Neither J.J. Hoover nor Brayan Pena needed to spend too much time reviewing Kyle Schwarber’s exploits to know what the rookie catcher had just done. Schwarber, however, took a few extra moments to admire his game-tying blast in the 9th inning of Tuesday’s 5-4 victory. Rather than a display of hubris, however, I took it as more of a “wow, did that really happen?” moment for the young star.
Likewise, you don’t really have to spend much time looking at the stats to know that the former Hoosier standout is doing big things for the Cubs in his nascent MLB career. But since it’s too much fun to extoll the relative absurdity of what he’s done in a very small sample size so far, I’m going to stand and admire the stats for a bit here.
Schwarber’s batting average is the subject of a Beach Boys tune and a household grease-busting Formula, so it’s fitting that he’s been singing along at a .409/.447/.705 clip. I suppose the latter half of my pop-culture comparison falls apart when you point out that Schwarber is not, in point of fact, cleaning up, but we’ll just chalk that up to poetic license.
Those numbers, which also represent a 1.151 OPS, lead all major league catchers with more than 11 at-bats. Oddly enough, the only backstop who can boast bigger stats in any of those categories is former Cub Steve Clevenger, though his .455 average has come from that aforementioned sub-minimum sample.
Now that’s all well and good, but let’s look to some more advanced metrics to see whether they tell us any more about what Schwarbs has been doing. In terms of weighted runs created (wRC), the rookie ranks 39th amoung MLB catchers with a solid 12. If that doesn’t seem all that impressive, consider that he’s got 30 fewer AB’s than anyone else in the top 55.
But considering that wRC is more of a cumulative stat, perhaps we should look to wRC+, which adjusts for park effects and measures how many more runs a given player created than a league average hitter in the same number of plate appearances. Schwarber’s 216 wRC+ means that he has produced 116% more runs than the average hitter, tops among all catchers. Actually, that’s the best number in the majors, 5 points ahead of Bryce Harper.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that down, let’s see if we can tackle win probability added (WPA), which seeks to capture how much a player impacted his team’s odds of winning. You may want to follow that link to learn more about the intricacies of the scoring, but suffice to say Schwarber’s 1.09 is very good given his short time with the Cubs. In fact, he’s 3rd on the team (Rizzo – 4.14, Bryant – 2.82) and one of only 5 Cubs with positive WPA (Fowler – 0.45, Montero – 0.29).
I suppose it should be noted that .860 of Schwarber’s total can be attributed to his 2-homer game the other day, but here’s a nice little tidbit about that:
Kyle Schwarber's Win Probability Added tonight was the highest for any hitter in any game this season.
— Matthew Trueblood (@MATrueblood) July 22, 2015
That’s pretty good. There have been many instances of higher single-game totals, at least 74 of which met or exceeded 1.000, but The Schwarber Game sure felt like it bore a greater significance than, say, Joey Votto hitting 3 homers against the Nats in 2013. No, it felt a lot like that June day in 1984 when Ryne Sandberg took Bruce Sutter deep to tie the game twice, posting a 1.063 WPA in the process.
Perhaps I’m taking a bit too much license again here, but I see a lot of Sandberg in Schwarber. Certainly not in terms of body type, position, or style of play, but more in the similarity of their first names and the way the two men carry themselves. Ryno was a quiet, unassuming guy who came up with questions of where he’d play and busted his tail to become one of the best. And while Schwarber will probably never collect shelves full of Gold Gloves, he’s got the same tireless work ethic as the former Cub.
It’s obvious that most of these ludicrous numbers are going to level out a bit in time, but it’s equally obvious that this kid — perhaps the least heralded of the Cubs’ four rookie regulars — is going to continue to have a tremendous impact on this team. Are we looking at 1984 all over again? I won’t go that far, but I do think we could be witnessing the birth of yet another superstar.