Finally free of the leadoff spot, Chicago Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber has become one of the team’s best hitters, leading the club’s powerful offense.
All Chicago Cubs fans are well aware of the fact the team has lacked a true leadoff hitter since winning the World Series in 2016. There is no secret to the success with Dexter Fowler, the team’s leadoff hitter that season. Joe Maddon said it best in, “you go, we go” – and since then the Cubs have been missing that piece of the puzzle.
Coming into the 2017 season Maddon took a new approach, giving the leadoff position to the left-handed hitting slugger Kyle Schwarber. This didn’t really work out as the former first-rounder batted .190 with a .312 OBP in 37 games. To say the least, these aren’t the stats that you are really looking for out of the leadoff spot.
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Fast forward to this season and the Cubs still don’t have the true leadoff guy that they have looked for. Schwarber was given the task to lead games off once again. In 56 games in the leadoff spot, he carries a .229 average with a .304 OBP. He has hit 17 home runs and driven in 36. These numbers aren’t terrible, but you certainly expect more from your table-setter.
Since the All-Star Break, Schwarber has not been in the leadoff spot much. Maddon has seemed to find his new leadoff guy in Jason Heyward. The veteran outfielder has seemed to thrive in that role considering he has been probably the most consistent of all the guys who’ve gotten reps there this season.
Schwarber has been on a tear at the plate recently. Since May 15, Schwarber leads the Cubs in slugging percentage and homers – and is tied with Javier Baez in both runs batted in and walks. That’s a pretty good stretch of baseball for a guy that seems to get a lot of criticism for his work at the plate.
In the second half, Schwarber has been really good. Entering action Tuesday, he was batting .263 with nine homers and 18 driven in. In those 89 plate appearances, two things stand out to me: his walk rate and strikeout rate, both identical at 12.4 percent. Ideally, he would draw some more walks but that strikeout percentage is a game-changer.
I think that, by this point, it’s a fact: Schwarber should not be in the leadoff spot. His numbers, simply put, haven’t been good enough to warrant consistent at-bats in that role. According to Fangraphs, Schwarber seems to enjoy lying in wait at the bottom in the eighth spot, where he is batting .366 with a .458 OBP in 48 plate appearances.
Hopefully, Schwarber can keep up his hot bat and help the Cubs as they try to turn their home success into some sustained quality baseball away from Wrigley Field.