Jonathan Schoop’s incredible improvements

While a prospect, Jonathan Schoop wasn’t quite the blue chip that you might expect given his 32 bomb, .293 average campaign. He was a decent fielder at a position without much depth, with a bat that had questions about his major league potential. Schoop kept his averages in the middle .200s throughout the minors, with below average power numbers. Now, he was always playing a year below his minor league level, which left the more optimistic scouts and prospect fans to believe in more bat projection as he aged and reached levels where he could match up favorably. Still, the bat wasn’t a sure thing, and his rookie campaign of a 64 wRC+ didn’t help matters either.

His sophomore year was the first time Schoop repeated a level in his professional career, and it looked to set a baseline for what to expect, given what the scouting reports had said. Schoop developed well in his second year, finally catching up to the age and talent of the guys on the mound, as well as his peers, and hit for a 113 wRC+. He got there with decent contact, .279 batting average, and plus power, .203 isolated slugging and 15 bombs. This was the first time he was really showing good power numbers and ability, although power does develop later in some players and Schoop had an accelerated path to the majors on a defensively intense position (at least more so than traditional power spots).

Despite an increase in homers to 25 in 2016, Schoop’s power fell down to .187 and batting average to .267, leaving him with a 99 wRC+. This led us to believe the true Jonathan Schoop is between these two years, and honestly this is also what was projected by a majority of scouts. It looked like accurate forecasts were made with the powerful second baseman. Well, until 2017 happened.

It’s hardly news at this point, but Schoop’s 2017 season was one of the best in the league. Hitting 32 bombs with a .211 ISO, and a batting average of .293 as well – all good enough for a 121 wRC+. Plus power, plus contact, good defense in a spot where that kind of offense is hard to find. But it’s not like Schoop just pulled this breakout season out of a magic box. He made real adjustments to his game that not only put him in a position to succeed, but it made his breakout more likely to last heading forward.

Improving the contact is huge, yet it may not be clear how it happened looking at his strikeout percentage of 21.0% – the same in 2017 as it was in 2016. But Schoop cut down drastically on his whiff rates, from 17.5% to 16.2% to 13.8% from 2015-17. This was coupled with a more disciplined swing rate, cutting on his chase rate from 43.8% to 35.9%. This allowed him to get a career high 5.8% walk rate. Definitely not a number to brag about in the company of disciplined hitters, but a huge jump for a guy coming off a 2.8% career walk rate before 2017.

It wasn’t just choosing when to swing better, but also swinging smarter through the contact zone. He upped his fly ball rate from 34.9% to 37.2%, which helped facilitate the increase in homers, as well as the better slugging rates. His HR/FB rate is 17.7%, which is somewhat high, but in 2015 he was at 17.4%, showing he can live in this zone, and remember this was his second best year of his career so far. Long term, this bodes well for his power potential, as the better flight angle is going to help propel him to success.

Schoop also managed to hit the ball hard consistently, although I admit this doesn’t sound very profound – it’s an important point in his breakout to consider. His hard contact rate went from 26.6% to 36.1%, one of the biggest jumps in the league, and helps explain why his contact was able to go up, even though his strikeout rate was static. I can hear the non-believers now “but this means regression is coming, look at his BABIP!!!!” This is not too concerning; his BABIP was .330 in 2017, but this is a number a lot of players can live around. Especially when they hit the ball hard like Schoop has been doing, they can hit right through the defense (even easier for Schoop as a right handed hitter, defenses can’t shift as extreme as they do against lefties).

Overally, the surprise of Jonathan Schoop is a pleasant one, when a hitter breaks out in a manner where he sets himself up to repeat the results. Don’t be afraid of taking Schoop on draft day, or even reaching a little, He’s still a young player (just turned 26 this offseason) who shows exactly what you want in a ballplayer, and there’s not really any reason to believe in hard regression. He’s a safe choice in a position where you need some offensive firepower.

 

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James Krueger

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James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.