It's certainly crushing news that Kyle Schwarber will miss the rest of the season for the Chicago Cubs after Thursday's outfield collision. He's an exciting, young slugger who provided a valuable lefty power bat to the Cubs' lineup.
His injury, however, will have little if any impact on the National League Central race. The Cubs will remain the obvious favorite thanks to their depth and viable options to replace Schwarber. Joe Maddon can play Jorge Soler in left field. He can move Ben Zobrist to left and play Javier Baez at second, once Baez returns next week from a thumb injury. Most likely, the Cubs skipper will mix and match, with the capable Tommy La Stella possibly getting some time at second base as well.
Yes, I've seen the posts from my Cubs friends on Facebook. "Here we go again," they understandably moaned. I mean, it's the Cubs, where if something could go wrong it will go wrong, like it has for the past 107 years. But a cause to panic? Hardly.
Schwarber was unlikely to be a superstar bat in the middle of the lineup. He hit .246/.355/.487 last year in 273 plate appearances, certainly excellent numbers for a rookie. But he also got off to a hot start, hitting .352 through his first 27 games. After that, he hit .181/.308/.403 in his final 42 games, mixing in some home runs with a whole bunch of strikeouts and showing little ability to hit left-handed pitching (.143 in 56 at-bats). Among players with 250 plate appearances, he ranked 23rd in strikeout rate -- although he was hardly unique among Cubs in that regard, as Kris Bryant, Soler and Addison Russell all had higher strikeout rates.
There's no doubt Schwarber's power potential was legit. His projections for 2016:
ZiPS: .250/.337/.496, 32 HR, 2.2 WAR
Steamer: .258/.342/.470, 25 HR, 2.8 WAR
Baseball Prospectus: .248/.344/.477, 30 HR, 3.8 WAR
Why isn't his WAR higher? Defense and baserunning count, too, and his defense projects well below average in left field and at catcher (he was slated to be Jason Hammel's personal catcher).
Soler doesn't project to have the same numbers at the plate, but they're not that much lower:
ZiPS: .267/.327/.455, 0.9 WAR
Steamer: .258/.322/.439, 0.9 WAR
Baseball Prospectus: .250/.314/.434, 0.7 WAR
Those numbers were projected over fewer plate appearances. Given more playing time, Soler is seen more as a 1.5 WAR player, so compared to Schwarber, you're looking at maybe one fewer win of value.
Soler is more of a wild card, though. His rookie season was a mixed bag: His defense was a disappointment despite a strong arm, and while he showed he could turn on any fastball, he displayed a complete inability to hit offspeed stuff, batting .143 in plate appearances ending in a curveball, changeup, slider or splitter. After showing a lack of plate discipline in the regular season, he suddenly looked like Joey Votto in the playoffs, batting .474 in seven games with three home runs while drawing six walks. Did something click?
Soler remains a tantalizing talent. I don't think he's suddenly going to learn pitch recognition on breaking balls -- he was so bad against them that he has a big learning curve. But it's possible it all comes together and he hits .275 with 20-plus home runs. I suspect, however, that Soler won't play left field every day. On the days when Maddon wants to emphasize defense, he'll move Zobrist to left and start Baez at second.
All this doesn't mean the Cubs won't miss Schwarber. They had a nice lefty-righty-lefty power trio with Anthony Rizzo, Bryant and Schwarber, although they still have Jason Heyward and Miguel Montero from the left side, plus switch hitters Zobrist and Dexter Fowler, so the lineup balance remains. Soler was also possible trade bait during the season if the Cubs needed to upgrade their rotation. Trading him now would appear difficult, at the risk of further weakening the position player depth.
Bottom line: This was one reason everyone liked the Cubs. They had as much depth as any team in the league. So don't fret too much, Cubs fans, you're still the team to beat.