Cleat Geeks

SABERmetrics Sunday: Struggling Schwarber

Around seven months ago the 24-year old slugging Kyle Schwarber put on a show in the World Series with a .500 OBP and a .971 OPS in five games after returning from knee surgery. Now struggling, he has been sent down to AAA Iowa to get him right again after the expectations for him were so high.

Schwarber came up in 2015 and played 69 games posting  .355 OBP / .842 OPS / 13.2% BB / 16 HR and then did damage in the postseason with  a .419 OBP / 1.308 OPS / 5 HR at the age of 22. After his World Series performance there was every reason to have high expectations for him and manager Joe Maddon made that clear by placing him in the leadoff spot to start 2017. Since then, Schwarber has struggled to the point where moving him around in the lineup did not seem to do enough and management thought it was necessary to send him down. How exactly has he struggled? Time for some numbers (thanks again Fangraphs):

.295 OBP / .673 OPS / 12 HR / .193 BABIP / 28.7% K / 13.8% BB / 44.9% PULL / 25.2% OPPO / 12.3% line drive percentage / 47.3 % flyball percentage / 40.4% ground ball percentage / 28.2 % O swing / 65.8% Z swing / 63.7% O contact / 82.2% Z contact / 75.3% contact 

There is a lot to breakdown because there are a lot of factors of Schwarber’s struggles. Obviously his on-base% is below average, but considering his BABIP is less than .200 and he is not getting a lot of hits having a .295 OBP is actually not  as bad as one would think. Schwarber is still having a lot of good at bats and drawing walks, a 13.8% BB is great. His O swing (outside of zone swing percentage) at 28.2% is below the fangraphs average of 30 so he swings at pitches outside the zone less than the average players which results in more walks. His Z swing (zone swing percentage) at 65.8% is pretty much at the fangraphs average of 65 so he is swinging at pitches in the strike zone at a normal rate.

His contact rates (this does not include exit velocity) can explain a few things. His 63.7 O contact is under the 66 fangraph average, his Z contact at 82.2% is under the 87 fangraph average and overall contact rate at 75.3% is below the 80 fangraph average. The 28.7% K rate which is well above average (not in a good way) does show how he is swinging and missing more than the average player, but mainly IN the zone. He does not chase pitches outside the zone much but he is not making contact with pitches in the zone at an average or above average rate which leads to some struggles.

That is a factor but not all of it. Notice how Schwarber is pulling half of his batted balls and his .193 BABIP. In mentioned in a previous article, the Cubs are defended with shifts more than anyone in baseball. Many of Schwarber’s contact outs are into the shift which is a big contributor of an insanely low BABIP as he pulls the ball often. While his pull percentage was in the high 40s in 2015 he had a higher line drive percentage (17.3 in 15′ vs 12.3% in 17′) which falls in more for hits when hit hard even towards a shift.

All of this just kind of scratches the surface of his 2017 year. It is hard to know what is exactly mentally going through his head and how the knee injury has played as a factor but the numbers can tell you where the results are not at expected level. Schwarber is hopefully going to swing better at pitches in the zone, make better contact and find a bit of consistency. His plate discipline and ability to walk and have good ABs is there, it is just a matter of adjusting with getting his and hitting the ball hard more like he had in the past. Now we wait for him to return to see if and what changes in his swing and approach.

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