Kyle Schwarber: Long-Term Production or Flash In the Pan?

A little over a year ago, the Chicago Cubs signed their first-round pick in the 2014 draft, Kyle Schwarber, and assigned him to short-A baseball for development and refinement.

Today, that same gentleman is a driving force in the Cubs’ offense as they contest for a wild card spot.

While fast transitions through the minor leagues for talented players are not uncommon in MLB, many teams are wary of the long term result of “rushing” their prospects, who often become uncomfortable in the majors for a myriad of reasons.

Funnily enough, Kyle Schwarber has never looked more comfortable.

So what’s the story on this young slugging catcher/left fielder? Does his stuff have gusto to continue being effective at the major league level? He’s been breaking a lot of the Cubs’ fringe-type records, including the most RBI (30) by a Cubs player through first 35 career games since Bob Speake (32) in 1955.

Schwarber is batting .294/.393/.686 (15-for-51) with 6 HRs, 18 RBI, 19 runs scored in last 14 games, which is very good production to say the least. He’s still slashing .310/.400/.595 in 195 PAs for the 2015 season largely fueled by his absolutely white hot start after his promotion to the bigs.

Some folks will cry that small sample sizes are inflating Schwarber’s numbers, and technically they aren’t wrong. Schwarber has only played 35 games at the big league level and to say that there wont be slumps in his future would be irresponsible; but for the time being, he’s on pace to hit 40+ HRs in a full 162-game schedule as a 22-year-old.

What’s Schwarber’s secret? How does he continue to produce at the plate?

One rationale could be that as a rookie, there is no book on him just yet. Pitchers will still have to figure out how to attack him as opposing ballclubs collect data on his swing-and-miss locations/pitches. There’s a learning curve for every new player who comes in to the league and the opposition will adjust to him.

While that is a possibility, what makes the most sense regarding Schwarber’s offense is that he hits the ball really REALLY freakin’ hard. For example, his swing is beautifully level with hands that stay back through the barrel of the bat as it passes through the strike zone. A quiet lower body and plenty of hand speed only lend credence to just how strong Schwarber is. Pair that with a meager 15% soft contact rate and you’ve got yourself a lot of well-hit balls.

Statcast, MLB’s shiny new data system, has Schwarber with the third-hardest average exit velocity off the bat at 96.3 mph. It’s not uncommon for some of his longer hits to exceed 105+ mph off the bat.

When you crush the ball like Schwarber does, it results in a slightly elevated BABIP, which sits at .380. However, when comparing to his career numbers in the same category, it’s actually right on pace with what you’d expect. So long as Schwarber continues to pound the ball, he’ll luck his way in to a few additional hits and XBH.

This being said, we have to address his spray chart, which paints a different story:

Source: FanGraphs

There is a TON of pull-hitting going on here, which isn’t unconventional for a LHB, but he’s doing a great job of depositing the ball in to shallow right for base hits. The shift, or a deeper orientation hybrid shift, could eventually become a decent strategy versus Schwarber, especially since he’s sporting a 35 percent ground ball rate (sample size alert, of course).

The question then becomes: will the ball be hit hard enough to squeak through the shift, or will he fall in to the web of defense? For now, we don’t have those answers but I have a feeling that by 2016, the picture will be clear.

Indeed, he is a but a mere mortal and there are ways to neutralize Kyle Schwarber … until he learns to push opposite field and bring his line drive totals up. That adjustment is one that all rookies face and he is no different.

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