Fantasy Baseball: What Should We Do With Kyle Schwarber?

The Cubs' slugger has really struggled so far this season. Is it time to cut ties with him?

The calendar has flipped to June. A novel statement that no one was aware of, right?

But, in my mind as a fantasy baseball owner, June is when numbers really start to take some shape.

We can argue to the death when something becomes statistically relevant, but my barometer as a fantasy owner is June 1st. I feel like I know how good that player is by the beginning of June.

So it's June -- and Kyle Schwarber is really struggling. In case you were unaware, he's really struggling, and he's been dropped in the batting order recently to reflect this.

Just look at his 2017 OPS and wRC+ compared to his 2015 season and 2016 postseason.

Kyle Schwarber Plate Appearances OPS wRC+
2015 273 .842 132
2016 (Postseason) 20 .971 171
2017 206 .627 70

While Schwarber's Superman-esque return from injury last year for the Chicago Cubs' run to a World Series title seemed to be one for the ages, it's clear that something is amiss with Schwarber in 2017.

Still, it's hard to forget this version of Schwarber.

From a fantasy perspective, what do we do with him? Can we wait for him to regain his past form or do we move on?

Let's dig in and find out.

The Positives Year Over Year

There are certainly reasons, either as a fantasy owner or as a Cubs fan, to pause for a minute.

But simply to say that Schwarber's 2017 is a disaster isn't 100% accurate.

Season Plate Appearances Walk Rate Strikeout Rate ISO
2015 273 13.2% 28.2% .241
2016 20 15.0% 20.0% .059
2017 206 13.1% 29.1% .176

Schwarber's walk rate is still fantastic at 13.1% so far this season, and while he still strikes out a ton, it's not all that out of the ordinary from his previous rates.

His isolated slugging percentage (ISO) is down a tick from 2015, but it's still a pretty strong number. And when he does get his pitch, he is hammering it.

So it's not exactly a complete panic at this point, and Schwarber is still exhibiting some positives. But what's driving some of those negatives?

Take the Good With the Bad

Schwarber is definitely struggling, and there appears to a notable change in Schwarber's plate approach that may be one possible cause of the problem.

There are a lot of dots up on those charts.

What the spray charts from FanGraphs show is that Schwarber is pulling the ball a lot less often from 2015 to 2017, down from 46.8% in 2015 to 42.2% so far in 2017. While that may not seem like a ton, Schwarber's hard-hit rate has fallen at nearly the same rate, from 39.7% to 34.5% over the same time period.

It can be hard to track shift data precisely on a per-hitter basis, but we know for sure that shifts are up, and when teams shift, it's to their defensive advantage.

Perhaps Schwarber is getting shifted more often, and he's trying to beat that shift. Or, maybe he's just pulling the ball less. But Schwarber, in his professional career, has shown a huge propensity to pull the ball: his low-water pull mark was 46.0% of batted balls in 2015 at the Triple-A level, and so far this season's mark is far below that.

So What Now?

One other data point is batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which gives some measure of how lucky or unlucky a hitter is when hitting the ball.

In 2015, Schwarber recorded a .293 BABIP. To give some context to that number, the league average so far in 2017 is .295. Schwarber's .194 BABIP in 2017 would indicate he's been a bit unlucky as he's put the ball in play, though he's not doing himself any favors with the decreased hard-hit rate.

There are some silver linings to his 2017 campaign in the midst of some very real struggles. But a lot of the data would suggest that Schwarber could be due for a rebound to something around his 2015 numbers for the rest of the season. According to, Schwarber's expected wOBA is .326, not quite as strong as his .364 in 2015 but not nearly as worrisome as his .279 in 2017.

It also obvious that something has noticeably changed in Schwarber's swing. His pull power is one of his greatest strengths, and that's clearly declined a bit this season from any other past professional mark. And that decline has led to some pretty ugly results this year.

For now, it seems prudent to sit tight on the Indiana Hoosier. He could be on the verge of regaining form, and cutting bait too early would be a big mistake given what we've seen from him in the past. But no one would blame you for cutting ties in shallower leagues, either.