Kyle Schwarber’s Numbers Encouraging Even Though League Adjusted to Him

Kyle Schwarber finished 2018 with 26 homers and a .343 wOBA in just 512 plate appearances. Regardless of your expectations for the big slugger entering the season, those numbers are pretty darn good. And if not for a variety of adjustments pitchers made to Schwarber in the second half, he was on track to be one of the most valuable hitters in the league.

War Bear entered the second half with a .365 wOBA and 130 wRC+ and he appeared locked in for a majority of his plate appearances. But then he began to struggle, playing through back pain that limited his playing time and efficacy en route to a mere .304 wOBA after the break.

In addition to other factors, I think it’s possible Schwarber started to struggle because pitchers changed their approach against him when ahead in the count. For example, when was down in the count in the first half, pitchers would still throw to both the inside and outside portions of the plate.

Schwarber was able to make contact against those inside pitches (the right dark red spot above) and drive them for extra-base hits.

Contact Rate

So, what did pitchers too? They predictably stopped throwing inside — pitches that Schwarber mashed in the first half — when ahead in the count.

Pitch Frequency

Keep in mind that this is just one possible explanation for Schwarber’s second-half struggles. He also faced a much higher-than-average number of shifts, not great when those back issues may have cost him half a step.

I’m confident he can adjust because he’s already proven throughout his young career that his approach and mechanics are malleable. Remember, as we highlighted in our recent Ian Happ post, young hitters who can mash and be patient are rare in the sport, and Schwarber is in that category.

That, combined with a salary that projects to be only $3.1 million in 2019, is why the Cubs are telling other teams that Schwarber is unavailable in trade talks.

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Brendan Miller

Brendan Miller is part of the Cubs Related Podcast duo with Corey Freedman. Brendan, who has twice as many Twitter followers as Corey, often writes about baseball analytics and scouting for Cubs Insider.

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11 Comments

  1. It’s pathetic how you guys keep trying to make the nickname “War Bear” stick. It is just a bad nickname, it doesn’t work.

  2. Also, Schwarber is too dumb to adjust to the way he is being pitched and to the shifts. He will pull ground balls to the right side for the rest of his short time in the majors.

    1. Alan you are spot on AND funny. All these a Schwarber apologists are pathetic.

      He struggled because pitchers adjusted? Duh! He struggled because of shifts? Duh! He struggled because he WATCHED too many strikes? Duh! It called the MLB. Adapt or perish.

      He works hard?? No doubt, but what the hell does that mean? Doesn’t mean he has the wherewithal to b a big leaguer.

      Thanks Alan.

  3. Schwarber had .873 OPS at the break before selling out tying to win the HR derby. He had back issues in the second half and I would be shocked if those and the .740 2nd half OPS were directly related to taking all those big cuts.

    1. This from BleacherNation, is a scary stat on Schwarbs: “In just high-leverage situations, he has a wRC+ of — and I’m not making this up — -62. That is the number ’62’ with a negative sign in front of it.”

      (100 wRC+ is average)

  4. We haven’t seen it yet, but I still think Schwarbs can be a .265 BA guy. If he does everything else the same, that bumps up is OBP/OPS nicely as well.

    I don’t know if it’s related to an over-commitment to patience, and working a count deep, but he looks like struggles a lot with pitch recognition. Too many at-bats where he watches the good pitches to hit go by for strikes, then he’s battling against pitchers-pitches while down in the count.

    He’s a smart guy, and a WORKER at his trade, so I would bet against him just yet. He needs to take a big step forward this season though.

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