Even if you’re a St. Louis Cardinals or Pittsburgh Pirates fan, you cringed at Kyle Schwarber‘s injury. Nobody wants to see players go down with what could potentially be a career-threatening injury. At least, if medical technology weren’t what it is, he might be tuning up his résumé as a hitting coach. Luckily, he should be ready to smash some more windshields in Mesa, Arizona by next March.
With both a torn ACL and LCL, that’s not a given, as the surgery and following rehab present a real challenge to Schwarber to return to form. However, I know I’d enjoy watching him launch moonshots at a prolific pace in the postseason again.
When I saw that he’d gone down, two thoughts passed through my head. First, I could hear the entire Cubs fan base screaming in agony that this might be the first sign that they’ll still have to wait until next year.
My second thought was, “How much of an effect will this have on the Cubs’ chances to win the NL Central?” Initially, on the surface, this appeared to be a huge blow dealt to the Cubbies. The more I thought about it, though, it looked as if the Cubs are clearly built to withstand this kind of adversity. And here’s why.
First and foremost, Ben Zobrist has positional versatility, particularly at second base and in left field. Let’s keep in mind that Schwarber was primarily patrolling left field, so that immediately solves a problem for Joe Maddon and crew. Zobrist has played mostly at second in his career, with 2428 plate appearances, or 4870 innings in the field as a second baseman. Therefore, this seems to be his natural position. He has a .764 OPS as a second baseman.
In left field, with 316 PAs and 656 innings played defensively, Zobrist has a .918 OPS. Surely, the smaller sample size comes into play, but the real meat of this is that he can slot in almost anywhere for Maddon. That means that Schwarber going down really is less of a problem than might seem on the surface.
Furthermore, the Cubs have depth. Jorge Soler can play either corner outfield position. Sure, he’s a high-strikeout guy with a ton of power and maybe not much else, but was Schwarber really that superior to Soler in the outfield, defensively?
Then, you have to remember that Javier Baez is floating around there somewhere — still dealing with a nagging injury, as of right now — with the ability to play second. In that case, Zobrist could shift over to left (or right, if Maddon got a wild hair and wanted to put Jason Heyward in left, which I doubt, but let’s consider the possibility anyhow).
Even further down the depth chart for the Cubbies, Arismendy Alcantara is, hopefully, the second coming of a guy like Zobrist; a guy who can play the outfield and some infield, primarily second base. This could solve some further problems by avoiding shifting Addison Russell back to second, where he struggled in his rookie campaign.
All in all, while Schwarber’s injury surely sucks, it might not be the death knell of a successful 2016 Cubbies’ campaign after all. Zobrist has started the season on fire — hitting .375 and slugging .458 — and most likely wouldn’t be bothered by a positional shift, if one were in order to adjust to the loss of the “Warbird.” Let’s not forget that as recently as 2013, Zobrist had a 7 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) at second and a 6 DRS in left field in 2014, so his versatility should play out both offensively and defensively.
To solidify my point, I believe that the Cubs have enough depth and versatility (positionally) to deal with an injury such as Schwarber’s without losing much ground at all in the hunt for a divisional crown and a high-seeded playoff spot.