Kyle Schwarber was one of baseball’s best overall hitters in the second half of last season. Reasons for his success included a mechanical change and willingness to hit to all parts of the field. But another nearly imperceptible change that contributed the notoriously patient Schwarber’s success was his increased aggressiveness.
Schwarber swung at roughly 67% of pitches inside the strike zone in 2019, up almost two percentage points from the prior season. His overall swing rate was up one percentage point as well. These increases seem minor when viewed through a wide-angle lens, but the specifics pitches at which Schwarber swung more often paint an obvious picture.
We see that the slugger was more willing to swing at pitches down and away last season compared to 2018. We also see that he was feasting on elevated pitches. That led to a .997 OPS and 151 wRC+ in the second half of the season, marks that were 120 and 54 points above their respective first-half counterparts.
The fact that Schwarber swung at more pitches low and away suggests a greater comfort level with expanding his perceived zone and aligns with his opposite-field approach. Being overly patient and waiting on the perfect pitch had actually hurt him in the past, particularly with two strikes, so it appears as though he truly settled in.
Schwarber’s name has been mentioned in trade rumors yet again this offseason and the Cubs will have to weigh the perceived sustainability of his adjustments with his luxury tax implications and potential trade return. If he’s able to continue his second-half in perpetuity, he’s one of the best-hitting left fielders in baseball. If not, he’s a decent masher.
The Cubs’ confidence in which of those identities he assumes in 2020 and beyond will determine Schwarber’s future with the organization.