Levine: Cubs’ Maddon Has Schwarber’s Back During Slump

By Bruce Levine–

CHICAGO (CBS) — The early season grind for Cubs leadoff man Kyle Schwarber has been difficult. The clamoring and concern for this new lineup seems to get more heated on social media every day.

Some want manager Joe Maddon to drop Schwarber down in the order and give someone else a shot at leading off. Schwarber was hitting .196 entering play Tuesday, with a .322 on-base percentage.

“I know he is going to hit,” Maddon said. “I like the bar-room banter about where everyone thinks they have a grasp on what is going on. Baseball is in our fabric. I think all of that is interesting. I do like that stuff, but it is never going to influence how I think. I am just going to continue to do what is right based on my years of experience.”

Maddon carefully mapped out a plan of attack this season with his 24-year-old Schwarber as a replacement for the departing Dexter Fowler at the top of the order.

The metrics department of the Cubs was given a task to come up with projections based on what Schwarber had done at the plate in his brief career. From that data and conversations with the front office, Maddon determined this was the way he was going to go.

During spring training, Maddon said Schwarber would be his leadoff man against right-handed pitchers most of the time and against lefties on certain occasions. Entering Tuesday, Schwarber had appeared in all 25 games the Cubs played, leading off in 24 of them.

“His on-base (average) is still over .300,” Maddon said. “His batting average is what is down. He is over 100 points higher in on-base to average. He is going to hit. As his batting average comes up, I believe he will walk more often. This has nothing to do with how he is hitting. I like him there.”

Now the team’s primary left fielder, Schwarber caught in a big league game Monday for the first time since October 2015. He was inserted as a late-inning double switch from left field to behind the plate in a blowout 10-2 loss to the Phillies. The consensus was that he will catch mostly in double-switch situations and perhaps occasionally start. Schwarber caught just four innings late in spring training — during a B game on a backfield.

The good news is that Schwarber has seen 4.47 pitches per plate appearance. That’s the third-highest number of pitches seen per at-bat in the National League so far this season. He’s tied for sixth in the league with 16 walks as well, while his 35 strikeouts are the third-most.

“You want to live for the big spots,” Schwarber said. “If you can get into a situation where you can change a game with a walk or putting a ball in play with a man in scoring position, those are always positive feelings. I look forward to good team at-bats and go from there.”

Does Schwarber worry about what the man on the street thinks? Not really.

“Like I have said, we are going to have to stick with the process,” he said. “I feel like I am just putting good swings on balls and just not getting the results I want. Once I make that adjustment, getting that swing just right, it will be a good feeling. I can’t worry about outside thoughts or things I cannot control. I will stay with my process and let the manager make his decisions.”

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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