Why You Should Reach for Kyle Schwarber in Season-Long Fantasy Baseball Drafts
The word "reach" is never a positive one when referring to a draft. It generally means you're butchering the process by taking someone well above their projected slot. You could have possibly gotten that person later, so why spend the pick now?
I'm okay with reaching for Kyle Schwarber in my season-long fantasy baseball drafts this year.
Schwarber tore the league apart in his time with the Chicago Cubs in 2015, cementing himself near the top of the order from late July on. Now, he faces the skepticism of a small sample size and the questions about his abilities to hit left-handed pitching.
Even with those concerns noted, I'm fine with taking him above his average slot as draft time rolls around.
Let's take a deeper look at Schwarber so I can explain why he's got me all hot and bothered on this cold, January night. He may not have the biggest sample size from which to draw, but what's in that sample sure is sweet.
Signs of Sustainability
Schwarber only has 273 big-league plate appearances to his name thus far, but they aren't your run-of-the-mill 273 plate appearances; he's got that grown-man pop.
Schwarber finished his rookie season with a .246/.355/.487 slash to go with a .364 wOBA and a 131 wRC+. That wOBA would put him just ahead of fellow catcher Buster Posey and on top of guys like Jose Abreu and Prince Fielder. Not bad company for a guy who was in his age-22 season.
Now, those numbers are certainly very good. However, it's hard to draw much from rate stats such as those when the sample is as limited as it was in Schwarber's case. So, where do we get this thought of sustainability?
There are a couple of factors at play there, but let's start with Schwarber's batted-ball data. He checked in with a 39.7 percent hard-hit rate and a 14.7 percent soft-hit rate. That hard-hit rate was the 11th best last year among players who had at least 250 plate appearances. Five of the 10 guys ahead of him are projected to be first-round fantasy picks, and all of them were ranked higher in ESPN's initial top-250 rankings.
Despite ranking so high here, Schwarber's BABIP was only .293. Only David Ortiz's BABIP was lower among those with the lofty hard-hit rates, and I'm thinking Schwarber would have the edge in foot speed over Big Papi.
This means that, if Schwarber were projected to undergo any regression, it may actually be in the positive sense. The Steamer projections see this happening, with a projected .311 BABIP in 2016, though ZiPS projects things to be stagnant at .294. Considering his lowest BABIP at any level in the minors was .328, these numbers make sense. Either way, we shouldn't be expecting Schwarber's BABIP to take a hit in the negative sense.
The main area of concern with Schwarber's numbers from last year lies in his strikeout rate. He went down on strikes in 28.2 percent of his plate appearances, well above the league-average mark of 20.4 percent. If he were to keep that up, it would limit the ceiling in his batting average, something of note for those of you not fortunate enough to be in on-base percentage or slugging percentage roto leagues.
This is another spot where we could see some slight improvement out of Schwarber this year. The two levels of the minors in which Schwarber had at least 100 plate appearances -- High-A and Double-A -- saw Schwarber strike out 19.9 and 20.2 percent of the time, respectively. He wasn't overly strikeout prone in the minors, and while we shouldn't expect his numbers to drop that far this year, we also shouldn't expect him to be a Jon Singleton-type guy who whiffs every other at bat.
With all of these factors combined, it seems as though the numbers Schwarber produced last year are legit. ZiPS projects him to slash .250/.337/.496 this year, while Steamer sits at .261/.345/.474. You're not going to get that kind of production out of many players, much less those with catcher eligibility.
Why Schwarber Is Worthy of an Early-Round Pick
That's the rate stat side of things, which only tells half of the tale when it comes to fantasy. We also must consider volume, and that could be a point of contention with Schwarber detractors.
Schwarber figures to find himself in a platoon in the outfield, potentially sitting often against left-handed starting pitchers. Of those aforementioned 273 plate appearances in the majors last year, only 61 came against lefties. And they weren't the highest of quality, either.
Schwarber struck out in 27 of his 61 plate appearances against southpaws -- a whopping 44.3 percent -- while drawing only five walks. He did still have a 37.9 percent hard-hit rate, but it's hard to justify keeping a guy in the order if he's striking out over two fifths of the time.
