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