Kyle Schwarber Is (Still) the Best Defensive Player in Baseball

Some of y’all might know this, and some of y’all don’t
Some of y’all might be with this, and some of y’all won’t
But listen, let me clear my throat

I can lead a horse to cheap store-brand Kool-Aid, but I can’t always make it drink the stuff. So when I dropped a little tongue-in-cheek knowledge about Kyle Schwarber‘s much-improved defense, it flew over a few heads like a misjudged line drive. But hey, not everyone can cook with a deadpan.

That’s why, in the interest of full disclosure, I feel I should admit right away here that Schwarber is not actually the best defensive player in baseball. He’s only second best. According to UZR/150 (which seeks to quantify the number of runs a player saves on a 150-game basis), Schwarber’s 24.4 sits behind only KC’s Alex Gordon and his 25.0.

Okay, in all seriousness, it’s incredibly silly to cite a single stat absent context and try to stand upon it as though it’s some kind of foundation for truth. If, however, we put on bifocals fashioned from rose-colored lenses of reality, the overall picture comes into better focus.

Stats are only as useful as the people interpreting them, which probably doesn’t say much for yours truly. So when looking at something like UZR/150, it’s best to apply it against what we actually see from Schwarber in the field. And when we see better jumps, cleaner routes, and an arm that would have accumulated more than eight outfield assists if third base coaches weren’t now scared to send runners, the statistical skeleton starts to pack on a little flesh.

Regardless of where he’s actually ranked among his fellow outfielders, it’s obvious that Schwarber has made sweeping defensive improvements. Or he’s at least improved enough that he’s no longer a ham-handed butcher whose only future is as a DH in the Junior Circuit. Time to trade him? Hell to the no.

I mean, yeah, maybe if the Angels are willing to throw in Shohei Ohtani and some serious cash considerations along with Mike Trout. And even that’s barely enough to keep me from laughing Billy Eppler off the phone (okay, not really).

With 2.0 fWAR, Schwarber has already generated more value than in either of his two previous seasons, and we’re not even at the All-Star break yet. That defensive acumen allows him a little more offensive leeway, which is the exact opposite of what everyone had expected when the Cubs shifted him to the outfield from behind the plate.

Then you factor in his relative newness to the position and you start to think, “Hey, the Cubs might have something here.” Unless you’ve been thinking that from the start, in which case you’re thinking right. Or left, which is where Schwarber’s going to be instead of DH for a long time to come.

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