This season has a make-or-break feel to it for several Chicago Cubs players, most notably former first-rounder and postseason hero Kyle Schwarber.
You all know the story. Burst onto the scene in 2015, deliver mammoth home runs in the postseason, return from a ‘season-ending’ injury in 2016 to play World Series hero. The tale of Kyle Schwarber is one full of intrigue, excitement and, to a degree, a disappointment for some Chicago Cubs fans.
Prior to the 2019 season, we heard Theo Epstein’s repeated ‘production over potential’ shtick. This was the year for guys to step up and perform. And we’ve seen several notable pieces, including Jason Heyward and Willson Contreras, do just that – elevating their game, especially on the offensive side of things.
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But there are two sides to every coin. Just as we’ve seen the likes of Contreras and Heyward step up offensively, we’ve seen other guys trend in the wrong direction. Soon-to-be 38-year-old Ben Zobrist is slugging just .236 in the final year of his contract, Kris Bryant has managed a measly 85 OPS+ in his first 19 games with just one long ball and Kyle Schwarber’s production has fallen off a cliff recently.
In the last week, Schwarber is slashing a measly .115/.179/.115 with a dozen strikeouts and just two walks in 26 at-bats. You almost expect the strikeouts, but his walk rate is sharply lower than his career mark and he’s not driving the ball at all.
His 91.4 mph average exit velocity barely outpaces league average, according to Statcast. He’s not getting under the ball and using his tremendous power to his advantage, either. That’s evident in his .355 slugging percentage and his below-average launch angle so far in 2019.
So he’s not driving the ball and he’s not working walks when he’s at the plate. So why is he still getting the lion’s share of time in left field? Simply put, because there are few better options at this point which, perhaps, is the more worrisome matter.
Heyward has seen time in both center and right in the first month, all while putting up a 1.037 OPS. But aside from him, the Cubs have gotten little in terms of contributions from their outfielders.
Bryant, who splits time between the outfield and third base, is off to an uncharacteristically slow start this season. Zobrist is looking his age after a stellar showing in 2018 where he hit over .300 for the first time in his career. Ian Happ still looks lost against right-handers out in Iowa and Albert Almora has a 24 OPS+ in 57 at-bats, which is enough to warrant his joining Happ in Triple-A.
So, for now, the Cubs are going to keep trotting Kyle Schwarber out there, hoping he figures it out at the plate. It’s far too early in the season to push the panic button, but with the National League stronger top-to-bottom than it has been in years, patience only goes so far.
Chicago cannot afford guys like Schwarber to play the way he has lately. The only thing saving him at this point is the fact that the guys around him are struggling, as well – some even more so than he has in the first three weeks of the season.