Chicago Cubs: Introducing the best defensive player in baseball

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) /

After a disappointing showing last season, Chicago Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber is showing he’s not just a power threat – but rather an all around asset.

While a .241 batting average certainly isn’t anything to write home about, Chicago Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber is getting it done in so many other ways this year.

The 25-year-old slugger, as we all know, came into the season in the best shape of his life after dropping a ton of weight. He’s been more athletic, quicker both on the base paths and on defense – two of peoples’ bigger qualms with him till now.

And, whether by direct relation or not, even his approach at the plate has drastically improved from 2017. After striking out just under 31 percent of the time last year, he’s managed to cut that mark down to 24.6 percent nearly two months into 2018. Now, looking at Fangraphs, that still ranks out as somewhere between ‘below average’ and ‘poor’.

I can live with that.

Walks on the rise yet again

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Why, you ask? Because of his accompanying walk rate. The former Indiana University standout enters Thursday’s action with a 15.9 percent walk rate – which ranks in the top tier, per Fangraphs – listed as ‘excellent.’

And its impact shows in his overall numbers. He ranks third among Cubs hitters in terms of OPS (.834) – trailing only Javier Baez and Willson Contreras. The only Chicago player with a higher on-base percentage? 2015 National League MVP Kris Bryant – who ranks second in the entire National League.

When he’s making contact, Schwarber has cut down his soft hit percentage by around four points, as well. Similar to Jason Heyward, he rolled over on too many pitches last year – and it proved costly. He quickly became a feast-or-famine hitter with too many holes in his swing.

This year, though, he is pulling the ball with more authority. While he’s not using the opposite field as much as he did last year, there’s no denying how much better he’s been with the bat in 2018. And, what’s even more exciting is this is just the tip of what he’s bringing to the table.

Introducing the best defensive player in baseball

That’s right.

This one goes out to all you ‘Schwarber can’t play defense’ trolls lurking under your digital bridges. Using UZR/150 (number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games), the Cubs outfielder ranks as not only the best defender on this team – but the best in all of baseball.

Never thought you’d see the day, did you? Ye of little faith.

How, you might ask? Simple, really. While he doesn’t make Albert Almora-esque grabs out in left field, he makes the plays he’s supposed to make. This season, he’s made all of his ‘likely’ catches – which Fangraphs ranks as 60-90 percent catch probability and every single one of his ‘routine’ plays (90-100 percent catch probability).

A big part of his defensive value? His cannon of a right arm. We saw it in the opener against the Braves when he saved the Cubs early with a perfect – and I mean perfect – throw to cut down Freddie Freeman  at home plate.

But even if you look at other metrics (RngR, rARM, UZR, DRS) – he ranks out as a plus defender. Probably not going to get the attention of those scouring the Internet for web gems – but he’s no longer a major liability in left field. And that, is of the utmost importance for this team.

Developing into an all-around talent

Many people, including myself, didn’t call last year a complete failure for Kyle Schwarber. Why? Because, despite it all, he still managed 30 home runs. At season’s end, he ranked as roughly a league average offensive player.

Still, if you’re going to strike out at a 30 percent clip and only hit home runs, you’re destined for a designated hitter role in the American League. Thankfully, because of his offseason efforts, Schwarber is done being ‘just a DH’. This guy has all the makings of an above-average all-around player for a long time to come.

Next: Comparing apples to apples with Fergie

And he’s still just in his secon full Major League season.