My voice is a little hoarse this morning from yelling various iterations of “Hell yeah, War Bear” during Tuesday night’s game. Though I have gained no small measure of objectivity about this Cubs team since I started “covering” them, I maintain a meatball exemption when it comes to Kyle Schwarber.
That started with the IU connection, but it’s been fed by Schwarber’s authenticity and kind of throwback persona that reminds me of a mix between Jim Thome and Hulk Hogan. Dude looks like he’d be equally at home washing down a couple greasy burgers fresh off the flat-top with an ice-cold macrobrew or rocking American flag shorts while throwing around some iron following a game in which he’d just gone 3-for-3 with a homer.
And that’s probably because he is exactly that guy. As CSN Chicago’s Tony Andracki wrote, Schwarber celebrated his big performance with a visit to the weight room adjacent to the Cubs’ clubhouse. Par for the course for a blue-collar dude who spent his Monday off hosting a fundraising event that generated $280,000 for his Neighborhood Heroes program.
“I’m not worried about (starting),” Schwarber told Kelly Crull as “Go, Cubs, Go” blared in the background. “Whenever my name’s in the lineup card, I’m gonna run out there. If not, I’m gonna be on the bench waiting for that at-bat.”
His name wasn’t on the lineup card in any of the three games against Milwaukee this past weekend, even though the Brewers trotted out three right-handed pitchers. And even though Schwarber had homered against two of them (Zach Davies and Jimmy Nelson) earlier this season. And even though the World Series hero blasted a homer and drew a walk after entering Saturday’s blowout as a defensive replacement.
It’s clear that Schwarber has been a different hitter since returning from a brief demotion to AAA and, while he’s not without his flaws, he is an integral part of the Cubs offense. His 134 wRC+ in the second half ranks fourth on the team and his 1.2 fWAR ranks fifth, and that’s in only 166 plate appearances. Scaled to 236 PAs, Schwarber would be almost on par with Anthony Rizzo’s 1.8 fWAR.
Sure, there are some among you who will stubbornly bring up Schwarber’s .207 batting average that only recently pushed several points clear of the Mendoza Line. Never mind that he had a .940 OPS in July, .852 in August, and now 1.137 in September. Or that he’s slashed .337/.433/.675 with a .459 wOBA and 185 wRC+ built by 12 extras-base hits (eight homers) in 28 games at Wrigley since coming back from Iowa.
Perfect? Far from it. But in a offense predicated largely on the longball, Schwarber’s presence in the lineup makes the Cubs stronger. And there’s reason to believe he’ll be able to play an even bigger role as the season winds down. His .240 BABIP is indicative of some hard luck, but this is exactly where we see the problem with viewing certain stats in a vacuum. Schwarber had a paltry .193 average on balls in play as of June 21. Since July 6, however, that number is at .314 and rising.
It would be foolish to believe that a strong finish is all on Schwarber’s shoulders, as Rizzo and Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are going to need to pull a lot of weight as well. But if the flag-wearing, “Born in the USA” blasting slugger can maintain his current pace, the Cubs will look a fair bit different from the team that was swept by the Brewers.