Jonathan Schoop Has Made One Big Change at the Plate
When talking about Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop, he's proven to be good at a couple things: Hitting home runs and not drawing many walks. Has that changed much in 2017? Well, not really, but there is one interesting trend that doesn't at all look familiar to what he's done since making his MLB debut.
The regular season isn't even two months old yet, so there's plenty of time for certain statistics to stabilize, according to FanGraphs. However, one statistic that has likely stabilized at this point for position players is their walk rate, which generally happens around 120 plate appearances.
Schoop has stepped into the batter's box a total of 135 times so far this year, and his walk rate stands at a paltry 3.7%. That's awfully low, but it'd actually be an accomplishment for him if it held true through the end of the year.
He made landfall in the big leagues in 2013, but his first full season came in 2014, and the only time he produced a walk rate above 3.0% was last year. Although there's still plenty of work to be done on this area in his game, there's something very different about his actual approach.
Swinging at Everything, But Not as Much
What was the main reason behind Schoop's lack of walks? Well, it was because he has generally liked to swing at everything since becoming a big leaguer.
Between 2013-16, his 3.0% walk rate was the absolute lowest in baseball among qualified hitters. He accomplished this by swinging at 58.1% of pitches during this time, which ranked second in the league, behind teammate Adam Jones. He swung at the fifth-highest percentage of pitches in the strike zone (77.9%), yet paired that with the fifth-highest percentage of swings outside the strike zone (42.3%).
That's changed quite a bit so far this year, though -- even if it hasn't resulted in an increase in walks. The below table compares his chase rate (O-Swing%) and his swings inside the strike zone (Z-Swing%) with the corresponding contact rates since his first full big league season in 2014.
To further show this shift in approach, Schoop's overall swing rate has dropped from 60.2% last year to 50.7% so far this season.
Sure, he's making contact more frequently with balls outside the strike zone, but such a drastic drop in his chase rate can be a reason why.
With the most patient approach he's ever displayed at the plate and no huge increase in walks drawn to show for it, there has to be some noticeable difference in his batted-ball profile, right?
When looking at the types of batted balls he's generating, all good things are happening -- more line drives and fly balls than ever, along with fewer ground balls. However, the biggest jump seen in the below table involves Schoop's hard-hit rate, which would be a single-season career high if sustained through the next few months.
Using the same span of time as above, here's how things have progressed so far this season.
The next change he'll have to address? Making more solid contact on line drives.
His 40.9% hard-hit rate on liners isn't far off what he's done throughout his career, but his 22.7% soft-hit rate on those batted balls is more than twice what he's ever done during a single season entering 2017. This gives us a good explanation as to why his 330 wRC+ on liners is lower than it's ever been since landing in Baltimore.
The positive side of things is that after compiling just a 29.8% hard-hit rate on fly balls last year, he's currently back up to 40.0%. His soft-hit rate in this situation is 30.0% -- which would also be a single-season career high -- so that also needs to come down a bit.
This all helps explain why his .309 BABIP isn't much higher than it was last season (.305), but if his hard-hit numbers hold steady and he decreases those soft-hit numbers, it wouldn't be shocking to see it creep more towards the .329 mark he posted during the 2015 campaign.
Schoop still has some work to do at the plate, but his apparent shift in approach was the first thing he needed to take care of. That has been the case so far, and it'll be interesting to see if there continues to be some sort of trickle-down effect -- as long as he keeps this up.