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The Frank Schwindel conundrum

Differing views can be held on the Cubs first baseman, depending on whether you’re old-school or data-driven.

Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Frank Schwindel has been a surprise. I was as supportive of the three pronged-plan with Schwindel as most: claim him, retain him, play him in Chicago. I’m as surprised as anyone that he has done this well. I’m not assuming even for a fragment of a second that this success will necessarily continue into 2022 and beyond. Nor am I predicting an imminent collapse. Schwindel is laying waste to two of my favorite assumptions about baseball, and they tend to take equal swings at “old baseball” and “new baseball.”

Yes, there are two baseballs, in my worldview. One baseball is the older-school one that relies heavily on familiarity. “I’m familiar with this player, so I like him.” Which is fine, I suppose, but the inverse is equally applicable: “I don’t know him, so why is he here?” Not all old-school baseball fans hold that somewhat polar mindset, but it seems a bit prevalent.

Last year, I recommended the Cubs call up Matt Dermody late in the season, much for the same reason I called for the same action with Jake Jewell and Ryan Meisinger in 2021. Or Adam Morgan in 2021. They had the player on into the future if they wanted him, so it made sense to take a look at them in a game. There was a degree of “Who the heck is this guy?” in all four situations. That Morgan likely represents keeping into 2022 justifies the low-end gamble, even with misfires on the other three. What was amusing was the “old school” types getting horribly bent before Dermody pitched, and then getting equally upset when he was dispatched out of the organization after one solid inning.

Schwindel had an unenviable position of replacing a legend, and then just about outproduced said legend for the season in the process. Yes, he has, so far: Anthony Rizzo’s combined bWAR: 1.8. Schwindel: 1.7. Between Schwindel’s performance and uplifting demeanor, he’s easy to root for. Once you take into consideration the performance and demeanor. Which many old school types didn’t especially want to be introduced to. Until it worked.

Schwindel also assails new-school types just as effectively. Schwindel is an “old rookie,” which tends to be two strikes against the hitter before he gets in the box. New-school baseball fans tend to be data-driven, and tend to believe that data-driven information should be minded implicitly. Until every last tether has disappeared.

The Schwindel lesson includes a serious broadside into that. People who had followed Schwindel in Triple-A knew that he was a good, though not elite, hitter at that level. Over a course of seasons. It wasn’t: “Schwindel will clearly hit .300 and have multiple hits in at least 21 games if given a starting spot.” The Schwindel lesson ought to be about claiming a player for whom an available spot to play might become apparent in two weeks.

Spreadsheets don’t always predict the future with complete accuracy. Some players outperform, and that happens more likely if the player is given a shot. Which, sometimes, the “new baseball” analytics-driven fan isn’t prone to buy into.

It’s kind of fun for me to hear both the people who have melted into becoming Schwindel fans, and people saying he’s as likely to disappear back into oblivion as be a regular for the Cubs in 2023. Admit it: Sometimes, stupid stuff happens in baseball. Positioning a team to take positive advantage of stupid stuff happening is probably a better idea than acting like stupid stuff never happens in baseball, regardless if you are more “familiarity-based” or “analytically-based.” Now, if Schwindel goes out and crushes the Cardinals, he can take his local legend status a step higher.