Frank Schwindel has been one of the best and most enjoyable stories surrounding the post-selloff Cubs.
In 41 games and 169 plate appearances for the North Siders, he’s hitting .365/.414/.679 (57-for-156) with 11 doubles, a triple and 12 home runs. That’s already gotten him a National League Player of the Week award, and accolades from Cubs fans who have enjoyed his happy-go-lucky attitude toward playing the game. He’s an easy player to root for.
He also has the most wonderful facial expressions:
He’s also 29 years old (will turn 30 next June) and has never really done anything in the minor leagues that would have suggested he could do what he’s now doing for the Cubs on a sustained basis.
On the other hand, there are some players who “figure it out” at a relatively advanced age and wind up having productive seasons at the MLB level. One comparable player is Max Muncy, who hit .195/.290/.321 over 91 games with the Athletics in 2015-16, such poor production that the A’s released him after spring training 2017. You all know what Muncy has done with the Dodgers.
Can Schwindel do something like that? He never got even as much MLB time as Muncy did, just 14 games with the Royals and A’s before the Cubs got him on waivers.
There’s one thing that suggests Schwindel won’t. That’s his BABIP with the Cubs, which is currently .378. A BABIP that high is almost certainly not sustainable, though Schwindel has nearly matched that with the .365 BA. That suggests some skill is involved as well as luck. Even if his BABIP dropped to the current MLB average of .291, if Schwindel could hit around that number with power, he’d be a useful MLB player.
For his part, Schwindel seems to have a good understanding of what it takes to be a successful hitter, as he told Meghan Montemurro of the Tribune:
“When I grew up, I hated striking out and hated walking,” Schwindel told the Tribune on Wednesday. “Now there’s a lot of value in the walk and some teams have the philosophy, ‘strike out as many times you want as long as you’re hitting 30-plus homers.’ I think I’m a little mixed between where if there’s something over the plate, I’m trying to make something happen rather than being too selective and get behind. These guys are too good where you don’t want to get to their secondary stuff and their plus-out pitches.”
Schwindel doesn’t walk much, thus the OBP not much higher than his BA. On the other hand, unlike a lot of power hitters, he hasn’t struck out much, either, just 25 times in 169 PA. At one point recently he went 32 PA without striking out, which is almost unheard-of in modern baseball.
Montemurro also points out how Schwindel is taking advantage of the pitches he’s seeing:
His home run Wednesday came on a sinker down and away that he hit to right for his 12th as a Cub and first opposite-field homer this season. All but two of those home runs were hit off a fastball. Schwindel’s barrel percentage, which measures how frequently a well-struck ball features an exit velocity of at least 98 mph, is rated among the top quarter of hitters. His 7.1 barreled percentage is tied with Kris Bryant, Willy Adames, Nick Castellanos and Albert Pujols.
Pretty good company, there. Also, Schwindel appears to understand that pitchers will begin to adjust to him:
“Obviously, they’re going to game plan for me now that they’ve seen me and have more scouting reports and stuff,” he said. “So I think if I stay within the zone, I’m going to be OK.”
I’d agree with that. Could Schwindel turn into a guy who hits .269/.369/.481 with 29 home runs a season? I’d argue that maybe he can, at least for maybe 3-4 years, and that might solve the Cubs’ first-base problem for a while. He’d have to be a bit more selective to get to that OBP, but with more MLB experience, maybe he can.
I didn’t pull those numbers out of thin air, either. As of this morning they are exactly Anthony Rizzo’s career averages.
Schwindel absolutely obliterates fastballs but struggles against anything offspeed, so expect a steady diet of secondary pitches against him for the remainder of the season, if not his career. He also remains an overly aggressive hitter, which is frequent for high-contact types with his kind of plate coverage, so fewer strikes are likely as well. Adjustments will need to be made, but he feels like a productive everyday first baseman going forward, though with a smaller window than most due to his age and the kind of toolset that tends not to age gracefully.
That seems accurate to me.
Regardless, Schwindel is clearly having the time of his life:
“I’ve been intentionally walked twice, which I mean, I’ve had a couple but it’s nothing I’d say I’m used to, especially in the big leagues,” Schwindel said. “But just knowing that they know of me — guys get to first base, like, ‘Frank, you’re doing great, keep it going, happy to see it,’ stuff like that means a lot.
“There’s a lot of great players up here and when they take notice, it’s pretty cool.”
What Schwindel has done with the Cubs so far is definitely “pretty cool.” I wasn’t convinced at first that he belonged, but he’s certainly proved me — and other naysayers — wrong. As noted above, he’s a fun player to root for and he’s certainly put himself in the conversation for a regular spot at first base for the Chicago Cubs in 2022.