Chicago Cubs: Can Kyle Schwarber build off his breakout second half?

After turning on the best offensive performance of his career last season, Chicago Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber needs to continue to improve in 2020.

Given what Nicholas Castellanos did after coming over mid-season in a deadline deal with the Detroit Tigers, it’s not hard to understand why he received much of the fanfare down the stretch last year. But his performance prompted a lot of people to overlook the monster showing turned in by fellow Chicago Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber.

There’s little doubt in anyone’s mind: Schwarber has the ability to obliterate baseballs. He’s shown it since he first broke onto the scene in 2015 as a rookie, when he clobbered a pitch in the NLDS against the rival St. Louis Cardinals atop the right field video board at Wrigley Field.

After making an all-but-impossible return to the team in the World Series the next season after suffering what was believed to be a season-ending knee injury in April, the legend of Schwarber grew to messiah-like levels. And, I mean, come on. He doesn’t play a game all year only to return in the Fall Classic and hit .412, helping erase a century of disappointment on the North Side.

Since then, it’s been a steady ascent for the former first-round pick. A dismal performance in 2017 saw Schwarber hit just .211 on the year – calling it a disappointment would be a major understatement given the fanfare he headed into the year with. Even then, though, power wasn’t an issue – he belted 30 homers for the first time in his career that season, following it up with 26 in 2018 and a personal-high 38 last year.

MLB.com recently put together a list of the top sluggers in the NL Central – one for each club. The Cubs’ representative? You guessed it – Schwarber. Here’s a snippet of what they had to say about his ability to decimate pitcher’s mistakes.

Hardest-hit ball for the Cubs in the Statcast era (since 2015)? That’d be Schwarber, who had a 117.6 mph single on June 22 last year. Hardest-hit homer? For the Statcast era, it’s Schwarber with a 117.1 mph blast on April 24, 2018. Hardest-hit round-tripper last year? Also Schwarber: 114.7 mph shot on June 8. In fact, Schwarber has four of the top five hardest-hit balls, plus the top four hardest-hit homers, on record for the Cubs.

In the second half last season, Schwarber wasn’t just one of the best hitters for Chicago – he was one of the most productive offensive players in all of baseball. He ranked sixth amongst NL players in second-half OPS (.997), mere points behind Castellanos (1.002). Only three players in the Senior Circuit hit more homers after the All-Star Break than Schwarber, who belted 20 long-balls during that span.

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No matter what form the 2020 season takes, it could be a big one for Schwarber and the Cubs. If he can put together another dominant offensive performance, it could go a long way in driving up his value in arbitration. If not, the team could once again be left wondering what kind of impact it can expect from their slugger moving forward.

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