Player spotlight: Kyle Schwarber

Chicago Cubs LogoWhen Kyle Schwarber got called up halfway through the season, we knew he had big time power. The questions were does he have the plate discipline to stick and a position to play every day. He finished the second half of the season as the number three catcher behind Buster Posey and Francisco Cervelli. Currently he is the consensus number two catcher in 2016 preseason rankings. Based on his 2015 major league performance, is this justified?

Schwarber has undeniable power. He hit a home run in every 14.5 at bats in 2015. That puts him just behind players like Mike Trout (14.0), David Ortiz (14.3), and just ahead of players like Nolan Arenado (14.7) and Josh Donaldson (15.1). That is not too bad of company. Obviously he can mash the ball.

Does he have the plate discipline to keep pitchers from taking advantage of him? Schwarber had below average plate discipline in 2015:

  O-Swing Z-Swing Swing% O-Contact Z-Contact Contact% Zone% SwStr%
Schwarber 30.7% 66.4% 45.0% 57.6 % 74.8 % 67.8% 40.0% 14.4%
Average 31.3% 66.9% 47.4% 65.0% 86.7% 78.9% 45.3% 9.9%

His swing percentage is basically average. It’s slightly above average on pitches outside of the zone, and slightly below average on pitches in the zone. What troubles me though is his contact rate. He makes contact well below average on pitches both inside and outside the strike zone. His swinging strike percentage is nearly 50% higher than average. Expectedly he sees a lower percentage of pitches thrown in the strike zone.

The good news for fantasy owners is when he hits the ball, he hits the ball hard. Again, Schwarber vs the league average:

  Soft% Med% Hard% LD% GB% FB% HR/FB
Schwarber 14.7% 45.5% 39.7% 17.3% 40.4% 42.3% 24.2%
League Avg 18.6% 52.7% 28.6% 20.9% 45.3% 33.8% 11.4%

His soft and medium contact percentages are both below league average which is a good thing, and his hard hit rate is excellent. Schwarber was top 15 in baseball in hard hit rate amongst hitters with at least 150 plate appearances. His line drive rate is below average as is his ground ball rate. Again, note his home run rate is significantly higher than league average. When he connects, he hits the ball in the air, and lots of those balls end up out of play.  With an average flyball distance of 308 feet (5th highest in 2015), it’s should come as no surprise how many balls hit cleared the wall.

One other area to look at for him is his walk and strikeout rate. Schwarber does have a good eye, so even though pitchers throw him fewer balls in the zone, he walks more than average. He’s top 20 in percentage of at bats that end in a walk with a 13.2% walk rate. The league averages 7.7%. As you can imagine he strikes out a lot too: 28.2% compared to a league average of 20.4%. Can this be a recipe for continued success?

Let’s look at his college and minor league numbers to see how the major league numbers stack up.

2012 NCAA
.300 30 (11.3%) 24 (9.1%) .305 8 28.8
2013 NCAA
.366 42 (15.2%) 37 (13.3%) .370 18 13.1
2014 NCAA
.358 44 (15.8%) 30 (10.7%) .365 14 16.6
2014 Minors .344 39 (12.5%) 57 (18.3%) .373 18 14.5
2015 Minors .323 49 (15.8%) 72 (23.2%) .392 16 16.1
2015 Majors .246 36 (13.2%) 77 (28.2%) .293 16 14.5

We can gather a lot from this data. He will hit home runs, he will strike out, and he will walk. Overall the biggest thing I see happening is that he strikes out more and has a lower batting average in the majors than he had in the lower leagues. This is to be expected when a player sees major league pitching for the first time. It is expected that someone who swings as hard as Schwarber would strike out more than the average batter. It’s good to see that he has kept his walk rate high. Interesting to note is his BABIP is much lower than any other level that he has played at. This leads me to believe that as he grows more accustomed to seeing big league pitching his batting average has a little room to grow.

One of the biggest concerns, especially for dynasty players, is will he keep catcher eligibility? Schwarber is projected to be the starting left fielder for the Cubs on opening day. He will probably fill in for Montero occasionally throughout the year, but he may not retain catcher eligibility for the 2017 season. Focusing on 2016, he should be the second catcher off the board in any format. In dynasty he will lose some value moving forward if he loses catcher eligibility.

The other big concern is defense. Most fantasy leagues don’t care about defense, unless a player is so poor on defense that they are at risk of losing playing time. Schwarber is a below average defender, although not as bad as those who only saw him in the playoffs would think. During the regular season he played mostly in left field and only committed one error. His UZR/150 puts him as a -4.1 runs saved for 2015 in left field. There are many players with worse ratings who play every day (or almost every day) in the outfield. While he won’t win a gold glove, his bat is plenty good to keep him in the lineup.

In the current world of baseball where the average batting average is .254, players strike out more than 20% of the time, and power is generally at a premium, there is room for success for someone like Schwarber. He may be a bit of a heavy swinger, but he  makes good contact when he does hit the ball. He will not challenge for a .300 batting average, but .250-.260 with power and counting numbers is expected. He would be slightly better in an OBP league due to his walk rate. I see a line of .250/.360/.480, 30 HR, 80 runs, 80 RBIs, and a handful of steals. He may go through a slump at some point during the year as pitchers figure him out and force him to make adjustments. If you don’t draft him, try to trade for him at that point.


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Scott Rowland

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Scott is a graduate from Indiana University (go Hoosiers) and works as a project manager for HERE – They make software that powers GPS and real-time traffic so feel free to blame him when you get lost. He lives in Chicago, just north of Wrigley Field, with his wife, daughter, dog and cat, and loves to spend an afternoon catching a Cubs game.