Zach Wilt: Breaking down Jonathan Schoop’s struggles at the plate

Jonathan Schoop took a huge step forward at the plate for the Orioles last season. The second baseman earned his first trip to the All-Star Game and slashed .293/.338/.503 while totaling a team-high 3.8 fWAR (5.2 on Baseball-Reference.com). Schoop was 25, turning 26 in October, and chatter began about him becoming a cornerstone upon which the Orioles could build their next winning franchise around.

He played 160 games in 2017 after iron-manning through 162 the previous season. Schoop saw improvements in his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage over the course of those two seasons, and proved that he could be one of the game’s best second baseman deserving of a long-term deal on or before 2020, when he becomes a free agent.

Like many things for the Orioles, 2018 hasn’t gone Schoop’s way. He was sidelined from mid-April through the first week of May with an oblique injury, landing on the disabled list for the first time since 2015. Schoop entered play yesterday in Chicago slashing just .236/.269/.382. He’s hit just four homers after going deep 32 times in 2017 and 25 times in 2016. Granted, missing more than three weeks of the season hasn’t helped his numbers, but Schoop hasn’t performed at the same level this season that he did in the previous two years.

Schoop benefited from a .330 batting average on balls in play last season, up from his .305 total in 2016. I would argue that he earned that .025 improvement though as his hard hit percentage rose from 26.6 percent to 36.1 percent. You can get on base more by hitting the ball harder; I think we can all get behind that logic. Entering Thursday, Schoop’s hard hit percentage in 2018 reached a career-low 23.4 percent. Coincidentally, he’s posted a .281 BABIP this season.

Since Schoop is not hitting the ball as hard, he hasn’t been able to rack up homers like he did in 2017 and 2016. Batted ball data shows that Schoop is spraying the ball around the field at around his career-average totals. He’s also hitting fly balls at roughly the same average that he did in the previous two seasons. The difference is, those fly balls aren’t traveling as far. Schoop had a 17.7 percent home run/fly ball rate last season, which is down to 11.4 percent in 2018.

A large part of Schoop’s success last season was due to his career-high .338 on-base percentage. Also not surprisingly, his career-high 5.2 walk percentage was a large part of that high OBP. It made Schoop quite the threat at the plate. He could homer off opposing pitchers or get on base and score. He totaled 92 runs scored in 2017, also a career high. All of those stats start with plate discipline. Last season, Schoop swung at 35.9 percent of the pitches he saw outside of the strike zone, a career low. This season, he’s swinging at more pitches out of the zone and has brought his walk percentage down to 3.1.

It’s easy to look at this data and chalk it all up to an injury. Obliques have a notoriously difficult recovery time. Ask Chris Davis. I am encouraged by the fact that Schoop hasn’t made any drastic changes in his approach. Still, as the Orioles face many uncertainties in the coming days, months and years, Schoop’s future has to be a bit of a concern. If they plan to build around him, I am sure they prefer to see the totals from 2017 and some improvements on what 2018 has been so far.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_wilt. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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