The big story of the day in Chicago is the demotion of Kyle Schwarber. In the beginning of the season, Cubs power hitting outfielder Kyle Schwarber was supposed to be one of the premier power hitting bats in all of baseball. Following a 2016 where he spent most of the season on the DL recovering from a torn ACL, Schwarber returned during the World Series producing a .412/.500/.910 batting line. Since then Schwarber has been a disappointment hitting below the Mendoza line at .171 with 12 home runs and 75 strikeouts. Given the fact that Schwarber plays below average defense in the outfield, it is no surprise the Cubs are sending him down to figure things out. Let us take a look at what it is Schwarber needs to figure out.
To be fair, Schwarber has been a bit unlucky so far this season. His .193 BABIP indicates that he might see more balls dropping as it regresses back to a higher value. Schwarber is also not hitting the ball as hard as he did in 2015. Only 32% of the balls he hits are considered hard hit compared to the 40% in 2015. In addition, his infield fly rate is at 14.5% which is double the 7.6% in 2015. Schwarber is hitting slightly more fly balls and less line drives, but it is not an extreme change. Aside from that, Schwarber has been the same hitter he was in 2015 when he broke out. He is spraying the ball the way he has in the past, he is striking out and walking at the same rate, and his contact is very similar to that of 2015.
Opposing pitchers know he is struggling thus are throwing him more fastballs than breaking or off-speed pitches.
Notice in 2015 as Schwarber showed more success pitchers threw more breaking and off speed pitches. This year he is receiving more hard pitches. What is interesting is that he is not doing any worse against hard pitches. Here is his radial chart from 2015 and 2017 when facing hard pitches taken from Baseball Savant.
In fact he has barreled more balls this year than he did in 2015 with about the same sample size. In addition, it doesn’t seem like pitchers are attacking him where he is most vulnerable. Here is his slugging chart from Brooks Baseball from the catchers point of view followed by a heat map of where pitchers are throwing to him this year.
Pitchers are throwing to him in an area where he typically hits for power. Why wouldn’t pitchers be pitching him inside? Schwarber is struggling while pitchers are throwing it right where he wants it.
Kyle Schwarber is getting unlucky. He was never supposed to be the type of player to hit .300 in a season. He is a .250 with 30 plus home runs type of player. The Cubs are smart to send him down for the time being. This will give him time to clear his head. We all know baseball is a mental game and it’s only a matter of time before Schwarber is up and slugging 400 foot home runs again.