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Cubs: Is Frank a Tank Again?

Frank Schwindel is heating up. Is he back to being a tank, or is this a mini hot stretch?

Frank Schwindel Chicago Cubs
Photo: Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Frank Schwindel’s season has been mostly below average. There’s no way to sugarcoat that. For most of the year, he’s been a negative fWAR player for the Chicago Cubs. In fact, he still is. However, he’s beginning to trend in the right direction, and it all goes back to when he was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on May 8 for roughly 24 hours. Since then, his bat has come to life.

The improvement began when he hit what appeared to be a sure-fire go-ahead grand slam with two outs in the top of the ninth inning in a game against the San Diego Padres on May 10. Everyone in the ballpark, including Frank and announcer Boog Sciambi, thought the ball should’ve left the yard, given its trajectory, launch angle, and exit velocity. This season’s deadened baseballs could’ve played a significant role in why it didn’t wind up a home run. Instead of a heroic blast, the ball was caught at the wall for the final out of the game, and the Cubs lost 5-4. 

Heating Up

Since that disappointing outcome, Frank has turned back into a tank. The 29-year-old has hit .294 with a .922 OPS, four homers, and 10 RBIs since May 11. Furthermore, he’s increased his hard-hit rate by 38.1 percent during that span. Although he still ranks in the 20th percentile of MLB with a 32.7 percent HH rate, the 38.1 percent figure since May 11 would put him above league average.

Is this a sign of things to come or a mini hot stretch? We won’t know until we know. Schwindel has benefited from facing some lackluster pitching and playing in good hitting conditions over the last few games. During the Arizona Diamondbacks series at Wrigley Field, the wind blowing out called for balls hit in the air to leave the yard. Last night, Frank hit two bombs against the Cincinnati Reds. A two-homer game is always impressive but not quite as remarkable against a Reds team that sits dead last in team ERA and tied for last in home runs allowed. In addition, Great American Ballpark always plays like a hitter’s paradise.

Not to stomp on the man’s parade, but we need to see more from Schwindel before saying that he’s turned it around. Coming into the season, he was one of the most intriguing players the Cubs had on their roster because we weren’t sure what to expect. We knew last season’s insane numbers wouldn’t hold up, but what would the regression be? After all, Frank had a long track record of producing in the minor leagues without getting a real shot at the Major League level before the second half of the 2021 season.

Projections 

Before the season, I attempted to dissect Frank Schwindel’s history and ascension while projecting his 2022 season numbers. It’s safe to say that my projection isn’t looking so great right now. However, after a two-homer game last night, he is now up to six home runs. The power numbers are almost directly in line with what I predicted. I projected him to finish with 24.

Schwindel has played in roughly 95 percent of the Cubs’ games and received 154 plate appearances this season. Forecasting games and plate appearances moving forward, he’s on pace to play 154 games with 593 plate appearances. So far, Frank has hit 0.039 home runs per plate appearance. With 593 plate appearances in mind, he is on pace to hit 23 home runs. Of course, that’s if he stays healthy for the whole season and maintains the pace he’s on.

Nonetheless, that’s only one home run short of my preseason projected 24 home runs. I’ll take that as long as the average continues to climb. That’s a serviceable player — a player that holds some value and much more in comparison to the negative fWAR player we’ve seen as a whole this season.

Let’s go back to that San Diego game for a second. The game where he almost hit a homer. If that ball would’ve left the ballpark for a home run, Schwindel would have seven on the season. That one home run makes a difference when looking at home runs per plate appearance. It was a pinch-hit appearance and his lone opportunity of the game, which impacts the home runs per plate appearance positively if counted on his stats. If that homer counted, Schwindel would project for nearly 27 home runs to finish the season, smashing my preseason projection by three.

In baseball, data changes rapidly. A few more plate appearances without hitting a homer, and his home runs per plate appearance will drop. I know I’m getting incredibly nerdy with the numbers here, but the point is, Schwindel is playing much better baseball right now than he was in April and the early part of May.

The Cubs’ Corner Spots Moving Forward

If this continues, keeping Frank Schwindel in the lineup as a DH while Alfonso Rivas gets more playing time at first base isn’t a horrible idea, especially when Bryce Ball is a little ways away from a major league callup. Although, the kid is ripping the cover off the ball at Double-A Tennessee.

Schwindel and Patrick Wisdom are easy targets for fans when the team struggles. They have been tasked with replacing two beloved fan favorites and all-time Cubs legends, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. Of course, the fan base will have some animosity toward the front office and ownership whenever they struggle. It’s a constant reminder that the team is in a rebuild and the best Cubs team ever is no longer intact.

Will Schwindel or Wisdom (Schwisdom) be part of the team when it’s ready to compete? Probably not, but the better they play, the better for the Cubs. If they can somehow put together a solid couple of months before the trade deadline, the farm system should get even stronger with the quality of prospects they’d get in return. If, of course, the Cubs decide to trade them.

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