That said, Schwarber's minor-league track record indicates he may not forever be a platoon candidate. In his professional career (including both the minors and the majors), Schwarber has 234 plate appearances against lefties. In those trips to the dish, he has hit .266/.350/.493 with a 32.5 strikeout percentage and 9.8 walk percentage. He's not likely to post those numbers in the majors, but he's also not a complete disaster versus lefties when given the chance.
There's a scenario in which Schwarber plays himself out of the platoon. He'll need to hit well, but based on those numbers, it's not out of the question. If that were to happen, he would be a fantasy goldmine.
Let's assume for a second, though, that this doesn't happen. Let's say the platoon lasts the whole year. Can we still buy in given the concerns around volume?
I still believe the answer to be an emphatic yes. Because Schwarber is catcher eligible, the threshold for replacement-level plate appearances is not high. In playing the outfield, Schwarber doesn't have to deal with sitting every third day to rest his legs; most other players at the position will.
The other way that Schwarber alleviates this concern is his spot in the batting order. He hit second for 52 games last season, by far his most frequent spot in the order. Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward both figure to hit near the top of the order, but Schwarber out-performed both offensively last year. He could very well find himself hitting in that two hole or near it again, providing another boost to his volume.
This is why I'm not worried about the potential downfalls for Schwarber. It's enough to push him down a bit, but they shouldn't eliminate him from your consideration.
However, this doesn't fully solve our riddle about Schwarber's draft stock. We're pretty high on him, but just how high is too high?
There's an argument that could be made for ranking Schwarber ahead of the Buster Posey in overall rankings. It's an argument I don't think is totally without merit.
On an individual numbers basis, Posey and Schwarber figure to be largely even. Schwarber will likely hit more home runs, but Posey is a shining halo of perfection for both on-base percentage and batting average. This makes us turn to the factors outside of their control, which is where Schwarber may hold a slight advantage.
Wrigley Field finished last year in the middle of the pack in park factor, tied for 14th overall. It also was third in home run park factor, which would provide a hefty boost for a hitter like Schwarber.
Things weren't so hot at AT&T Park. It ranked dead last in both park factor and home run park factor. Posey does get trips to Chase Field and Coors Field, both of which are far more friendly to hitters, but Posey's situation is far from ideal.
Additionally, the Cubs figure to have a much better lineup than the Giants this year. Not only will Schwarber have Heyward and Zobrist, but he also has the holdovers of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. That's going to provide a major boost for Schwarber in both the run and the RBI departments. Posey's conditions here will improve with the signing of Denard Span and a fully healthy Hunter Pence, but it's hard to compare to the surroundings Schwarber has.
That's the pro-Schwarber argument in terms of ranking the two. For me, I think I would give Posey the nod just because of his lofty plate-appearance floor in playing at first base when he's not catching. That's the difference maker in my mind, but I absolutely could not fault anyone for slotting Schwarber ahead of the former MVP.
Either way, it's clear that these two are on a tier of their own at the catcher position. They both find at bats outside of just behind the plate, and they both provide crazy productivity. This tight grouping should be reflected in their average draft positions.
Right now, that's not the case. This table shows how the two are ranked in comparison for overall rankings on ESPN, USA Today, and CBS Sports. Things don't appear as close as they were in our discussion of the stats.
|Site||Posey Ranking||Schwarber Ranking|
These are three well-known sites for which I have a tremendous amount of respect. If their rankings have the two split that widely, you can bet the public's perception will be similar come draft time. I certainly can't blame them, but this will be an even greater incentive to snag Schwarber while you can.
This doesn't mean you should be snatching Schwarber immediately after Posey's off the board. Instead, study where he's being taken on the site where your draft will be conducted and figure out how long you can wait before pulling the trigger.
As mentioned at the top, though, I'm not afraid of going maybe a round too early if it means locking up the young talent. If your league mates are on the sharper side, Schwarber may not last to his average draft position. I think his production makes this slight reach a viable move.
No matter what, it's going to be interesting to see what Schwarber does in 2016. He showed enough during his rookie campaign to spark supreme interest. Now, we get to see if he can carry that productivity over the course of the whole season. If he can do so, he'll be more than worth what you spend to land him on your season-long roster.