After a poor offensive 2014 season in which Jonathan Schoop had a wRC+ of 64, he now boasts a wRC+ of 111 (as of games occurring after Wed Sept 23rd) in 2015. This year, Schoop has shown good power with a HR/FB of 19.2% (32nd out of 291 batters with 250 or more PAs and second highest for all middle infielders) and has improved his BABIP from .249 to .333. His weakness is that he has a BB% of 3.1%, a K% of 25.8% and would be better offensively with better plate discipline. Schoop’s teammate, Manny Machado, has improved significantly in this regard in 2015 and therefore it makes sense to compare their performances to see where Machado improved and the areas where Schoop is weak.
The way I want to do this is by downloading data (this data is from ESPN Stats and Information) and using it to determine the likelihood of a called ball, strike, miss, foul ball or ball put into play for Machado, Schoop and the 10th, 25th, 75th and 90th quantiles in 2015 for all batters with at least fifty starts. I define these stats by taking the parameter (called balls for example) and dividing by total pitches which is different than how some sites aggregate this data.
This first chart shows how they have performed overall. Machado has improved at racking up called balls as his numbers have increased from the 25th quantile to between the 75th and 90th quantile. Machado’s called strike percentage also increased, but his swinging strike rate decreased and has resulted in Machado being less likely to have a pitch result in a strike in 2015 than in 2014. Machado is a bit less likely to put the ball into play in 2015 than in 2014 but by a minimal amount and dropped from the 75th quantile to slightly above the median. This explains why his walk rate has significantly increased without other adverse consequences.
In contrast, Schoop was below the 10th quantile in called balls in both 2014 and 2015. He had a low called strike rate in 2014 and has the lowest called strike rate in the majors in 2015 (the player with the second lowest is Adam Jones with Paredes at #7). Unfortunately, he also has the second highest swinging strike rate in the majors in 2015 (the player with the highest is Jimmy Paredes). It suggests that Schoop is swinging at too many pitches without a significant increase in his likelihood at putting the ball into play.
This next chart shows their performance with three balls. Machado has been consistent in these situations in both 2014 and 2015. This is surprising because in most other situations his plate discipline has improved in 2015 from 2014. Provided that he can continue to improve and become less aggressive in these situations, it would make sense that his walk rate should increase in the future to above 11%.
Schoop has a higher swinging strike rate than called ball rate in both 2014 and 2015 in these situations indicating that he is swinging at too many pitches he can’t hit which suggests he has a poor plan of attack. Infuriatingly, being swing happy hasn’t helped him actually put balls into play. All of those extra swings are merely turning into swinging strikes in these situations.
This next chart shows their performance with two strikes. In these situations, Machado has done a solid job at being sure that he can hit the pitches that he swings at and simply laying off the ones that are hard to hit making it hard to strike him out. This has resulted in Machado having a 40% chance of having a ball while getting a third strike less than 14% of the time.
In contrast, Schoop is missing more than 20% of the time. Such a high swinging strike rate results in a lot of strikeouts. Interestingly, Machado is more likely to put the ball into play than Schoop in these situations despite the fact that Schoop swings more often. It’s pretty clear that swinging at bad pitches isn’t helping Schoop in the slightest.
This basic pattern remains the same for other indicators. In situations when batters should swing, like when a pitch is in the strike zone or against a fastball, Machado doesn’t swing as often as Schoop does and this does result in a higher probability of a called strike. But because he chooses his spots better, he also has a lower probability of a swinging strike and puts the ball into play a similar percentage of the time as Schoop.
This causes Machado to receive a higher called ball percentage and a similar percentage of actual strikes.
In situations when batters shouldn’t swing, like when the pitch is out of the strike zone, Machado has a considerably higher called ball percentage and a lower actual strike/foul percentage. Schoop is more likely to put the ball into play in these situations which isn’t a good thing being as batters usually do better when putting pitches in the strike zone into play rather than putting pitches out of the strike zone into play.
Schoop is struggling to reach his full potential because he swings too often at pitches that he is unable to put into play. The reason why he is doing this is that he’s actually had a lot of success this year if he can just put the ball into play regardless of whether the pitch is in the strike zone or not. In 2015, Schoop has a .468 wOBA when putting pitches in the strike zone into play, which is about the 90th quantile. For a middle infielder, those are excellent results. He also has a .401 wOBA when putting pitches out of the strike zone into play and that’s well above the 90th quantile. In addition, his wOBA of .401 is above the average result for pitches in the strike zone. Schoop is swinging at a lot of pitches because he’s been successful when putting the ball into play.
It doesn’t matter much whether he’s facing “hard” pitches (fastballs, cutters, splitters) or “soft” pitches (curveballs, sliders, changeups). Schoop has a .441 wOBA against hard pitches which is between the 75th and 90th quartile and a .459 wOBA against soft pitches which is well above the 90th quantile. The bottom line is that Schoop is able to hit the ball when he puts the ball into play and therefore is overly enthusiastic.
The problem with this is that Schoop had a wOBA of .380 against pitches in the strike zone in 2014 or slightly below the mean result and a wOBA of .212 against pitches out of the strike zone or between the 10th and 25th quantile. If Schoop is able to continue crushing pitches put into play in 2016 like he did in 2015, then he can be aggressive and still be successful. If, however, his 2016 numbers regress to something between his 2014 and 2015 results, then he’ll only be able to be successful when putting pitches in the strike zone into play but not when putting pitches out of the strike zone into play. It would be possible for Schoop to be above average against pitches out of the strike zone while still having terrible numbers compared to average offensive performance against pitches in the strike zone.
In contrast, Machado was pretty consistent in 2014 and 2015 when putting balls into play. In both 2014 and 2015, his wOBA when putting pitches in the strike zone into play was around the 75th quantile and about average when putting pitches out of the strike zone into play. His wOBA when putting pitches out of the strike zone into play was below the 10th quantile of putting pitches in the strike zone into play. One reason why he may have become less aggressive at the plate is because he saw that he wasn’t having much success even when putting bad pitches into play.
Going forward, Machado improved significantly offensively in 2015 because he was able to improve his plate discipline. In contrast, Schoop improved significantly because he was able to crush opposing pitching when he was able to make contact. Schoop can make an even better improvement in 2016 by simply being more patient and waiting for his pitches rather than swinging at everything he can possibly hit.