25 April 2014

On Jonathan Schoop and Plate Discipline

When watching Jonathan Schoop hit, you quickly notice one thing: He is there to swing the bat. He's not in the batter's box to take pitches and hope for a walk. No, he's there to do some damage and he can do a lot of damage if he properly squares up on the ball.

Schoop and his bat (photo: Keith Allison)
So far, in 81 total plate appearances (15 last year and 66 this year), Jonathan Schoop is swinging at 43.1% of pitches outside the strike zone and 56.5% overall. Schoop's approach is not all that different from Adam Jones's. Jones is certainly not looking for a perfect pitch or a walk. In his career, Jones has swung at 40.7% of pitches outside the zone and 54.8% of all pitches. So Schoop both chases more pitches and swings more overall, but Jones is the closest O's regular to him. (He is extremely close to Delmon Young, however. See the lists below.) For what it's worth, Chris Davis has swung at 37.9% of pitches out of the zone and 52.5% overall, while someone like Manny Machado swings often (48.0%) but chases pitches less often than this group (30.5%)

Swinging at pitches outside the zone is something that most hitters try to avoid. Not only does swinging at pitches out of the zone (normally) help keep an opposing pitcher's pitch count down by handing them extra strikes, but pitches out of the zone are generally more difficult to handle and hit with more authority.

Still, while it can be difficult to succeed when swinging as much as Schoop does, it's certainly not impossible. The key for Schoop will be to keep hitting for power with the contact he does make. It's unlikely he'll eventually be a high-swing, high-contact hitter, like A.J. Pierzynski

Here are the top 10 career leaders in both O-Swing and Swing percentages. Players' career wOBA numbers are included in parentheses.
Top 10 O-Swing%
Pablo Sandoval  - - - 45.0 % (.350)
Humberto Quintero - - - 43.0 % (.261)
Delmon Young - - - 41.3 % (.321)
Adam Jones - - - 40.5 % (.338)
Vladimir Guerrero - - - 40.3 % (.390)
Dayan Viciedo - - -  40.2 % (.325)
Chris Johnson - - - 39.9 % (.330)
Mark Trumbo - - - 39.9 % (.329)
Wilin Rosario - - -  39.3 % (.346)
Brennan Boesch   - - - 39.3 % (.319)

Top 10 Swing%
Randall Simon - - - 60.1 % (.319)
Delmon Young - - - 59.7 % (.321)
Johnny Estrada - - - 59.6 % (.308)
Humberto Quintero - - - 59.4 % (.261)
Vladimir Guerrero - - - 59.1 % (.390)
A.J. Pierzynski - - - 58.8 % (.323)
Pablo Sandoval  - - - 57.8 % (.350)
Jeff Francoeur - - - 57.7 % (.312)
Ivan Rodriguez - - - 57.2 % (.344)
Nomar Garciaparra - - - 56.8 % (.376)
(Note: As you'd assume, a limited data size is being used here. FanGraphs' plate discipline numbers go back to 2002. And PITCHf/x data wasn't around for the regular season until 2007. Plenty of players throughout MLB history have frequently swung the bat and still performed well. And many have swung often and not hit that well, too.)

Schoop has a long way to go before appearing on any of these lists, but if he ends up playing regularly and assuming he is moderately successful, it could happen. So, of course, there's still the small sample size qualifier. But Schoop's current O-Swing percentage would place him second, below Pablo Sandoval and just above Humberto Quintero. His overall swing rate, though, wouldn't crack the top 10 (just below Nomar Garciaparra).

Some things to remember: Schoop is only 22, and his approach at the plate could certainly evolve as he plays more. It's also possible that when Machado returns, Schoop will get sent down to Norfolk to play every day and works on all phases of his game. He's far from a finished product, and he could even return to the Orioles later in the season as a somewhat different hitter. Or maybe he keeps a similar approach, keeps getting bigger and stronger, and improves his low on-base percentage/high slugging percentage skillset (basically what Jones does). That doesn't mean he'll transform into Vladimir Guerrero (he won't), but something in the .330-.340 wOBA range in the future is not unreasonable.

Schoop did have a quasi-trend when playing in the minors. The Orioles have always been aggressive in promoting Schoop, throwing him into the deep end of the pool when he showed the slightest competency in the level before. At each step up, his walk rate would crash while his strikeout rate remained relatively flat.  In other words, while he will swing hard at every level, he is less selective and more willing to put bad wood on the bat. That this trend appeared to exist in the minors does not mean it will continue to exist as he transitions into the majors, but it does provide a silver lining because his current performance is not acceptable. He needs to improve. He should, but he might not.

Stats via FanGraphs and as of April 24.


Anonymous said...

So what? How many grand-slam walks have you seen? A walk was created to keep pitchers honest and throw the ball across the plate. In some lower leagues I played in there were no walks, you only got on base by hitting or, in rare cases, HBP.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

If you're not going to get on base often, then hitting for lots of power is the next best thing. So, yeah, if hits the ball out of the ballpark regularly in the near future, then it won't matter. However, that's extremely difficult to do; plus, it's even more difficult when you're swinging at so many pitches out of the strike zone.

The "so what?" would be that it's interesting. No one here is saying Schoop can't or won't succeed. But he may find more success being slightly more selective.

Jon Shepherd said...

Anon - That is an interesting perspective. It is true that you cannot have a grand slam walk. That said how many walks have resulted in outs? About 80% of fly balls result in outs. That probably should be involved in figuring out how valuable a walk is. If you get on first, extend the inning, allow others up to knock you in, then that is pretty meaningful. If walks were without value then pitchers would probably never throw a ball near the center of the plate.

I imagine if you are referring to lower levels without walks, I can only imagine you are talking about tee ball because walks play a major role in all aspects of professional baseball, college baseball, and high school baseball.

Triple R said...

Why are the wOBAs for the hitters' careers as a whole? Wouldn't it make more sense to have them from 2002-2014 (so they'd correspond to the plate discipline stats)?

Liam said...

Is there any way to get plate discipline statistics (other than K% and BB%) from the minors? Schoop's been promoted aggressively and I'm sure he's eager to prove himself so I'm not terribly worried about the plate discipline, especially given his pretty average discipline numbers from the minors.

He's not far off from being a league average hitter, which is actually pretty valuable from a second baseman with solid defensive skills, especially on a team like the Orioles who have struggled there for going on 5 years now.

I'm more worried about his defense than anything, but the O's seem to have a pretty good infield defensive coaching system in place.

Matt Perez said...

Liam - Minor League Central has what you're looking for. http://minorleaguecentral.com/player?pid=570731&split=3000