this talent. It is a win for Schwarber too because his values lies in his hitting ability.

In 273 plate appearances, Schwarber slashed .246/.355/.487 with 16 home runs and 43 RBIs. During the postseason he was even better. In nine games, he slashed .333/.419/.889 with five home runs and eight RBIs. He is a power bat with 25+ home run potential if he plays an entire season. Although he didn’t technically qualify in the category because of limited plate appearances, Schwarber would have ranked 26th in the league with his .487 slugging percentage last season.

Schwarber as a DH allows the Chicago Cubs to use his skillset in the most effective manner. In this scenario, he focuses solely on improving his hitting (particularly against left-handed pitchers), instead of slowly developing the skill set needed to be effective at a defensive position. Although improvement is possible, this would be a slow process and it may not be worth waiting several years for him to become a serviceable, not elite, outfielder or catcher.

Next: Sandberg: 2016 Cubs hungry for success

The prospect of a new DH slot in the National League bodes well for this Chicago Cubs team. This is something to look for (and as Cubs fans to root for) over the next couple of seasons.