The Rundown: Kyle Schwarber’s (Maybe) Changing Approach, Leadoff Solution, Cubs Fidget Spinners

Let’s go ahead and dispense with the obvious, which is that the numbers I’m about to cite do not provide a strong enough base upon which to construct an argument. They do, however, give us a glimpse into potential changes in Kyle Schwarber’s plate approach that could help to turn his season around.

Schwarber has been at or near the top of the list all year when it comes to pitches per plate appearance, a sign that he’s seeing the ball well and making opposing pitchers work. That’s nothing new. Nor is the fact that he’s getting himself into trouble with those deep counts. It would figure, then, that the slugger might benefit from being more aggressive.

He’s making better contact in general and has been taking a lot of early strikes, so it’s not as though looking to swing early is going to get him into much trouble. His very recent (and arbitrarily selected) results indicate that he might be doing just that.

Schwarber has been picking up the pace in June, slashing .250/.368/.688 with a wRC+ of 133 and a .430 wOBA. That’s all very good, by the way. It gets even better since June 7, though the numbers don’t really matter as much once we take such a small slice of the pie.

What is interesting to me, however, is his performance when being more aggressive in at-bats, namely when he sees fewer than four pitches. I drew the line there since Schwarber has been around 4.5 P/PA, making for a nice over/under.

Including his three-hit game on June 7, Schwarber has seen five or more pitches in 11 of 28 plate appearances. Nothing really interesting there, pretty much par for the course. Except when we see that nine of those longer appearances came in the first 14 (4.64 P/PA) and only two — the nine-pitch AB that turned into a pinch-hit homer and an eight-pitch walk a couple days later — came in the latter half (3.56 P/PA).

In that same overall sample, Schwarber is 2-for-8 with one home run when he sees five or more pitches and 5-for-15 with two homers when he sees four or fewer. He’s certainly getting the ball in the air quite a bit more lately, as evidenced by a 76.5 percent fly ball rate. That’s unsustainably high, but it’d be good to maintain a little more elevation than the season-long 40 percent ground ball rate tells us.

Now, is it possible that this is all a fluke and that Schwarber is going to go right back to taking early strikes and swinging at late ones? Sure, but it’s also very possible that this is the start of him getting back to being the hitter everyone was hoping he’d be.

Who should lead off?

I’m one of those clods who still thinks Schwarber could be a good leadoff hitter for the Cubs, so perhaps you don’t want to listen to what I have to say here. What really forms the basis of my opinion is that good hitters hit, regardless of where they’re placed in the lineup. Because baseball can be a very cerebral game, though, I also buy the idea that a guy can get crossed up by trying to be a different hitter depending on where his name is written down on the card.

There’s this idea that a leadoff hitter needs to see a lot of pitches and get on base for the run-producing hitters to follow, and that’s true. But is anyone going to argue that Anthony Rizzo taking Mets starters deep twice in a row to lead off games,¬†something not even the great Rickey Henderson accomplished,¬†is a bad thing? Or that doing it on a grand total of three pitches makes him less suited for the role?

While the Cubs only won one of the two games, each of those opening dingers gave them a 60.5 percent win expectancy, which is something you’ll take every time. Rizzo can’t do that every time, though, so is he really the solution for the leadoff spot going forward?

In short: No. Well, probably not. I mean, I don’t think so. But who the hell really knows with Joe Maddon pulling strings?

Rizzo batting leadoff feels, at least to me, like something of a spark to get the team going and to try something to ignite the offense. It worked, to an extent, and I think Maddon will stick with it until a better option comes along. Which it might not. Outside of Rizzo and Kris Bryant, there’s been too little consistency in terms of both playing time and production for anyone else to really take hold of the spot.

Should someone separate himself from the pack in the near future, though, I’d imagine Maddon would really rather see Big Tony a little lower in the order so those big flies can push more runs across.

More news and notes

  • Joe Maddon appeared with Charlie Rose to talk about managing the Cubs; lots of good stuff here
  • CSN Chicago predicted the nicknames the Cubs will use for MLB’s “Players Weekend”
  • Madison Bumgarner is scheduled to face live hitters Sunday
  • The Mets have placed both Neil Walker and Matt Harvey on the DL for “several weeks”
  • Fanatics has Cubs fidget spinners for $6.99
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