Don’t look now, but Kyle Schwarber has quietly established himself as the Cubs’ everyday left fielder.
This spring, Schwarber has gone about his business, both at the plate and in the spacious left fields of the Cactus League, also in a quiet manner.
Schwarber, who just turned 26, had seven hits in his first 16 at-bats through Friday with four doubles, three RBIs, nine walks and four strikeouts. He even threw in a stolen base for good measure.
Having tossed aside the catcher’s gear for good – he likely will be the Cubs’ emergency backstop – Schwarber has been able to concentrate on his outfield play.
Have the doubters finally been silenced? It seems so. And manager Joe Maddon gives the credit for that to Schwarber.
“When you tell Kyle he can’t do something, that might be the best motivation you could possibly give to him,” Maddon said. “Very talented young man. He’s done a lot of good work with his offensive approach in the offseason, and I like it a lot. He’s become a better defender because people said, ‘You aren’t a good defender.’ [He responded], ‘OK, I’m going to become a better defender.’
“He’s a very good base runner, too. [The] sky’s the limit there.”
At the plate last year, Schwarber put up a line of .238/.356/.467 with 26 home runs and 61 RBIs. Both the OPS of .823 and his OPS+ (where league average is 100) of 115 were solid. There’s no doubt Schwarber would like to raise the batting average, but FanGraphs.com has a favorable profile for this season.
“While Schwarber’s offensive profile didn’t change much with his new commitment to fitness, his defense may have improved – Schwarber posted the sixth-highest UZR (ultimate zone rating) among qualified outfielders,” according to FanGraphs.
“Despite his strikeout issues (29 percent strikeout rate for his career), Schwarber has always posted elite walk rates (15.3 percent in 2018) which makes him more valuable in fantasy games that value OBP (but don’t penalize strikeouts). He won’t get 600 plate appearances, but he can still do damage when he’s in the lineup,” according to FanGraphs.
Left field at Wrigley Field doesn’t present the sun challenge that right field does. But it does have its quirks, of which Schwarber is fully aware.
“There’s a lot of different variables,” he said. “Obviously, there’s the well (the curve in the wall approaching left-center), but anything hit that way over your head is a double. Anything up in the air is fine. But it’s a little different. The wind can mess with you.
“There’s not much foul territory, which is a good and a negative sometimes. It’s a different park, with different bounces that can carom off the wall and with now, the adding of the extra seats, how it can carom off. It’s either going to hit it or come back out, or it looks like it’s going to hit it and it keeps going. Ball coming off the ivy or ball coming off the glass now on the bullpen – all stuff that it takes a few games to adjust to. Once you keep playing there, it’s just like another ballpark.”
If Schwarber does need a break or if he gets double-switched out of a game, Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant and Ian Happ can play left field.