Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber

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Spiegel: So Maybe This Is Kyle Schwarber

After a rough 2017, Schwarber has settled in and been impressive this year.

Matt Spiegel
June 21, 2018 - 10:14 am
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By Matt Spiegel--

(670 The Score) In just more than three calendar years, there have been incredible highs and painful lows. He provided fans myriad epic postseason moments before even completing a full season's worth of big league at-bats. A devastating lost year of injury somehow evolved into his greatest triumph. There was a half-season of extreme failure, leading to a demotion that challenged the confidence of the front office members who’d believed in him most. Remember how odd it was to see him in an Iowa Cubs hat?

In his early 20s, Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber went through a ton. So did I. So did you. It’s hard. It’s not linear. It’s life.

And now here in June, the 25-year-old Schwarber is playing steady baseball, visibly comfortable, secure and established.

So maybe this is Kyle Schwarber, major leaguer. If so, nice to meet you. This player would be a perennial All-Star candidate and a hell of a weapon in the middle of a National League lineup.

Yes, National League. Because Schwarber has turned himself into an above average left fielder.

Schwarber has seven outfield assists, tied for the second-most in the big leagues and most among left fielders. As the league learns that the former catcher’s arm is a definitive weapon, the opportunities for assists are going to decline.

In the Cubs' 4-0 win against the resurgent Dodgers on Wednesday afternoon, excellent base-runner Chris Taylor chose not to head for home from second on a single to left. Schwarber uncorked a beauty on one hop to the left side of the plate, just to remind us all that Taylor made the right choice. (Just after that, Jason Heyward nailed Taylor on a failed sacrifice fly double play with a perfectly executed catch, throw and tag with catcher Willson Contreras. But we know those two players are walking, living defensive clinics.)

Schwarber isn't some Alex Gordonesque delight to watch every day.  n the last three weeks, he has twice committed the left fielder’s cardinal sin. It’s rare that a double to left could be misplayed into a triple; it’s why the likes of Alfonso Soriano, Josh Willingham and Adam Dunn are deployed there in the first place. Twice, Schwarber fumbled around and allowed an extra base on what should have been a double. Those moments burn into our consciousness, whether they end up hurting the inning or not.

But the truth about both the relevance of great defense in left and Schwarber’s place among his peers is in the numbers.

Schwarber is currently first in Defensive Runs Saved, UZR, UZR/150 and ARM rating among qualified left fielders, according to Fangraphs. These numbers used to drive my brain crazy when they reflected well on Soriano. But I learned to let the data mitigate the signature plays as they should. So can we all now regarding Schwarber.

His hit tool is also back with a vengeance, as it has been since he came back from the Triple-A stint early last July. Schwarber is sixth in home runs and seventh in OPS among all left fielders in MLB, per Fangraphs. He's a feared presence that the opposition must game plan against.  

Add it all up, and only four qualified left field are ahead of Schwarber in the fWAR of Fangraphs:

-- the Twins' Eddie Rosario, who's having the season of his life
-- Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez of the Red Sox, who comprise two-thirds of the best outfield in baseball
-- the Mets' Brandon Nimmo, who's been on an absurd hot streak and has the fewest plate appearances of all qualifiers

That’s it. That’s the list. Among all left fielders, Schwarber is fifth in fWAR with a 2.1 mark.

The mammoth bombs continue to bring awe and elicit endless hash-tagged pun attempts. The #Schwarbino. A #Schwarbomb. That pitcher just got #Schwarbed. Some of that's a vestige of his Bunyanesque debut. Some of it is just because he has the gait and presence of a slugger, if no longer the girth.

Schwarber may not live up to the standard set as the “Babe F’ing” Ruth instant folk hero who tore up the 2015 postseason. But if this is Kyle Schwarber, Cubs fans should accept it with glee. He's an .850-.900 OPS hitter with power to all fields who's more than just survivable in left field.

That’ll do, Kyle. That’ll do.

Follow Matt Spiegel on Twitter @MattSpiegel670. For more from and about Matt, visit www.mattspiegel.com.