Frank Schwindel has contended for the title of best hitter in the majors since July 30, when he replaced the departed Anthony Rizzo in the Cubs’ lineup.
Patrick Wisdom last homered Aug. 28, but he is only one home run shy of Kris Bryant’s Cubs rookie record of 26.
The success of two older rookies has salvaged some interest for the last couple of weeks of the Cubs’ season.
Wisdom turned 30 on Aug. 27, but baseball ages are as of July 1, so he and Schwindel are in their age-29 seasons.
They had earlier major-league appearances that didn’t close their rookie status. Schwindel was 1-for-15 for the Royals in 2019 and 3-for-20 for the Athletics this season. Wisdom hit .260/.362/.520 in 58 plate appearances for the Cardinals in 2018, .154/.185/.192 in 28 plate appearances for the Rangers in 2019 and was 0-for-2 for the Cubs last season.
This season has been different. Wisdom came up first and in 325 plate appearances is hitting .236/.302/.527, with 26 walks and 25 homers adding offensive value despite a low batting average.
The homers not only are one shy of Bryant’s franchise record for rookies, they’re also a high for National League rookies 29 or older. The major-league high is trickier. Luke Easter was 34 when he hit 28 homers for the Indians in 1950. He was classified a rookie then, but his season won’t come up in a search of rookie seasons at Baseball-Reference.com. That’s because Negro Leagues seasons now count as major-league service.
Let’s leave it at Wisdom’s total is an age-29-plus rookie high for anyone not named Luke Easter.
Wisdom’s 118 weighted runs created plus (minimum of 100 plate appearances) ranks ninth among major-league rookies, and his 2.1 WAR at Fangraphs.com ranks fifth.
Such a low bar for plate appearances can mislead. Schwindel hasn’t had enough to experience the valleys that go with the peaks. But he has put up a 1.7 fWAR that prorates to a star-level 5-plus for a full season. His 169 wRC+ easily leads the Marlins’ Bryan De La Cruz (138) for the top spot among rookies.
Since July 30, Schwindel’s 187 wRC+ is second in the majors to Phillies MVP candidate Bryce Harper (206). Schwindel’s 1.9 fWAR in that time ranks eighth in the majors and third in the NL behind Harper (2.7) and the Nationals’ Juan Soto (2.2).
For comparison, the Cubs’ rookie fWAR record is 6.1 by Bryant in 2015. Among qualifiers, Bryant also tops the wRC+ list at 136. A selection of relatively recent Hall of Famers finds rookie fWAR and wRC+ of 2.2 and 86 for Ryne Sandberg, 2.0 and 92 for Ernie Banks, 0.6 and 92 for Ron Santo and 1.2 and 110 for Billy Williams.
The Hall of Famers started with lower-level numbers, but they began at much younger ages with more room for growth. Age is a limiting factor for all players, but that’s no reason not to enjoy what Schwindel and Wisdom are bringing to the plate now.