Kyle Schwarber's Return Is a Massive Gain for the Chicago Cubs
If a guy is about to play his first game in over six months after tearing his ACL, you're generally going to want to pump the brakes on any expectations for him as a hitter.
Most dudes don't launch mondo dingers like Kyle Schwarber.
He's back. pic.twitter.com/t3tbeKeWnk
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) October 25, 2016
The Chicago Cubs announced Tuesday that Schwarber would be on the team's World Series roster to work as a designated hitter against the Cleveland Indians. Schwarber tore his ACL back in April, and his only action since has been a brief stint in the Arizona Fall League this past week.
There's so much unknown here with Schwarber and how he'll play after the long layoff, but what can he and his massive lumber bring to the team? Let's take a look.
As mentioned, it'll be hard to expect the Schwarber of old to crop up given how long he has been watching from the dugout. But just getting anything close to what he was last year would be a major boon.
In 273 plate appearances with the Cubs, Schwarber had a 40.2% hard-hit rate and 42.5% fly-ball rate against right-handed pitchers. For some context, Anthony Rizzo was at 38.6% and 42.7%, respectively, in those two categories during the 2016 regular season, though Rizzo's strikeout rate was lower. We know what Rizzo can do when he gets a hold of a pitch, and Schwarber's in that exact same realm.
These stout marks allowed Schwarber to launch 14 home runs against righties last year in just 212 plate appearances. He added 5 more total homers in the playoffs over 31 plate appearances, including the moonshot in the video above. He hit often, and he hit when it counted most.
Obviously, it's a risk to forfeit a roster spot to squeeze Schwarber in, but the reports from Arizona were positive for Schwarber. FanGraphs' Eric Longenhagen watched Schwarber while he was there and wrote that Schwarber's bat looked good, even if Schwarber was limited as a base runner. Longenhagen noted that Schwarber appeared comfortable putting weight on his surgically-repaired knee, helping reduce some of the concern about a re-injury for Schwarber that could put his start of 2017 in jeopardy.
When weighing whether Schwarber's worthy of being on the squad, you're not asking if he'll be the Schwarber of old. You're asking whether current-day Schwarber is a better option than whoever would have occupied that designated-hitter role in his absence, and the Cubs clearly believe that to be the case.
Take a look at some of the players who were in play for the slot if Schwarber had stayed on the shelf. The table lists their marks versus right-handed pitchers this year, while Schwarber's marks are from 2015.
|Batter||Strikeout Rate||Walk Rate||Hard-Hit Rate||Soft-Hit Rate||Fly-Ball Rate|
|Albert Almora Jr.||20.3%||5.4%||30.9%||7.3%||28.3%|
Schwarber's major downfall has always been strikeouts, but among this group, he has the second-lowest mark. He's clearly the best threat to go deep, and in a hitter's park like Progressive Field, that makes a big difference.
Again, expecting Schwarber to be his nasty self would be a bit ambitious. But it's worth the gamble of giving him a shot even on the off chance he comes close to that level of production, and this is a huge addition for the Cubs.
You likely don't need any help getting jacked up for an event as big as the World Series. But Schwarber's return certainly won't hurt.
As a rookie, he unleashed terror on opposing pitchers, and that carried right on over into the postseason. He'll likely face the wrath of Andrew Miller at some point, but if anybody knows how to navigate those tricky waters, it's Cubs' manager Joe Maddon.
The Cubs aren't just getting Schwarber back to act as the designated hitter in Cleveland. He'll be a huge bat to bring off the bench late in games in Chicago, as well, and Cleveland right-handed reliever Cody Allen allowed a good amount of hard contact to left-handed batters this year. Schwarber's impact will be felt no matter where the game is played.
He may not be the Schwarber we gawked at last year, but the reports on his plate appearances in Arizona were encouraging enough to light some mild optimism. And the Cubs will likely take any advantage they can get in the pursuit of ending their 108-year World Series drought.