Kyle Schwarber: Fantasy Superstar or Bust?

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We talked about Kyle Schwarber this week on the podcast and I hinted he was going to be in my bust article. However, he is such an intriguing fantasy option that I wanted to look into him in more detail.

Schwarber burst into the majors in 2015 and took to it like a duck to water. Having hit 16 home runs combined in 310 PAs between AA and AAA he matched that total in the majors in just 273. In just 69 games he scored 52 runs, drove in 43 and pretty much helped every one of his fantasy owners to a championship. When you add in that he did all of that as a catcher then you can see just how valuable he was that season.

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The pre-season news in 2016 was dominated by Schwarber’s move to outfield and how he would cope with being an everyday left fielder. He was competent there in 2015, but sadly we never got to see much of it as Schwarber was injured in an outfield collision and only managed 2 regular season games in 2016. The injury brought a dramatic halt to the hype train but that has started up all over again in 2017 and the same battle lines have been drawn among fantasy players as to how they value Schwarber.

Now if Schwarber is catcher eligible in your league (Yahoo for example) then how you can view him changes dramatically compared to if he outfield eligible only. Currently his ADP is 71 so 8th round in a 10 teamer or late 7th rounder in a 12 team league. Now looking at the different sites; Yahoo have him going at an ADP of 53 compared to 72 & 73 for CBS & ESPN respectively, who both only have him outfield eligible.

My main issue is the playing time. We are talking about a guy coming off a serious knee injury who was already a doubt to be an everyday outfielder before the injury so why all of a sudden we think he going to be good enough to manage 125+ full games in the outfield is beyond me. The key word in that last sentence was FULL.

Matt Marton - USA TODAY Sports

Matt Marton – USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs have so much flexibility that once they have a lead I could easily see them shifting around to bring Baez in from the bench and moving either Bryant or Zobrist to the outfield and then Schwarber becomes the odd man out. If we say that happens in the 6th or 7th innings of a game then at minimum Schwarber is losing 1 AB per game. Even if we say that only happens in 50 games that is a significant percentage of time (approx. 10%) for a guy whose upside is probably 140 games. That is a lot of time to lose from your seventh round pick.

I do think Schwarber can be a useful fantasy producer and as a catcher eligible option he is close to the number one at the position given the volatility and relatively reduced playing time that catchers have. However, if I have to take him as around the 20th outfielder off the board and his sole contribution to me is likely to be outfield then I’m tapping out there. For my number two outfielder I want a player I can expect to play 140+ full games or at the very least someone who doesn’t have the potential to be a 0.220 hitter if he has bad stretches.

For the people reading this and saying “yeah buts he’s going to catch and gain that eligibility” my response is to laugh and point out he is the emergency third catcher behind two very solid guys. My belief is it will be the odd game here and there and if I had to guess I would say in a league where you need 10 games to be eligible at a position that he will struggle to have it before the all-star break. So yes come the end of the season he may look like the best overall catcher but that doesn’t count if you could only use him there half the season and my fear is he will have you tearing your hair out waiting for that eligibility.

I compared Schwarber’s 28% strikeout rate from 2015 to last year’s numbers then looked at outfielders who had a similar strikeout rate and a similar average to his 0.241. These are the names I came out with; Giancarlo Stanton, Randal Grichuk, Melvin Upton Jr. Justin Upton, Michael Saunders, Joc Pederson , Khris Davis and Adam Duvall.

We can sort those guys into a couple of groups (ADP):

  • Pure power: Stanton (36), Davis (91)
  • Some speed: J. Upton (79), Duvall (146), Grichuk (203), Pederson (177)
  • 20/20 potential: Upton (352)
  • Other: Saunders (387)

In terms of a comparison it is tough to compare Schwarber to Stanton because I think 30+ home runs is Stanton’s floor if he plays a full season. It is unlikely Stanton would manage that but if he and Schwarber play the same amount of games then I would bank on Stanton to have better power and average numbers given his track record. Schwarber has the potential to be a 30 homer guy but that would require a full season (600ish PA) and still would be my ceiling for him. If Stanton, Davis and Schwarber all had the same PAs at season end I’d expect it to read Stanton, Davis, Schwarber in terms of power with Davis and Schwarber having very similar averages but Schwarber just edging it on runs and RBI. However, I think Davis plays more than Schwarber this year and I am more willing to pay for a guy I think can get me 40 homers than the guy who may get me 30. The catcher eligibility potential during the season levels it up a little but there is no way Schwarber should be going 20 spots higher than Davis (and I also think Davis is being a little over drafted).

Tigers Justin Upton

MARK CUNNINGHAM – Getty Images

In terms of the other guys; J. Upton is more valuable because he can offer similar power with 10ish steals, and generally feels safer to me. Therefore, he should be going ahead of Schwarber in drafts and not just behind him like he currently is. If come the end of the season and he hasn’t gained catcher eligibility then I cannot see where he has significant value over the Duvall, Grichuk and Pederson group who can all be got at least 70 picks later in drafts. When you add in the 5-10 steals I think you can get from those three then come the end of the season I wouldn’t be shocked if they all had a more valuable season for fantasy owners especially given that I can see those guys playing pretty much every day.

The reason I included Melvin Upton and Saunders is because they represent a floor for Schwarber if he cannot stick at left for long parts of the season and his catching isn’t up to scratch, 100ish games with 10-15 home runs. I mean this is an extreme scenario because I think the Cubs want him playing as much as possible but whilst they have a ton of flexibility in their team moving Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo from their positions is not something I can see them being willing to do and therefore Schwarber is going to be reduced to the odd game and substitution appearances late in games the team are trailing, which probably won’t be often. If that happens to your 12th or 13th round it is distressing but if it happens to your 6th/7th round pick then without a lot of luck it can be curtains for your season.

These player comparisons have laid out a ceiling/middle and floor outlook for Schwarber and by drafting him in the 6th/7th you aren’t building in any room for him to be anything but a fantasy superstar. Of those comparison guys the highest finish on the ESPN player rater was in the mid-60s so if we think Schwarber can legitimately match those guys then right now his draft position leaves him no path to superseding his draft day value, unless he gains catcher eligibility in the first month of the season.

If he doesn’t achieve a stat line of 30 homers, 0.245ish batting average and 100 runs scored with a decent RBI number then come the end of 2017 it is likely we are discussing Kyle Schwarber among the fantasy busts.

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