14 September 2013

Jonathan Schoop and Second-Base Defense at Norfolk

Jonathan Schoop completes a double-play pivot for Norfolk. (Elaina Ellis / Norfolk Tides)

Perhaps the two biggest strengths of the 2013 Orioles has been their home-run hitting and their team defense. While it may be premature to start talking about the 2014 Orioles because the Orioles are still very much alive for the 2013 postseason, it's generally recognized that any 2014 Orioles improvement from the farm system will have to be from pitchers or from infielder Jonathan Schoop. In his minor-league career, Schoop has played mostly shortstop and second base, with a few games at third base. Because Manny Machado seems to be set at third base and J.J. Hardy seems to be set at shortstop, Schoop will probably have to make his 2014 contributions at second base.

And second base is the second-least settled position for the 2013 Orioles (behind designated hitter.) The Orioles have split second base among Ryan Flaherty, Brian Roberts, and Alexi Casilla. Offensively, Casilla has been terrible (57 OPS+); Flaherty has been less terrible (75 OPS+); and Roberts has been below league-average (85 OPS+). Schoop's minor-league track record give optimism that he'll be better than Casilla and Flaherty; he'll be about the same as Roberts but fourteen years younger and substantially cheaper.

However, even if Schoop is an offensive improvement over the incumbents, it won't help the Orioles if he can't do the job on defense. While we have a lot of information and analysis of the defense of major-league players, not much of that has been applied to the minor leagues. We don't have fWar or UZR or any of the other complex defense measurements for the minor league players. However, I have gathered play-by-play results for 51 Norfolk home games, and I can examine those results to see if I can draw any conclusions about Schoop's defense.

There were eight players who played at least one inning of second base in those 51 games. Ryan Flaherty played four games when he was sent down to get his bat going. Brian Roberts played in two games during his rehabilitation. Niuman Romero played in two games early in the season, and Russ Canzler played in one game as a desperation measure (the Tides lost that game 21-4.) Because of the small sample size, their individual statistics aren't directly comparable to the other four, who are Schoop, Zelous Wheeler, Buck Britton, and Yamaico Navarro.

Buck Britton awaits a throw on a stolen-base attempt. (Elaina Ellis / Norfolk Tides.)

In the table below, the "Innings" column contains the number of defensive innings each player accrued at second base. For the next four columns, the first number is the total number of plays and the second number is the number of plays per nine innings. The "Ground Balls" column contains the ground balls the player handled successfully and turned into an out; the "Line Drives" and "Popups" contain the number of line drives and popups caught and turned into an out; the "Pivots" column contains the number of double plays in which the player was the pivot man, almost always as part of a 5-4-3 or 6-4-3 double play.

Ground Balls
Line Drives
Jonathan Schoop
32 / 2.46
3 / 0.23
7 / 0.54
5 / 0.38
Zelous Wheeler
29 / 2.69
1 / 0.09
1 / 0.09
4 / 0.37
Yamaico Navarro
25 / 2.65
2 / 0.21
5 / 0.53
5 / 0.53
Buck Britton
37 / 3.92
3 / 0.32
6 / 0.64
3 / 0.32
Ryan Flaherty
8 / 2.0
2 / 0.5
1 / 0.25
3 / 0.75
Brian Roberts
4 / 2.57
0 / 0.0
1 / 0.64
0 / 0.0
Niuman Romero
4 / 3.0
0 / 0.0
2 / 1.5
2 / 1.5
Russ Canzler
3 / 3.0
0 / 0.0
1 / 1.0
0 / 0.0

Zelous Wheeler throws to first after fielding a ground ball. (Elaina Ellis / Norfolk Tides)

Separating the successful plays is (1) easy to do with the data I have and (2) potentially interesting. At least in the games I'm using, Buck Britton had the most range of the four main second basemen but turned the fewest double plays. Zelous Wheeler seemed to have had trouble reading pop flies. Yamaico Navarro seemed to be best on the double-play pivot, probably because of his strong arm. Jonathan Schoop had the lowest rate of ground balls fielded among the main second basemen. He was about average in catching line drives, catching popups, and turning double plays.

I acknowledge that there are lot of factors that complicates this initial analysis and make the conclusions very tentative. I think it's safe to conclude that Schoop isn't a spectacularly good second baseman right now, and probably is average to slightly below average. He's still only 21, and has plenty of time to improve, but we probably shouldn't to expect Schoop to be an upgrade at second base for the Orioles in 2014.

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