Schwarber’s 2016 was like the most imaginative Hollywood baseball script of all time. The young star, out for all but three games the whole season, comes back in the World Series and gets seven hits in 17 at-bats, including the rally-starting leadoff single in the 10th inning of Game 7. Schwarber is somewhat like a myth so far in his Cubs career. Coming up midway through the 2015 season, he reached base at a .353 clip and knocked 16 homers in only 232 at-bats. Then the injury happened, which sapped people’s (including this writer) excitement about the budgeoning season. Alas, the team rallied without him to head to the WS and won it with him, so all’s well that ends well. 2017 will be Schwarber’s first full season and there’s a lot to be excited about; perhaps the biggest being him being tabbed as the leadoff hitter.
Now Schwarber may not be your typical leadoff man. The spot was usually reserved for speedy, slap hitting types, however that has changed now with the new sabermetrical approach the game has embraced in recent years. Getting on base is the new benchmark and Schwarber can do that better than most with his aforementioned .353 OBP. He can more than hold his own with the bat and has one of the better batting eyes on the team. While he does have trouble hitting lefties, it’s looking like Schwarber will mostly leadoff against righties. Check out the splits, courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
That OBP against RH is nice and should help with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo hitting right behind him. His speed (or lack thereof) isn’t necessarily a problem because all the runs he’s sure to miss because of his slowness he’ll make up with his home runs. While in theory he’d have more people on base for those home runs if he were hitting, say, 5th in the order, Maddon said that the team’s ‘Geek Department’ deduced that the team would generate more runs with Schwarber leading off than last year’s squad.
“With Schwarber hitting first, yeah,” Maddon told CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney. “I think that’s accurate. I don’t remember that number being on last year’s lineup. They gave me a sheet with different scenarios. It was pretty heavy… It’s a good number.”
If the Cubs do indeed score more runs than last year’s team then they’ll once again be as dangerous as ever; although defense was a big part of their success, and Schwarber needs work with that.
A catcher coming up, the knee injury he suffered essentially all but ended any chance of him furthering his development behind the plate. So now he’s slated for LF, and the numbers don’t paint a pretty picture. Schwarber posted a negative UZR (ultimate zone rating) in LF and ranked middle of the pack among players with at least 250 innings played there in 2015. However, he says his knee is “100 percent” and he’s even made some great catches so far this Spring Training, including this dazzler.
A full season of Schwarber is definitely something to be excited about. I mean, with the moonshots he blasts on a regular basis, how could you not be itching to see what he can do over a 162-game season? How many games he actually plays remains unclear, but know this; he’ll get his at-bats.
Our 2017 season projections: .255/.360/.485, 28 HR, 80 RBIs, 75 runs
*Image via Arturo Pardavila III