31 October 2017

Does Jonathan Schoop Have Another Gear?

We can all agree that the Orioles need bounce-back (and healthy) seasons from several players: Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, Manny Machado, Kevin Gausman, Zach Britton, etc. But even if it's asking for a lot, they could also use even better play from some of their most improved players.

By both FanGraphs' version of WAR (4.1) and Baseball-Reference's version (5.1), Jonathan Schoop was easily the O's best player in 2017. That might be a surprise to anyone who wasn't paying close attention, simply due to the presence of Machado on the O's roster.

While Machado tied for the the worst full-season wRC+ in his career (102), Schoop flourished, posting a career-best wRC+ of 121. Schoop put up career highs across the board: batting average (.293), on-base percentage (.338), slugging percentage (.503), home runs (32), and isolated power (.211). Plus, although Schoop hasn't seen a linear improvement in offensive production through his first four seasons, it's hard not to appreciate his development in the walk/strikeout department:

2014: 2.7 BB%, 25.4 K%
2015: 2.8 BB%, 24.6 K%
2016: 3.2 BB%, 21.2 K%
2017: 5.2 BB%, 21.0 K%

Also encouraging: Schoop posted a career low chase percentage of 36.5% (while also swinging less overall, at 52.5%). Opposing pitchers didn't challenge him as much either, throwing him just 42.7% of pitches in the zone (also a career low).

After taking a step back in 2016 with a 99 wRC+, Schoop was clearly much better this past season. But it wasn't because he hit the ball much harder:

2015: 89.7 avg EV (t-102)
2016: 87.3 avg EV (t-284)
2017: 87.8 avg EV (t-176)
Minimum 30 batted ball events (data via Baseball Savant)

He didn't even hit the ball much farther, on average:

2015: 186 avg distance (t-123)
2016: 165 avg distance (t-313)
2017: 170 avg distance (t-266)

Schoop didn't hit the ball as hard or as far as he did in 2015, but he did get back to hitting more fly balls overall (FB% over 37 in both 2015/2017; 34.9% in 2016) and, as a result, hit fewer balls on the ground (43% in 2015, up to 45.3% in 2016, then down to 41.9% in 2017). It also fits that pattern that his launch angle ticked back up in 2017:

2015: 12.75
2016: 11.98
2017: 12.97
Average launch angle (data via Baseball Savant)

As Jon discussed yesterday and plenty of other times before, Schoop clearly has useful defensive skills, like excellent tagging skills, a powerful arm, and nifty footwork around the bag. But his range and flexibility are concerns, maybe less so for right now than a couple years down the road (and that could affect any possible contract extension talk). I don't think Schoop needs to move off of second base now, but the main point is that he's extremely unlikely to see a jump in value due to his glove. Still, him being an average-ish second baseman is tolerable, if not ideal.

Schoop's leap in 2017 was with his bat, and it's unclear whether this is his ceiling. If it is, he's become a valuable player and one of the best second basemen in the majors. It would be unfair to expect a Jose Altuve-like season, or even one that Jose Ramirez just posted. But can he make more incremental improvements?

Schoop's batted ball data suggest that this might be the limit of his power potential. When he's at his best, he can hit the ball just about as hard as any other player. But he doesn't do so consistently. Still, what about inching up to a .350 or even .360 on-base percentage? It might be improbable, but considering that Schoop even walking 5% of the time seemed impossible just a couple seasons ago, you can't say it's unachievable. If a free-swinger like Schoop can slowly, steadily improve his habits, it should give others hope as well.


btwrestler119 said...

The change in swing% was so large it must have been a conscious focus of Schoop. Almost 8% reduction. It didn't show itself in O-swing more than zone-swing so it doesn't appear to be strike zone recognition related.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Right. His o-swing dropped 7.5% and z-swing 5.7%. Still, maybe at some point he realized that pitchers weren't throwing him as many strikes.

Unknown said...

Trumbo will have a better year, with KC.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

This post is about Schoop.