Fantasy Baseball: How to Treat Kyle Schwarber in the Second Half
Kyle Schwarber did not win the Home Run Derby last night in Washington, D.C. After Schwarber built up a seemingly insurmountable lead in the final round, Washington Nationals outfielder and hometown star Bryce Harper hit 9 dingers in the final 30 seconds to steal the title away from Schwarbs.
It was a sight to see.
Bryce Harper switched into BEAST MODE for the last 30 seconds of his final round! #SCtop10 pic.twitter.com/0va6KsWadb
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 17, 2018
One round earlier, Schwarber did the same thing to the Phillies' Rhys Hoskins, who had set a record by hitting 20 homers in the semifinals, a total that seemed certain to advance to the next round -- that is until Schwarber hit 21.
Kyle Schwarber walks it off! pic.twitter.com/skIsGy6BsG
— Routine Baseball (@RoutineBaseball) July 17, 2018
The Home Run Derby is not indicative of anything other than its participants' raw power. But what it did do was highlight Schwarber a player who burst onto the scene late in the 2015 season. As a rookie, he was key in the Chicago Cubs' run to the National League Championship Series.
It has been a long and winding road since then. He missed most of 2016 after tearing his ACL at the beginning of the season, returning for a handful of at bats in the World Series. He suffered through a frustrating 2017 season in which he hit just .211 with a .315 on-base percentage and just 58 RBI in 486 plate appearances (though he did hit 30 homers).
However, healthy and in better shape (he showed up to spring training more muscular and much leaner), he's had a terrific bounce-back season for the Cubs, and is finally showing the promise that made him one of the best-looking young hitters in the game three seasons ago.
Improved Plate Discipline
For Schwarber, his improvements go beyond his physique. He is drawing more walks this year, with a career-high 16.5% walk rate. He's also brought his strikeouts down from a 30.9% rate last season to 27.1% this year. It's not a ton, but it's substantial when combining the two improvements.
He's been more disciplined on pitches out of the strike zone, too, swinging at 23.5% of pitches outside the zone. Last year, he swung at 28.2% of those pitches, and in 2015, it was at 30.2%. He's also making contact on 83.1% of pitches in the zone -- up from 80.7% last year and 74.8% in his rookie season.
He's also just swinging less in general -- 40.8% of the time, down from 44.4% last year and 44.6% in 2015. All of that has led to a decrease in his swinging-strike percentage, which is 10.8% this season, compared to 12.2% and 14.4% in '16 and '15, respectively.
Hitting It Hard
All of these improvements ave allowed Schwarber to see better pitches, and as a result, he's hitting the ball harder. In 2018, he possesses a hard-hit rate, as calculated by Fangraphs, of 42.2%. That's far better than last year's 36.4% mark and still an increase from 2015, when he did so at a 39.7% clip.
And when you look at his batted-ball profile, there may actually be area for improvement. He has a ground-ball rate of 44.3% and a fly-ball rate of 38.1%, numbers that have reversed from last year's, when he hit a grounder 38.3% of the time and a fly ball 46.5% of the time. Schwarber is not a player blessed with great speed, and given his power potential, he naturally does more damage when hitting the ball in the air.
The numbers also show Schwarber hasn't been getting lucky, with a BABIP of .298, only a few points above the league average of .291. So it clearly has more to do with the high quality of contact he's making.
Improving The Splits
If we dig another layer deeper, one area of dramatic improvement has been Schwarber's performance against left-handers. While not terrific, he has become less of a liability in that area.
Last year, Schwarber batted .171/.306/.341 against southpaws, with an OPS of .648 and an isolated power (ISO) of .171. This year, he's hitting .240/.377/.280 against lefties while posting a .657 OPS and .040 ISO.
Yes, the power has dropped against left-handers, but he's traded it for a better on-base percentage and batting average. There's still work to do there, but he's cut down on his strikeout percentage (from 34.8% to 32.7%) and has generally looked more competent against left-handers.
The more notable improvement is that he's finally dominating right-handers like he should. A year ago, he had a slash line of .221/.317/.497 against righties, with an OPS of .639 and an ISO of .210. This year, it's a .251/.375/.549 slash line accompanied by a .889 OPS and .295 ISO.
Second Half Projections
So what should fantasy owners expect from Schwarber in the second half?
We project Schwarber to hit .241 with 14 dingers, 33 RBI, 33 runs scored and an .866 OPS the rest of the way.
If Schwarber still provides eligibility at catcher in your league, he becomes especially valuable, and is probably someone you're not looking to trade unless you have a need at middle infield or in the rotation. If that is the case, dealing Schwarber for a second or third-tier starter or a middle infielder, makes some sense.
Either way, Schwarber has become a real fantasy asset in the first half, and should continue to be one for the rest of the season. Manage him accordingly.