22 March 2014

Is Jonathan Schoop Ready?

Jonathan Schoop may be the Orioles' 2014 second baseman. Elaina Ellis / Norfolk Tides

During the 2013-2014 offseason, most observers noted that second base wasn't one of the Orioles' stronger positions in 2013. The Orioles did make changes - Brian Roberts signed with the Yankees as a free agent and Jemile Weeks was acquired in the Jim Johnson trade - but those moves didn't significantly change their second-base situation. Manny Machado has not fully recovered from his late-season injury and as of this writing it's doubtful that he'll be ready for opening day. Manager Buck Showalter has stated that Machado's replacement will likely be Ryan Flaherty, who played second base in 2013 when Roberts wasn't available. So, there's a lot of speculation that highly-regarded prospect Jonathan Schoop will be the Orioles' opening-day second baseman.

There's a lot of reasons why that would be a reasonable move. Schoop turned 22 in October and he played last season at AAA Norfolk. And he's having an outstanding spring training, hitting .406/.444/.625. There's reason to believe that Schoop is ready to help the Orioles.

On the other hand, Schoop only played in 70 games at Norfolk in 2013 because of a stress fracture in his back. And he hasn't really played well either at AA Bowie in 2012 (.245/.324/.386) or at Norfolk in 2013 (.256/.301/.396.) There's reason to believe that Schoop isn't ready help the Orioles.

Before I go further, I feel I should state my opinion that Schoop would benefit from at least six more weeks in AAA. He would benefit from batting against more advanced pitchers and from more time in the field at second base. I don't think he has shown that he has mastered the upper levels of minor-league baseball. And if the Orioles make Schoop the regular second baseman before he's ready, they could end up hurting him for the long run and damaging their own chances for 2014 success.On the other hand, I recognize that if Schoop is a measurably the best second-base choice the Orioles have, they probably have to sacrifice some measure of his long-term potential to win games now.

When I wrote about Orioles pitching prospect Tim Berry, I broke down his performance against the different quality of hitters he faced. At Berry's level - Class A - we could identify players by their prospect status and get some sense of how he might perform as he moved up. At AAA, more of the players unlikely to play in the major leagues are veterans who may be able to perform well at AAA but not in the major leagues, and a smaller percentage of AAA players are prospects anyway. But there is a way to identify players whom a AAA player is likely to see when he gets promoted to the big leagues - whether or not a player is on the major-league team's 40-man roster.

Players on the 40-man roster but not on the 25-man active roster fall, roughly, into four categories: (1) those on the 15-day disabled list; (2) prospects added to protect them from the Rule 5 draft; (3) players nearly ready for the big leagues, and (4) fringe players on the AAA-to-major league shuttle. Players on the 15-day disabled list are not playing in the minor leagues until they are on a rehab assignment, and most prospects added to avoid Rule 5 selection are at the AA level or below. Players on the 40-man roster and playing in AAA are more typical of the players a prospect will face in the major leagues than those not on the 40-man roster. So, it's possible that if a player does about as well against the pitchers on the 40-man as against those not on the 40-man, then his minor-league performance can be taken at face value. On the other hand, if he does significantly worse against the pitchers on the 40-man, then he may be going to struggle more in the major leagues.

I saw 73 of Schoop's plate appearances at Norfolk last season. Here's how Schoop performed in those plate apparances, separated by whether or not the pitcher he faced was on the 40-man roster:

On 40-Man Roster
Not On 40-Man Roster

For this article, the pitchers "on the 40-man roster" include those who were on the 40-man roster at the time Schoop faced them and those on their team's spring-training 40-man roster. I think you'll agree that those pitchers are representative of the typical pitcher Schoop will face - not the best pitchers he'll face, clearly, but a typical sample. Probably the best pitcher in the group is Chris Archer; the others include fifth-starter candidates like Scott Diamond and middle-relief candidates like Kirby Yates.

Don't focus on the numbers themselves, because it's been well-documented that Schoop didn't hit well at Norfolk. Norfolk is not a good hitter's park, although it's apparently not as extreme a pitcher's park as it was several years ago; and it's especially hard on right-handed batters without great power. What's more important is that there's virtually no difference in how Schoop performed against pitchers on the 40-man roster and against pitchers not on the 40-man roster. And that leads me to believe that Schoop's performance in AAA is legitimate; he wasn't performing exceptionally poorly against the pitchers most likely to be in the major leagues.

I'll be tracking this breakdown during the 2014 season to see if there is any value in doing so. As far as Schoop is concerned, this doesn't change my opinion - Schoop would benefit from more time in AAA.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought initially Schoop might be ready right away, but factoring in the service time thing, plus the addition of Lombardozzi, it makes even more sense to fine tune him for a few mos. down there.