After struggling through much of the first half, Kyle Schwarber was demoted in late June and returned to Wrigley a few weeks later with a different swing. The slugger’s quick return to the Cubs meant he successfully accomplished his goals in Iowa, which based around fine-tuning his mechanics.
“I think it’s more movement, as far as slowing him down a little bit,” minor league hitting coach Andy Haines recently told Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register. “Because the power was there in the big leagues. For us, down here, it’s more about maybe controlling the movements a little more, taking the upper body out of his swing.”
We hear this sort of hitter-talk all the time: limiting movement, quieting hands, softening strides, getting a more athletic posture, etc. Sometimes, the hitterisms are nothing more than small changes that are invisible to our eyes. In Schwarber’s case, however, the changes were quite visible.
To illustrate this, let’s compare Schwarber’s homer against the Brewers’ Kyle Davies in April (left) to another in September against the same pitcher at the same park with the same camera angle (right). Given the similarities — right down to the Klement’s sausage advertisements in the background — the side-by-side comparison here is perfect. Pay close attention to War Bear’s hands and the angle at which his bat tilts before initiating the two swings.
The exact change Schwarber made was to his pre-pitch bat movement. In the earlier clip, his bat swivels around before settling into a launch position. But in the video on the right from late September, the hulking outfielder’s bat is nearly in launch position right when Davies makes his progression to the plate. While it’s impossible to compare side-by-side videos with temporal exactitude, we can get to within milliseconds.
I circled Davies’ foot to ensure that the point in time is close to identical between the two videos. As such, I feel safe arguing that this change is indeed a real thing. And even if I’m off by an eyelash, Schwarber’s stance and bat angle are noticeably different.
After starting the season off batting .171 with a .294 wOBA, Schwarbs came back to Wrigley and mashed his way to a .256 batting average with a .378 wOBA. Those improvements were due at least in part to working with Haines, the same coach who was promoted to the assistant hitting coach role previously held by Eric Hinske. Tweaks to his swing allowed Schwarber to hit pitches on the outer portion of the plate with more authority, as he doubled his slugging percentages in those outside zone areas following his demotion.
With the coach who was instrumental in helping Schwarber recalibrate now in the Cubs dugout full time, perhaps Schwarber can continue to grow and realize his potential. By no means is he a finished product, but he successfully made the first of what could be even more vital improvements to his swing.