09 January 2015

Did Jonathan Schoop Make a Subtle Adjustment in the Postseason?

The rookie season for Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop was somewhat of a mixed bag.  With what is likely the strongest arm at second base in all of baseball, he excelled defensively, finishing with 10 Defensive Runs Saved (4th best among qualified second basemen) and leading the position in double play runs.  With J.J. Hardy signing an extension, virtually eliminating Manny Machado’s return to shortstop, Schoop’s defensive play at second base is a welcome sign for the team, as third base (Schoop’s other potential position) appears to be occupied for the foreseeable future.  While his defense was a welcome surprise, his offensive output left a lot to be desired.

Earlier in the season, I had some fun with the Play Index to see how many other teams allowed similarly anemic bats to keep making trips to the plate (the list wasn’t long).  That article was posted on September 19, and statistically speaking, things didn’t turn around for Schoop at the plate over the final two weeks of the season.  Here’s a look at how Schoop compared to the major league average production at second base in 2014.

Other than his ISO, there is not a lot to like in that table.  Schoop’s wRC+ of 65 was the 2014’s worst for second basemen with at least 450 PA’s.  The abysmal batting line of Schoop’s 2014 season is mainly a function of three things: below average contact rates, well below average plate discipline, and a desire to pull the ball.

A typical Jonathan Schoop strikeout in 2014
The site of Schoop swinging and missing at breaking balls well outside of the strikezone was quite common for Orioles fans in 2014.  It’s no surprise that his landing page at Brooks Baseball contains the phrases, “aggressive approach” and an “above average likelihood to swing and miss” against all pitch types and “a very poor eye” against breaking pitches.  Brooks Baseball determines this by using Pitch F/X data and statistics called “Strikezone Discrimination (d’)” and “Plate Approach (c)”.  While it was frustrating watching Schoop during the regular season, he appeared to show improvement during the playoffs.  It’s an incredibly small sample size, but he had a 12.5% walk rate during the playoffs (3 walks in 24 PA’s), compared to a 2.7% walk rate during the regular season (13 walks in 481 PA’s).

When I was first looking into the idea of this post, I had thought I remembered an unusual amount of restraint from Schoop on breaking balls from right-handed pitchers out of the zone.  Perhaps the 3 walks and one of his “good takes” on breaking pitches stuck in my mind.  Looking at the 2014 Strikezone Discrimination chart at Brooks Baseball initially seemed to verify that belief.

2014 Strikezone Discrimination of Jonathan Schoop by month
However, after digging a little bit more, I realized that the sample size for my hypothesis was not only ridiculously small (right handers threw 19 breaking balls to him in the playoffs), but he also offered at more breaking balls that were out of the zone than he took, making it probable that the increased walk rate was just small sample variation.

Breaking balls swung at by Schoop in 2014 postseason
So even though there doesn’t seem to be even a small improvement in his recognition skills with respect to breaking balls from right-handed pitchers (again, VERY small sample size), there was another aspect of Schoop’s approach at the plate in the playoffs that may suggest an improvement, or at the very least an adjustment on his part.

As a power hitting second baseman with good bat speed, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Jonathan Schoop does a lot of damage against pitches thrown on the inner half of the plate.  Pitchers know this too, and it’s why they have generally pitched to the outside portion of the plate against him so far in his young career.

However, despite being pitched to the outside corner, Schoop typically will pull the ball, rather than going with the pitch and hitting it to the opposite field.  As you’re probably aware, trying to pull an outside pitch is usually a good way to make outs.  Below is a figure showing his hit distribution throughout the 2014 season.

2014 regular season spray chart
Despite pitchers attacking him on the outside of the plate, 51.2% of the balls Jonathan Schoop put into play were pulled to the left side of the field.  This isn’t necessarily uncommon, especially for a young player.  However, as young players continue to get experience, they start making adjustments based on how they’re pitched to.  And in the playoffs, it appears as if Schoop may have made an adjustment.

2014 postseason spray chart
Pitchers didn’t change their strategy against Schoop in the postseason, but based on the figure to the left, it’s possible that Schoop changed his.  Instead of trying to pull the ball, it appears as if he was more willing to take the pitch up the middle and to the opposite field.  Theoretically, if this is something he can continue to do, pitchers should adjust and work more inside, giving Schoop more opportunities to show off his power.

Of course, it’s tough (i.e., impossible) to definitively draw a conclusion from 7 playoff games and claim that Schoop made a deliberate adjustment in his approach at the plate.  But whether taking the ball to the opposite field was a conscious decision or not, it’s still a good sign.  Schoop was rushed through the minor league system (and to the majors as well), and hasn’t really experienced success with the bat since 2011, when he split time between Delmarva and Frederick.  I’ve previously stated that I’m a big fan of Schoop, but I think a little more time in AAA could be beneficial for him (although unlikely to happen).  Despite his struggles with the bat during the 2014 season, Schoop is still very young, and Steamer projects his wRC+ to improve by 12 points in 2015.   And if the adjustment he made during the postseason was genuine, the chances he takes that step forward becomes that much more realistic.


Anonymous said...

Do you see alot of Adam Jones from a few years ago in schoop especially not laying off outside breaking balls?

Unknown said...

Yeah, i think those two are pretty similar in that respect. Jones is a much better hitter than Schoop right now though, which allows him to still be productive, despite the low walk rate.

Anonymous said...

Biggio hit .211 when he was 22. Schoop hit 16 homeruns ... I'm hoping he can hit 20 in 15.

Anonymous said...

We have to be careful about focusing on homeruns. J P Arencibia has hit 20 homers multiple times and that is about what JS looked like last year. Not looking for that kind of isolated power.

In fairness, JS belonged in Triple A most of the year. I wouldn't mind if he started the year in Triple A but not sure we have the options available for that other then bad ones as the team is currently configured. Didn't feel JS "earned his way" to the MLB roster and some of that falls on DD for not having another option available. You cant rush every guy to the majors.

They got lucky with MM and they rushed DB in my opinion (not blaming his injury on this). Just think they moved him to fast.

Again, the window is starting to close on this team as configured (Chen, Wieters, Davis probably year away from gone) yet the O's seem content to be good but not better. Not impressed by the "patch job" that DD seems content to use or ordered to use from above.

Dave from LA said...

Schoop definitely changed his approach in the playoffs. It was a change that that really confused me because it is an obvious strategy that everyone has to do if you want to succeed.

I couldn't understand why for nearly 600 ABs during the regular season we had to watch him do the same stupid strategy over and over again.

I get that he didn't really spend much time in the minors. In fact that's exactly where he belonged - at AA to figure out how to hit. I fear he may never do that in the big leagues. He may lose confidence in himself.

Unknown said...

I think Schoop really could have benefited from more time at AAA. I was very surprised he broke spring training with the team. Interested to see what kind of steps forward he can make this season. Still hopeful that he can develop into a very decent 2B.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised no one has mentioned that the O's changed hitting coaches after this year. I know, I know it was for personal reasons not performance. Still I'm left wondering if Schoop's poor approach had anything to do with it? To me a hitting coach shows his real value with players like Schoop not guys like Cruz. I know Presley was given a lot of credit for Davis' production but then Davis crashes back to earth last year. Not to mention the O's aren't known for hitting for average nor taking a lot of walks. I know they live and die by the long ball but don't we need players on base for those long balls?

Tim said...

Do we really think that hitting approaches differ all that much these days? Hitters are told to go the other way all of the time. If his approach did change then it was a matter of him figuring out he could not snap through like he could with minor league pitching.