From time to time I take a glass half empty, glass half full look at a game or a certain situation. One could certainly take that kind of look at the career of Kyle Schwarber. Certainly, the lowest hanging fruit on the tree is that just about any among us would like to be paid very well (even if he hasn’t yet cashed in on the “big money” that he likely will later in his career) to play a game. Also, Kyle Schwarber is a good player. So he’s not just hanging out on the end of the bench and collecting a salary. He starts most nights and deservedly so. He’s hit over 20 homers for three straight seasons. He won a World Series in just his second year as a major league player. Not only that, but he was a huge part of the series win.
Alas, that World Series appearance came after a horrible leg injury cost him virtually the entire season and two rounds of the playoffs. His dreams of being a major league catcher died with the injury. While Schwarber is a good player, to date he’s never realized his enormous potential. If the season ended today, this year would look much like the last two did for Kyle. A little more slugging this year (but then almost everyone does this year), but a little less on base percentage. Still, by a wide margin his rookie season is his best to date:
- 2015: .246/.355/.487
- 2017: .211/.315/.467
- 2018: .238/.356/.467
- 2019: .232/.326/.476
After bursting onto the scene, he’s just never taken the next step. That said, maybe, just maybe things clicked for him on May 16 when he moved back into the lead-off spot. From that date to present, Kyle has a line of .236/.318/.527. The on-base is down, but thanks in no small part to home runs the last three days, his slugging percentage is showing the kind of promise that we’ve long expected out of him.
Does that line scream for middle of the order hitter? Absolutely. Is it possible that Kyle is one of those guys who benefits from lineup protection? Who knows? I know that like clutch hitting, the stat nerds who have run the modelling exercises say that lineup protection isn’t really a thing and that with large enough samples, all of these things tend to even out over time. But, in small enough samples, say looking at only one player in one season, do they always even out? Of course not. We’ve seen guys with off the chart numbers in clutch situations or with a certain hitter behind them. It’s certainly possible that right now Schwarber is benefiting from the looming presence of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo behind him.
Whatever the case, I hope that some portion of this locks in. This lineup is very fierce with those four at the top and then Willson Contreras when he returns to the field and Jason Heyward behind them. Six men, three lefties and three righties who can do a fair amount of damage. Works for me.
With that, we turn our attention to yesterday’s game as we look at what WPA had to say about Heroes and Goats. As always the Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA (Win Probability Added — here’s a good explanation of how WPA works) and are not in any way subjective. Many days WPA will not tell the story of what happened, but often it can give at least a glimpse to who rose to the occasion in a high leverage moment or who didn’t get the job done in that moment. Also note, for the purposes of Heroes and Goats, we ignore the results of pitchers while they are batting and hitters while they are pitching. With that, we get to the results.
- Superhero: Kyle Schwarber (.310). Continuing the theme, the glass was pretty empty as Kyle Schwarber batted four times over the first nine innings and failed to reach base once. But then, he hit a walk-off homer, shockingly, the first of his career.
- Hero: Kris Bryant (.199). He just keeps getting on base. Two more hits in four at bats on Tuesday. Included was a game-tying solo homer in the sixth inning.
- Sidekick: Robel Garcia (.142). I’ve had my doubts and certainly the sample size is still pretty small. But Robel is making a serious case to be the seventh man in the group of six I talked about in the intro. Robel had two more hits including a two-run homer that helped climb the Cubs back into the game after a first inning 3-0 deficit.
- Billy Goat: Martin Maldonado (-.225). He certainly wasn’t acquired for his bat. Martin was hitless in four at bats. Included was a line-drive double play.
- Goat: Jason Heyward (-.106). He at least continues to make solid contributions defensively, including just missing a huge catch in right field on a sinking Joey Votto line drive. But he was hitless at the plate in four at bats.
- Kid: Albert Almora Jr. (-104). Albert did have one hit in his four at bats. He doesn’t get the negative points from Maldonado’s line out that turned into a double play, but that was him too. He also struck out twice. He also didn’t run on a dropped third strike that would have been a wild pitch and he would have reached base in the ninth inning. He did make a nifty catch on a Votto fly ball in the first inning that saved that inning from further damage.
WPA Play of the Game: Kyle Schwarber (.423). The walk-off homer qualifies as tied for the fifth largest positive WPA for a Cub on the season.
*Reds Play of the Game: Rasiel Iglesias’ strikeout of Martin Maldanado to end the ninth inning with a runner on third. (.125)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Anthony Rizzo 22
- Kris Bryant 20.5
- Willson Contreras 11
- Albert Almora Jr. -9.5
- Jason Heyward -10
- Yu Darvish -11
Up Next: The Cubs are seeking their first series win of the season against the Reds. The Reds have won each of the previous three series between the teams, two games to one. Whoever wins today will match that result. The Cubs are hoping it is their turn.
Yu Darvish continues to seek his first Wrigley Field victory. He is just 2-4 with a 4.72 ERA in 103 innings of work on the year. Amazingly, he is only 0-1 over his last seven starts, despite throwing 42 innings in those games. He has a 4.29 ERA over that time. Last time out, he was very good in a home start against the Pirates. He threw six innings and allowed two hits, one walk and no runs. Yu is working on four days rest. Yu has allowed a .747 OPS on four days rest (.652 with five).
Darvish has made two starts against the Reds on the season and had no decisions in both. He threw a total of 12⅓ innings and allowed eight runs. You may recall one of those games, the Cubs basically threw him to the wolves to protect a worn out bullpen. In that game, he threw seven innings allowing 12 hits and six runs. Despite that game, Yu is 2-0 with a 3.48 ERA over his last five starts against the Reds. Current Reds have 98 plate appearances against Yu with a .814 OPS. Joey Votto has the most PA (16) but has struggled (.661). Our pal Derek Dietrich has very strong numbers (11, 1.657, including two homers).
The Opposition will be Sonny Gray. Sonny is 5-5 with a 3.42 ERA in 97 1⁄3 innings. Over his last seven starts, he is even better with a 3-1 record and a 3.27 ERA in 41⅓ innings. Last time out, he pitched very well in Colorado but got a no decision. He threw seven innings allowing five hits, three walks and one run. He’s faced the Cubs twice this year and is 1-0 allowing five runs in 11⅓ innings. Sonny too is on four days rest. Sonny is almost as good on four days rest (.618) as he is on five (.582).
The 29-year-old right-handed pitcher has been better against left-handed hitters this year (.578 OPS v .679 for RHH). He’s virtually identical on the road (.634) as at home (.630). He allows a little more slugging at home and a little more on base percentage on the road. Current Cubs have just 59 plate appearances against Gray that includes only one walk. Jason Heyward has the most PA (11) but has really struggled (.455), though he does have one homer for his only hit. Kris Bryant has also struggled (9, .347). Addison Russell is one of the few Cubs with success against Gray (six, 1.167 including a homer). Albert Almora Jr. also has one homer and two other hits in four at bats against Gray.
Another tough looking matchup, but the Cubs have been playing well, winning four of five coming out of the break.