I know I know, it’s only been two games. However, it’s hard not to notice how comfortable Kyle Schwarber has been hitting leadoff so far this season. And no, his success hasn’t come from any leadoff home runs or anything like that. It’s come from his ability to work the pitcher and get on base.
Even though it’s only been two games, Schwarber is among the league leaders in pitches seen and pitchers per plate appearance. In nine plate appearances he’s seen a total of 44 pitches, good for an average of 4.89 pitches per PA, both sixth in the league. Of course part of that stems from him getting more at-bats because he’s No.1 in the order, but it’s something to highlight nonetheless. His patience led him to two walks (one intentional) in last night’s game against St. Louis, and it would’ve been three if not for an incorrect strike three call that was outside of the plate (which was a seven-pitch at-bat by the way). His leadoff walk in that game was a testament to his ability to foul off pitches while also taking close balls. Take a look at that at-bat’s pitch chart, courtesy of MLB.com:
After getting down 1-2, Schwarber fouled off a tough curve, took a borderline ball, fouled off another pitch before finally taking another borderline pitch, this one a fastball that was moving away from the plate, to earn the walk. While he did end up being stranded at 1st base, that eight-pitch base on balls set the tone for the game by allowing the hitters coming after him to get a good look at St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright. The right-hander threw three of the four different pitches he threw that at-bat at least two times, which can go a long way in helping future hitters figure out how the pitcher’s throwing that day.
Another at-bat worth mentioning was Schwarber’s second AB of the Sunday night game. Facing Carlos Martinez, whom Schwarber singled off to start the game, Schwarber took three borderline balls, two of which that spent the majority of their flight in the strikezone before barely missing the lower half of the plate.
After missing outside with the first pitch, Martinez tried to bury him low for the rest of the at-bat, mostly with two-seam fastballs. However, Schwarber took one 96 MPH on the fifth pitch and roped it into the right center gap for a double. Again the Cubs couldn’t cash in, but the fact that Schwarber collected two hits in three tries against a pitcher who was arguably throwing one of the best games of his young career shows the poise and patience that Schwarber posseses.
Detractors before the season said Schwarber was too slow to be an adequate leadoff hitter. He’s putting those naysayers to rest by reaching base safely five times in nine tries, and while he doesn’t have any runs yet, once Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo inevitably get going it’s going to be hard to say Schwarber doesn’t belong hitting in the No.1 spot.
*Image via Arturo Pardavila III