Every successful big-league hitter goes down their own path toward becoming productive at the plate, but the method in which that happens is normally rooted in plate discipline.
It takes certain players longer than others to make improvements in that area, but when the light switch goes off, everything falls into place — they start hitting the ball hard with more frequency and see a rise in multiple offensive categories. Or, if they were already an established hitter, something unexpected could result from it, like an increase in power.
However, a lack of plate discipline can also prevent some from potentially taking their game to the next level, and that’s what’s happening to Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop.
Compiling a career-high 647 plate appearances in 2016 enabled him to set a few personal highs in various offensive categories, like in home runs (25), doubles (38) and RBI (82). But despite ranking amongst the top-7 among qualified hitters at his position in each of those categories, his wRC+ (97) and fWAR (2.0) don’t even rank among the top 15.
The key to watching his offense kick it up a notch is by improving that plate discipline.
The Man Likes to Swing…A Lot
Don’t just take my word for it — check out how often Schoop has offered at pitches since debuting with Baltimore in 2013.
Obviously, he didn’t collect enough plate appearances during his first taste in the big leagues to draw any real conclusions, but it’s important to see that his plate discipline wasn’t much different despite the small sample size.
The concerning trend here is that he’s swinging more than ever in his young career, and a subsequent rise in contact rate isn’t following. His 60.2% swing rate from last year was second to only Adam Jones (60.8%), while his 73.1% contact rate ranked 127th out of 146 qualified hitters.
In fact, since Schoop debuted in 2013, Jones has been the only hitter to swing more often than him.
Swinging the bat is the best way to get big results at the plate, but it’s also kept the second baseman from truly breaking out — his career .283 on-base percentage and wRC+ of 90 tell us that.
And while he sports a healthy .177 ISO for his career (.203 in ’15 and .187 in ’16), this aggressiveness is having a negative impact on his results with regard to the balls he’s actually putting in play.
Impact on His Batted Ball Profile
It’s easy to look at Schoop’s uptick in homers and doubles compared to previous years and just assume he hit more balls in the air while also making hard contact more often.
A quick look at his year-by-year breakdown shows that’s definitely not the case.
(Since 2013’s numbers make even less sense here, they were left out.)
His line-drive rate reached a career high, but he’s hitting fewer fly balls than ever before, his homer-to-fly-ball ratio actually went down compared to his 2015 performance and his hard-hit rate was nearly a new career low.
Just as equally concerning is Schoop’s soft-hit rate, which reached a career-high 25.4% last season, while he remained among the league leaders in infield-fly rate (IFFB%).
Swinging at so many pitches outside of the strike zone isn’t a great recipe for putting yourself in the best possible position to succeed consistently. It also could be the reason why he couldn’t find as much success last year on the pitch he should theoretically be doing the most damage with.
It’d Help His Performance Against Fastballs
To put it plainly, Schoop’s results against four-seam fastballs since the start of 2014 has been a roller coaster ride. Check out his ISO, BABIP and homers against that pitch in particular, courtesy of Brooks Baseball.
These numbers were supposed to keep improving in 2016, and while it’s easy to assume they did since those traditional counting stats took a big jump, it was the complete opposite.
It’s interesting because of the five pitches he saw the most (four-seamer, sinker, changeup, slider, curveball), the only two he posted an ISO above .250 against were sliders and curveballs. This could be him taking a step in the right direction against those offerings, but based on his career numbers, that’s hard to hang your hat on — especially for someone entering their age-25 campaign.
Things Can Still Change
Schoop has shown some concerning trends over his first three full big-league seasons, and we haven’t gotten any signs of things slowing down just yet. That doesn’t mean we should just assume this is the kind of hitter he’s going to be, though.
It’s been a while since this happened, but he did at least (somewhat) display the ability to draw walks in the minors. He posted a 9.0% walk rate in 555 Double-A plate appearances in 2012, followed by a 4.5% walk rate in 289 Triple-A plate appearances in 2013.
Those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, but they’re much better than what he’s done in the majors, and there’s still time to improve.
As just mentioned, the second baseman is only 25 — there aren’t many MLB hitters who have collected 1,464 plate appearances before turning hitting that age. He’s still developing and learning while approaching his physical prime. What’s important is that despite his lack of plate discipline thus far, he’s still managed to achieve some level of success.
The 2017 campaign is an important one for him, though. There needs to be some kind of positive regression in his plate discipline because declining fly-ball and hard-hit numbers probably won’t keep producing 20-homer seasons much longer.
About Matt Musico
Matt Musico currently manages Chin Music Baseball, contributes to The Sports Daily and is also an editor for numberFire. In the past, he has also worked for FanDuel and Bleacher Report. He’s a lover of all baseball, especially the Mets.