Keeping Kyle Schwarber's production in perspective in pivotal offseason


Which of these two players would you choose?

Player A slashed .246/.354/.496 (.850 OPS) in 2018 with 87 BB and 150 K in 660 plate appearances while ranking as far and away the worst defensive left fielder in baseball (by Defensive Runs Saved).

Player B slashed .238/.356/.467 (.823 OPS) in 2018 with 78 BB and 140 K in 510 plate appearances while actually ranking as a positive defensive player in some areas despite the public perception.

Oh yeah, both guys were born in March 1993 and will be entering their Age 26 campaign. Even their 2018 splits against left-handed pitchers were similar (Player A: .665 OPS; Player B: .654 OPS) despite the fact Player A is a right-handed hitter and Player B is a lefty. As if that wasn't enough, the two sluggers actually squared off against each other in the semifinal of the Home Run Derby this past summer.

Player B is Kyle Schwarber, as I'm sure you've probably figured out by now. Player A is Phillies star Rhys Hoskins, who just finished up his first full year in the big leagues.

The offensive numbers may be very similar, but each player is viewed in a completely different light with their respective organizations.

Hoskins is a cornerstone in Philadelphia, the main offensive piece the Phillies front office and fans want to build around for a team on the cusp of contention.

Schwarber is still part of the Cubs' core, but the general perception around the left-handed slugger is one of at least mild disappointment as everybody is still waiting for him to put it all together and take the next step offensively.

Schwarber was born less than two weeks before Hoskins, yet reached the big leagues far earlier, with 1,274 MLB plate appearances under his belt vs. 872 PAs for Hoskins. 

While Schwarber made some positive strides defensively in 2018 (+2 Defensive Runs Saved), Hoskins ranked far worse (-24 DRS), though defensive metrics are hardly black-and-white.

Schwarber lost a bunch of weight last winter and saw an uptick in defensive value as a result, but he also took some major steps forward offensively — boosting his walk rate to an elite 15.3 percent while reducing his strikeout rate, increasing his hard-hit percentage, decreasing his soft-hit percentage and upping his line-drive percentage.

Still, those steps forward are not without steps back, as Schwarber hit more groundballs in 2018 than ever before and saw a dip in power, dropping to 26 homers in 428 at-bats after smashing 30 dingers in 422 at-bats in 2017. 

Part of that may be attributed to a late-season back injury — later revealed as a disc issue — that limited Schwarber to only 18 starts over the last five weeks of the season.

There's also the head-scratching lack of run production over the last two years — Schwarber has driven in just 120 runs in 996 plate appearances despite 56 homers. 

A big reason behind that is the fact Schwarber turned in arguably the most un-clutch season in recent memory in 2018, though the Cubs feel that was more random than anything. After all, this is the guy who returned from a devastating knee injury in epic fashion to hammer the Cleveland Indians pitching staff in the 2016 World Series and set a Cubs franchise record with 5 homers in the 2015 playoffs.

"A guy that made his mark being incredible in the postseason for two years, then struggling in big spots," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said earlier this month. "It's not like a guy that's shrinking from the spotlight. I think he struggled in those situations this year. Hopefully it's just a random thing that happened and he'll get back to where he has been."

This will be a pivotal offseason for Schwarber's place in the Cubs lineup as Hoyer and Theo Epstein are looking to improve upon the team's lackluster offensive showing in the second half of 2018

As Schwarber's name has popped up in trade rumors over the last couple winters, the Cubs front office maintained they were buying — not selling — Schwarber stock, talking up his intangibles and clubhouse impact in addition to the powerful left-handed bat.

That's not quite the case this winter, with Epstein stressing the desire for production over talent. The Cubs are still waiting for Schwarber's production to match his potential over a larger sample size.

The Cubs could use another hitter in the lineup that strikes fear into opposing pitchers and there are certainly options on the market like Bryce Harper. But if the Cubs' current financial issues limit their spending this winter, there is no better time for Schwarber to put it all together at the plate.

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