25 April 2017

Jonathan Schoop's Extension Depends on His Ultimate Position

When Jonathan Schoop was in the minors, it was often reported in the local minors reports that the Orioles had two great shortstop prospects in Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop. The greatness was based primarily on that they stood at shortstop while hammering the ball at the plate. The negative view of Machado was that he would get too thick for shortstop and the power would not translate over to third base.

What we have seen from Machado is that his athleticism and agility have overcome his further physical development. He does not have the greatest range at third base, but he has the motor coordination and strong arm to minimize that detriment (something that becomes slightly more obvious when he takes over at shortstop). In other words, Machado's warning flags never amounted to much.

How has Schoop performed against his warning flags? They are still readily apparent. It became more obvious that Schoop did not have the range or ability to get down on the ball to play shortstop. He was then tested at third base, where his arm fit and he had less ground to cover. The hot corner proved to be a little too hot for him and he had trouble reacting to batted balls and, again, getting down on grounders. Schoop's move to second filled a major void in the Orioles lineup, but was also considered a potential benefit to him by setting him further away from home plate. He has done well there. Defensive positioning has covered up his range issues, he has very soft hands, good footwork around the bag, and an arm that can make up for mistakes. Still, he has trouble getting down on grounders, which does not bode well for him as he moves now into his later 20s.

His defense so far this season has looked very rough (all metrics find him 25th to 28th best 2B fielder this year) and it would not be surprising to begin hearing of an attempt to shift him to another position. Now, I have not heard a peep from the front office about moving Schoop, but it is a topic that tends to get touched on with any evaluators. The minority opinion amongst the evaluators (e.g., scouts, front office analysts) is that Schoop will hit enough for anyone to put up with his defensive shortcomings for the next five or so years. The majority opinion is that Schoop needs to be reacquainted with third base and see if he has aged better in reacting to batted balls. That would not likely happen with the Orioles who seem more and more invested with Machado at third base. The rest think Schoop is a natural first baseman with a strong arm. Most third first evaluators, thinks first base is the ultimate landing spot. My suggestion of left or right field was scoffed at because of Schoop's issues with range. I still lean in that direction, but feel quite a bit of uncertainty when everyone who does this for a living is telling me that, no, Schoop should never play corner outfield. 

As you can imagine this muddles up the extension outlook. Schoop as a second baseman makes him far more valuable to the Orioles instead of him needing to shift to the corner outfield or, ugh, first base. Those other positions are, largely, defensively less difficult, so you tend to find greater offensive production there. That makes Schoop's offensive production less meaningful compared to who else is available for those positions. Now, Schoop's mix of plus power, average hit tool, and lack of walks made him a difficult player to find age similar comps. This led to me being more exploratory than usual and work beyond the position and the recent past. I found the closest comps for him to be: Joe Pepitone, Sammy Sosa, Matt Williams, Cory Snyder, Gary Gaetti, Benito Santiago, Dale Sveum, Pedro Munoz, and Pedro Garcia. The 50th percentile performance based on that grouping is shown below for 2018-2023 for Schoop.


To be honest, I am actually surprised how well the model suggests Schoop will perform. The model sees minor improvements to contact and on-base percentage while seeing a significant upturn for power that will stabilize Schoop's value. That value comes to 115.2 MM on that six-year extension. With two of those years being arbitration years, we can expect that "market" value to be more in line with 105.4 MM.

At third base, the total offensive profile is similar, so we would come up with similar numbers. A corner outfield position would drop the offensive value a bit (performance stays the same, but the population of good hitting outfielders is greater than it is at second base). His value as a league average left fielder or right fielder would be 84.8 MM over those six years or about 78.1 MM with the arbitration effect. First base struck that down to 71.2 MM or, with arbitration, 65.3 MM.

As it stands, I think the options are clear:
1) Do not sign Schoop to an extension and let him play out the string at second base. At end of term, consider value at second base or transition to another position on club. The point being that it may not make much sense to go through the growing pains of a position switch, which may only be beneficial to the eventual team signing him.
2) Extend Schoop as a 2B/3B. Keep him at second base until a better option arrives. Then, shift him to a corner outfield position or have him replace an outgoing Machado.

Option two might be an expensive option if Schoop ultimately cannot competitively play for the Orioles at second or third. It would cost the club about $6 million a year compared to other likely similar options for left or right field. But, yes, it seems the extension game comes down to a 30 MM bet if Schoop can settle in.


Anonymous said...

Cory Snyder.....OUCH!!!

Unknown said...

IIRC, the Orioles were reported to have three great shorstop prospects a few years ago, and in fact Givens was rated a bit higher than Schoop. Unimportant detail.

What I'm really interested in is how you arrive at appropriate comps. I'm also concerned with this list because Sosa and Williams - probably the two most offensively successful guys in that group - have both been strongly associated with PED use. In today's environment of regular testing I think we have to give Schoop credit for not using. If you take away that circumstance and disregard those two names, the numbers may look significantly more pedestrian.

Jon Shepherd said...

No, Givens was never considered a decent shortstop prospect. He was a notable two way player who almost unanimously was considered a pitcher first. Before his senior year, Givens was noted as a potential top ten pick by Keith Law solely as a pitcher. Supposedly, the Orioles let him play shortstop to get him to sign for less money. Longterm, the likely outcome was him going to the pen. I cannot think of anyone ever considering him for a top 100 prospect slot, which were certainties for both Machado and Schoop.

Comps are devised by looking at the previous three years (ages 22, 23, and 24) and computing similarities for core offensive metrics (e.g., home run rates, secondary power rates, walk rates). The values that came up for second basemen were quite distant from Schoop. By not limiting by position, it allowed for far better fits.

Re: Sosa and Williams. Maybe. That said, you might also argue that current training techniques are better represented by the PED era than previous eras. In my work, I have found little reason to exclude PED era players, but pre-50s players tend to be a bit of a mess.