The Rundown: Bryant Streaking, Schwarber Swinging, Castro Returning
It may have sounded like a dad/coach playing hype man for his son/client just a wee bit when Mike Bryant told Cubs insider that Kris’s ceiling was “Miguel Cabrera, but with a better arm and more speed and better defense.” Yet here we are a month into the season and the kid who made his father’s dreams come true with a pair of home runs over and onto the Green Monster is now making him look even more prophetic.
Bryant is currently batting .321/.417/.563 with a .418 wOBA and a wRC+ of 157, all of which are phenomenal. He’s doing that while walking more than ever and striking out less than at any level of his professional career (save for a 14.3 percent mark in seven at-bats in rookie ball). And that’s all with an 0-for-14 start to the season.
While it’s not fair to the overall stats to arbitrarily remove games in a “well, if you take out x” exercise, it can show us something about performance outside of aberrant events. As the season goes along, that mini-slump will fade like an old scar, but it’s still quite noticeable for now.
As such, looking at Bryant’s numbers from April 8 (the day after he ended the hitless streak) paints an impressive picture of what he is and could be. In his last 113 plate appearances, he’s slashing .365/.451/.646 with a .461 wOBA, a wRC+ of 185, and a .281 ISO. He’s walking at better than a 14 percent clip and striking out less than 20 percent of the time. In other words, he’s looking a helluva lot like Miggy. Cabrera, that is, not Montero.
And we’re not even talking about the glove (which has seen steady improvement) or the wheels, both of which surpass Cabrera’s with room to spare.
Even with a little natural regression over the next few weeks, we’re starting to see just how much better Bryant can really be in the future than what he’s been thus far for the Cubs. And what’s he’s been is Rookie of the Year and MVP. His ability goes so much further than just hitting home runs, as we’re seeing from the rash of singles that have led to a decreasing ISO number. But that’s a matter of him taking what the pitchers give him and not trying to do too much.
These numbers are sustainable over the long term, and they can continue to get better as Bryant actually reaches his maturity as a hitter. Believe it or not, he’s still got room to grow in that regard, which is a very good thing for Bryant and the Cubs.
Schwarber in “swing mode”
Spurred by a piece in The Athletic by Rian Watt, we recently looked at Kyle Schwarber’s patience as it relates to what appears on the surface to be a high strikeout rate. Okay, anything above 30 percent is really high no matter what angle you choose to view it from, but there are ways to put lipstick on a pig to make it look prettier.
In Schwarber’s case, that meant looking at how he was striking out. Looking is a key word there, since he was going down without swinging on nearly one third of his total K’s. Whether it was a conscious reaction to how strikes were being called against him, or the slugger’s innate desire to not go down without a fight, the numbers have shifted somewhat dramatically.
Consider that in the 10 days since we published that post, Schwarber’s looking strikeout percentage has plummeted from 32 percent to 25.6 percent. But wait, that’s good, right? Sure, in a vacuum. Hold it up to the light, however, and we see a little mold beginning to grow around the edges.
Schwarber remains near the top of the league with 4.48 pitches per PA, so he’s still making his opponents work. The problem is when he’s making them work. His overall strikeout rate has risen from 30.1 percent less than two weeks ago to 31.2 percent today. Immaterial in general, the problem begins to take shape when you compare that to those looking strikeouts. Overall K’s up + looking K’s down = swinging K’s up.
The leadoff hitter’s fouls and swinging strikes in total are up only nominally — less than one percent apiece — which tells us that it’s when the strikes are occurring more than how. He’s basically flip-flopped the swinging and looking strikes, trading one problem for another.
This isn’t a new concept, either. In fact, it’s something Joe Maddon pointed out prior to Schwarber’s return for the World Series.
“If you can get (Schwarber) in swing mode, you can get him to chase,” Maddon told Tom Verducci in The Cubs Way (page 69 if you want to reference it). “He did that last year. But if he’s not in swing mode and he stays off that stuff, heads up!”
A little rest and a chance to step outside himself for a moment should help Schwarber to settle in and recalibrate. That’s the key here, taking time to assess the situation and see what needs to be fixed, then fixing it.
I don’t know that there’s much I can say here that I haven’t already said over and over about Starlin Castro. Despite his maddening mental lapses, he was always one of my favorites and I wanted desperately for him to finally find that next level with the Cubs. Alas, his trade to New York facilitated the addition of Ben Zobrist and preceded the World Series championship that had long been a dream.
Now Castro appears to have locked in with the Yankees, early though it may be. So I’m happy for him and I’m looking forward to his return to Wrigley, which will no doubt have me tweeting out pictures of him making a “shush” gesture to the camera. Good times.