Chicago Cubs: Are we over-hyping Kyle Schwarber?

Chicago Cubs (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) /

Chicago Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber is off to a slow start in 2019 and is striking out in nearly 30 percent of his plate appearances. Is it time to stop over-hyping him?

Chicago Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber was taken fourth overall in the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft. He was a catcher at Indiana University, but the Cubs were already set at the position with Willson Contreras, David Ross, and Miguel Montero at the time. When he was called up in 2015, the team asked that he play the outfield as his bat was too valuable to not have in the lineup.

There was definitely a learning curve for Schwarber, but he was more than adequate out there in left field. However, things came to a crashing hault at the start of the 2016 season when he collided with center fielder Dexter Fowler in Arizona. Schwarber would miss the remainder of the regular season with a torn ACL and LCL. Little did anyone know, he was working hard behind the scenes to get back to be able to help the team in the World Series.

He made a few appearances in the Arizona Fall League and the Cubs felt comfortable activating him from the disabled list (now called the injured list) and bringing him immediately into the team’s first World Series since 1945. It was a huge gamble by the front office. All Schwarber did was slash 0.412/0.500/0.471 including a leadoff single in the top of the tenth inning in Game seven. He was pinch-ran for but the run ultimately ended up scoring on a Ben Zobrist double down the left field line.

Since then though, it’s a been a mixed bag for Schwarber. He really struggled in 2017, slashing a miserable 0.211/0.315/0.467. He did hit 30 home-runs and 67 runs-batted-in, but he was at one point sent back down to Triple-A Iowa to get some things figured out. Schwarber struck out in 30.9 percent of his at-bats while walking just 12.1 percent, both career worsts in the big leagues. In 2017, Kyle Schwarber looked like a guy who the league had adjusted to and he could not make the necessary adjustments in return.

In 2018, Schwarber showed up to spring camp a slimmer version of himself. He worked vigorously in the offseason to get in shape to be able to handle a full season in the major leagues. However, the new Kyle Schwarber produced marginally better results, finishing the 2018 season slashing 0.238/0.356/0.467 with 26 home-runs and 64 runs-batted-in. He did improve his strikeout and walk rates to 27.5 percent and and 15.3 percent, respectively.

Schwarber is off to a really slow start this season. He hit a monster home-run in the home opener but he has not been seeing the ball well at the plate, slashing just 0.192/0.263/0.385 with three home-runs and seven runs-batted-in to go along with 17 strikeouts. His walk percentage is currently at a career low of just 8.8 percent and his strikeout rate is near 30 percent again.

Fangraphs uses their stat wRC+, which simply means weighted runs created. It’s a useful tool to determine how productive a player is, with 100 being the average. Though he had down years in both 2017 and 2018, Schwarber still managed to have a wRC+ of 103 and 115, respectively. This season, he has a wRC+ of just 69. He’s done a nice job of hitting the ball to the pull side and opposite field, both near 40 percent of his at-bats, but he has been fooled badly by breaking balls.

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Most recently, he tried to check his swing on a garbage pitch in the dirt in Saturday’s game against the Angels, and the umpires ultimately ruled that Schwarber “went”, which lead to his frustration boiling over. 2019 is a big year for Schwarber. He needs to take that next step that the fans are expecting from him. The front office is banking on the core of this team to bounce back from last year to remain competitive, and Schwarber’s start to this season is not giving anyone much confidence right now.