For years now, Kyle Schwarber has been one of the most polarizing figures of this Chicago Cubs team.
The Chicago Cubs Kyle Schwarber immediately asserted his potential as a slugger when he arrived in the major leagues in 2015, clubbing 16 homers in 273 plate appearances and hitting moonshots in the playoffs. Though a torn ACL forced him to miss the 2016 regular season, he made a heroic return during the World Series. What has transpired since has been a series of peaks and valleys.
While he got off to a horrific start in 2017 and was even demoted to Triple-A, Schwarber made his way back to the majors and finished the season with 30 homers. Last season, Schwarber posted the highest OBP mark of his career and highest OPS+ (over a full season) while surprisingly rating as one of the best defensive left fielders in all of baseball.
This season has proven to be yet another grind for Schwarber. He enters Wednesday’s contest hitting just .233 with a .329 OBP, but also ranks in the top four percent of the league in terms of average exit velocity, and top three percent for hard-hit contact rate according to MLB Statcast.
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Schwarber may have endured a tough stretch at the beginning of July, but he has been scorching hot as of late.
Shifting down in the order
Cubs manager Joe Maddon has written Schwarber in the lineup card as his leadoff man in over half of Schwarber’s starts this season.
While the 26-year-old was undoubtedly Chicago’s best option at the top of the order before Jason Heyward’s most recent hot streak, Schwarber has benefited from moving down towards the bottom of the lineup.
Maddon has experimented with Schwarber in the No. 8 hole, which has paid massive dividends. In 12 starts at that spot, Schwarber is slashing .366/.458/.659 with a trio of homers and a 174 OPS+.
Schwarber’s struggles in high-leverage situations have been notorious in recent years, so moving down in the order would seem to serve him well by easing some of the pressure. Indeed, Schwarber is hitting .275 with a .895 OPS in low-leverage situations this season, so he figures to stay put towards the bottom of the lineup.
The last two weeks have felt like a breakthrough for Schwarber in terms of his approach at the plate,
Since July 24, he is hitting .310 with six walks compared to just three strikeouts. All of that despite having a BABIP that is close to 50 points (.261) below his actual average.
The other numbers are equally encouraging. In the last two weeks, Schwarber has a 187 wRC+ and .458 wOBA, and he has been spreading the ball to all fields.
Perhaps the best example of Schwarber’s hot streak came in Monday night’s game against the Oakland Athletics. Opposing starter Chris Bassitt had been dominating Cubs hitters with his running two-seamer. With two strikes, Schwarber stayed right through the middle of that pitch and shot a liner out to the gap in left-center for a double.
Schwarber’s pull power is tremendous, but–similarly to Heyward–he is at his best when he can spray the ball all over the yard. Particularly with how teams have shifted against him this season.
The Cubs have needed more consistent production up and down the lineup, and Schwarber has the potential to be the one guy that really provides a big jolt to the offense when he is going good.