Kyle Schwarber is known for his bat. He hits long home runs and gets on base a lot. But the word on the street about his defense is, well, that he really should be playing in the American League as a designated hitter.
After 2018 people may want to reconsider the “Schwarber can’t play defense” narrative. While defensive metrics aren’t nearly as accurate as their offensive counterparts because of sample size issues, by Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) Kyle Schwarber was the top outfielder defensively in the National League. By UZR 150 (a metric that takes UZR per 150 games) he was the best non-catching defender in the National League. So it’s reasonable to ask, how did Schwarber go from defensive liability to one of the best in the league?
Eleven outfield assists.
Kyle Schwarber was the only National League left fielder with eleven assists from the outfield. He tied Andrew Benintendi (Oh, you have heard of him and think he’s a good outfielder? Me too) for the MLB left fielder assist lead. In fact, if you look at all outfield positions Schwarber is still tied for second with Teoscar Hernandez and Lorenzo Cain. (In first, tied with 12 assists apiece are Benintendi, Billy Hamilton and Mitch Haniger).
So let’s celebrate the eleventh day of Cubsmas watching people try to run on Kyle Schwarber.
May 4: Schwarber guns down Matt Carpenter at the plate
Carpenter was on second and Marcell Ozuna hit a shallow base hit to left. The only thing I love about this play more than the perfect throw to Willson Contreras to nab Carpenter is how enthusiastically the Cardianals’ third base coach waved Carpenter around third. Whoops [VIDEO].
May 11: Nicky Delmonico is out
This was Willson Contreras day at Wrigley Field, but Schwarber added a highlight of his own with this perfect throw to the plate to nab Nicky Delmonico. It was his second assist in a week and he was just getting started [VIDEO].
May 15: Freddie Freeman got a little too greedy
Less than a week later the Cubs’ left fielder would get another chance to show off his arm. Freddie Freeman stole second and Contreras’ throw went into shallow left field. Schwarber chased down the ball. It looked like Freeman was going to be able to score on the error but a perfect, and I mean PERFECT throw that landed exactly where Freeman’s foot and Willson’s glove came together ended the inning instead [VIDEO].
May 23: Lindor thought he had a double, he was incorrect
Francisco Lindor is fast. Francisco Lindor hit a ball close enough to the line that he was sure it was a double. Kyle Schwarber thought otherwise and a perfect throw to the best tagger in baseball, Javier Baez, agreed. I could watch this one on loop, if for no other reason than Schwarber is so fired up after this play [VIDEO].
May 31: Conforto is out by a mile
Michael Conforto is not nearly as fast as Francisco Lindor. He hits almost the same ball that Lindor got thrown out on eight days earlier and must have just not gotten the memo to not run on Schwarber. Conforto was out. It was not close. [VIDEO]
June 16: Schwarber to Zobrist to Bryant to nab Fowler
This one doesn’t have a video, which is kind of a bummer because it’s also the only play that involves all 2016 Cubs. In the sixth inning with Dexter Fowler on first base Yairo Munoz hit a single to left field. Schwarber threw it into Zobrist who was able to nab Dex at third.
June 17: Schwarber throws out Bader at second
So, quick fun fact. Schwarber had more assists against the Cardinals than any other team. His first, sixth and seventh assists were all against the Redbirds. They just couldn’t help it, they kept testing his arm. The look on Harrison Bader’s face as he kneels at second knowing he’s out is basically all you need to see here [VIDEO].
June 25: Turner thought was going to score, Kyle and Javy said no.
Schwarber didn’t play this ball perfectly and Justin Turner thought he’d be able to score from first on the slight bobble in left center. That was a miscalculation on Turner’s part because perfect throws by Kyle and Javy were just enough to get him at the plate [VIDEO]:
July 26: Schwarber guns down Marte
After Schwarber racked up eight assists before the All Star break teams stopped challenging his arm quite so much, which makes this play where he threw out Ketel Marte on what looked like a guaranteed double so much more impressive. The ball is down the line, it’s slowing as it get to the wall. Kyle played it perfectly and threw a rope to David Bote to get the out [VIDEO].
August 19: Schwarber and Baez team up to get Newman
Starling Marte hit a double to the wall and again Kyle played it perfectly. He hit his cutoff man, Javy Baez and Baez threw home to get Kevin Newman. The Pirates are the Pirates, so they challenged Contreras’ positioning on this play. They were wrong. My favorite thing about this play is how textbook it is, just Kyle and Javy, playing outstanding baseball to save a run [VIDEO]:
September 2: Schwarber saves a triple
Roman Quinn hit this ball perfectly into the gap. He is also speedy so he decided to see if he could stretch a leadoff double into a leadoff triple. That was a mistake. Schwarber played the carom correctly and teamed up with Bote to get Quinn at third. What could have been the start of a big inning for the Phillies instead resulted in their first out [VIDEO]:
On the eleventh day of Cubsmas my true love gave to me: 11 Schwarber assists, ten Strop saves, nine incredible outfield plays, eight runners picked off, a seven game winning streak, six Rizzo steals (and so much more), five comeback wins, four postseason appearances in a row, three epic relief appearances, two walkoff grand slams, and a Javy MVP candidate.