When the Chicago Cubs drafted Kyle Schwarber with the fourth pick in the 2014 draft, they knew they were getting a hitter and a power hitter at that. In Schwarber’s final season at Indiana University, the left-hander clubbed 14 home runs. Along with that, Schwarber amassed a .659 slugging percentage and a .464 OBP. Those number coupled with the fact that Schwarber put together solid numbers over his entire three-year stint at Indiana (.607 career slugging percentage and .437 career OBP), convinced the Cubs to spend a high draft pick on the slugger.
Once Schwarber reached the majors in June of 2015, the 22-year-old did not disappoint. In 69 games during his rookie campaign, Schwarber hit 16 home runs and logged 43 RBIs. To go along with that, Schwarber put together a solid .355 OBP and .487 slugging percentage.
After Schwarber clubbed five home runs in the 2015 postseason, Cubs fans where foaming at the mouth to see what the young slugger would be in his first full season in 2016. However, the Cubs’ faithful would have to wait another season to see Schwarber in action as the 23-year-old suffered a nasty knee injury just five plate appearances into the 2016 campaign.
Despite that major setback, Schwarber set out to get healthy as soon as possible. The youngster worked so hard that he was cleared to hit and run the bases just in time for the World Series. What happened next can only be described as amazing. In 20 plate appearances against one of the best rotations and bullpens in baseball, Schwarber logged seven hits and three walks, driving in two runs over five games. That allowed Schwarber to amass a .412/.500/.471 slash line, further adding to his postseason heroics of 2015.
Schwarber falters in 2017
With all of his success in 2015 and perseverance in 2016, the Cubs tossed Schwarber into the leadoff role for 2017. To say that experiment failed would be a gross understatement. In 147 at-bats in the leadoff position, Schwarber slashed just .190/.312/.381 with 48 strikeouts and just 24 walks. The 24-year-old struggled so badly that by the middle of June, the Cubs were sending him to Triple-A.[email protected] slugger Kyle Schwarber is riding a more matured approach at a plate and a refined body to a resurgence in 2018.Click To Tweet
Following 11 games with the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate in which he slashed .343/.477/.714, Schwarber was promoted back to the majors. Once he returned, the younster seemed to figure things out at the plate. Prior to the All-Star break, Schwarber was hitting at a .178 clip with a slugging percentage of just .394. After the All-Star break and his demotion, Schwarber hit .253 with a .335 OBP and .559 slugging percentage.
Even with his marginal success following his trip to Iowa, Schwarber turned in a mediocre 2017 season. In 129 games, Schwarber slashed .211/.315/.467, and while he hit 30 home runs, the lefty also struck out 150 times or 30.9% of the time. To make matter worse, Schwarber logged a BABIP of just .244 while posting an extremely average 102 wRC+.
With a new look, Schwarber seems to have figured it out
Over the offseason, it was well documented that Schwarber slimed down and put himself in better physical shape. With his body ready for the rigors of a 162-game schedule, Schwarber seemed ready to hit the ground running in 2018. Through the first full month of the season, Schwarber seems to be getting back to his rookie and college days when he was mashing baseballs left and right.
Following a 2-for-5 performance in which the 25-year-old hit two home runs against the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday, Schwarber raised his home run total to six (tied for 15th in baseball).
Schwarber’s performance on Tuesday raised his batting average to .302. In addition to that, Schwarber owns a .413 OBP and .635 slugging percentage for an OPS of 1.048. That number is a far cry from his .782 OPS that he posted in 2017 or even the .842 mark he put up in 2015.
Along with his improved slash line, Schwarber is taking more walks and striking out less. Through 19 games, Schwarber has logged a walk rate of 16%, almost four percentage points higher than 2017 while striking out almost seven percent less than a year ago. Right now, Schwarber’s walk and strikeout rates are the best of his career, excluding the 2016 regular season.
At the root of Schwarber’s success is the fact that he is laying off more pitches outside of the strike zone. In 2017, Schwarber swung at 28.2% of pitches thrown outside of the zone. This year, that number has dropped to 23.4%. Coupled with that, Schwarber is making contact 1.7% more on balls thrown in the strike zone compared to a year ago.
By laying off pitches outside of the zone, Schwarber is waiting until he gets his pitch. When he does get his pitch, the slugger is hitting it hard. Thus far, Schwarber owns a 40% hard-hit percentage, the highest of his career if it holds. Along with that, Schwarber is not pulling the ball as much this season. In 2017, Schwarber pulled 44.5% of the balls he put in play. This season, that number has dipped to 37.8% while the percentage of balls centered up has risen 7.7% compared to 2017.
While it may be too early in the season to suggest Schwarber will maintain this success, it is very encouraging to see the young man have success at the plate. Everyone knows Schwarber’s defense will likely never be Gold Glove caliber. For that reason, Schwarber must rely on his bat to keep him on a major league roster. Up until this point, Schwarber he not lived up to the success he had in college that prompted the front office to take him in the top five in the draft back in 2014. A month into the 2018 season, Schwarber is beginning to show Cubs’ fans what he is truly capable of, and I for one can not wait to see what that is.