Let me start by getting this point across: Kyle Schwarber will never be a Gold Glove caliber fielder, wherever the Chicago Cubs decide to stick him. He’s going to make All-Star teams, and he very well might gather his fair share of MVP votes over the years, but it won’t be because of his glove.
Now I want to get another point across: Kyle Schwarber is a better left fielder than he displayed in the NLCS.
In that series, Schwarber looked like he had never played the position before. The important thing to remember is that he just learned the position a few months before that dreadful series took place. Schwarber is a smart kid. It is often mentioned that he was in the engineering program at Indiana University. I think that is important, although I may be grasping at straws. It shows he is a smart kid and is willing to learn and learning the position is going to be his biggest obstacle. If you’ve seen him play the field extensively, throughout the regular season, you know he is plenty athletic enough to navigate the rather small Left Field at Wrigley, despite his seemingly sluggish build. It’s all going to be about his routes and his jumps.
All of that anecdotal evidence is fine and all but let’s take a look at some numbers. For this example I’m going to compare Schwarber’s defense to that of one of the greatest hitters of all time who played the same position – Barry Bonds.
In 2015, Kyle Schwarber played 309.2 innings in the outfield and posted a negative 3 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved above/below replacement) per Fangraphs. Over the course of a full season in the outfield, this would end up at about -9 if he did not improve over time. Bonds, who was similarly built later in his career, posted two comparable defensive seasons late in his career, and I don’t think any Giants fans were too disappointed in his overall play.
You might think I’m crazy for seemingly endorsing Schwarber as the Left Fielder of the future for the Cubs and then going on to tell you he would cost the Cubs nine runs over the course of a full season at the position. There are two things that you need to keep in mind – he’s going to improve with more coaching and experience, and he’s not in the lineup for his defense.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the alternatives. One ‘possibility’ is trading Schwarber to an American League team so he can DH. That’s not going to happen. Another alternative is have him play catcher – his drafted position and the position he played in the minor leagues. This is probably something he will work on this offseason, but with Miguel Montero being the superior defensive player, as well as being a solid bat at the bottom of the order, Montero will likely hold on to his starting spot until he is no longer with the team.
Much like late career Bonds, Schwarber’s existence in a Major League lineup is due to the fact that he’s a hitting machine. He was drafted for his bat, he ascended through the minor league system at a break-neck pace because of his bat, and he will find a home in Left Field at Wrigley because of his bat. What we as Cubs fans will have to do is trust that his work ethic and dedication will allow him to improve on the field, and personally, I have a lot of faith that he will.