May Has Been Rough For Kyle Schwarber

*All stats and metrics used in this article are from www.baseball-reference.com 

In the Cubs’ recent 3-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals, a multitude of things went right.  Chicago’s once-questionable bullpen did not give up a single run until the 9th inning of the final game (and by then, the Cubs were up by double-digits); Javier Baez proved to be the best player on the field for either team at all times; Kyle Hendricks tossed an 81-pitch shutout en route to an 82 Game Score performance that may have been the Cubs’ best pitched game by anyone since Jake Arrieta’s 2nd no-hitter.

But Kyle Schwarber went 0-for-6 in the series, his only productive at-bats being three walks that brought his OPS up to a measly .333 for the three game set.

This is troubling for a couple different reasons:

  1. In 40 career games against the Cardinals, Schwarber is now slashing .162/.308/.308, “good” for a .616 OPS. If he had to play against St. Louis every day, he’d finish his season with 24 home runs and about 180 strikeouts. Schwarber is 42% worse against the Cardinals than his career averages indicate he should be.
  2. It’s May, and going 0-for-6 in a series is apparently the sort of thing Schwarber does during this calendar month.

 

Schwarber’s month-by-month splits can be a little jarring: Once June hits, he hits.  But before that page-turn of the calendar, he is tough to watch… cognitively, we know that a switch in months doesn’t *really* mean anything to a player — you don’t see the ball any better on May 9th than you do on September 13th — but it’s tough to ignore the night-and-day differences in Kyle’s performance when comparing months:

Schwarber is 32% worse in May than his career averages suggest he would be. It masks how productive he is for the next four months.

Schwarber is a 36-homer, .842 OPS guy for 67% of the season… but he gets dragged down so spectacularly by the start of his campaign each season, it’s hard to see and appreciate.  And honestly, if you gave Theo Epstein truth syrum, my personal guess is he’d tell you that when the Cubs drafted Schwarber, they foresaw more than a .239 hitter who strikes out in 34.8% of his at-bats when things are going well.  So it’s fair to say that, based on expectations, the best version of Kyle Schwarber (to this point in his carrer) has still been an under-performing one.

This is Kyle Schwarber’s Age 26 season.  It’s also Javier Baez’s Age 26 campaign.  But while Baez has built upon his considerable draft pedigree and remarkable raw talent to become one of baseball’s most dynamic players, Schwarber is still working to achieve even close to what many anticipated he would be after a rookie season that had those within the organization invoking the name of Babe Ruth.

To be fair, Schwarber’s career home run rate — 6.6% coming into this season — was the same as Ruth’s at the same age.  But much of that time for the Babe was spent as a pitcher, and he ended his career hitting a homer in over 8% of his career at-bats. The Cubs’ modern-day equivalent will need a major star turn to achieve anywhere near that… and at this point in his development, Schwarber has been seen best as a platoon guy for Joe Maddon.  That’s a heck of a deviation from what the hope was after his 2016 World Series heroics.

Bottom line: Schwarber’s clock is ticking. His time as a Cub may strike 12 before he turns 27 if another May dooms his overall season yet again.

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