Cooper ready to be 'a little more aggressive' after fading in 2022

March 22nd, 2023

JUPITER, Fla. -- Throughout his career, always had the mindset of being the guy. Now, he’s getting the chance.

From 2020-22, Cooper split time at first base with Jesús Aguilar, whom the Marlins released last August. In speaking with manager Skip Schumaker and the front office, Cooper had an inkling he would be the starter when the organization didn’t make any moves over the offseason.

“Just to have [general manager] Kim [Ng] in the front office and Skip's confidence is all you ask for,” said Cooper, who has never appeared at the position more than 73 times in a season. “When you play up here, you're trying your whole career to be a starter -- if you're a young guy or whatever it is. The confidence just makes me more confident coming into Spring Training and for the season, but you can lose it quickly when you struggle.

“I'm not afraid to admit mentally you can go into deep, deep, dark holes when you struggle, and I think for about five, six weeks there last year, you fall into the pattern of, ‘Oh man, I’ve got to do better than I was in the first half, and I’ve got to be better than all these guys that were All-Stars’ and fall into a pattern of [losing] the ability of thinking you're a good hitter."

Last season, a 31-year-old Cooper was named an All-Star for the first time after a first half in which he hit .283/.349/.435 with 21 doubles, one triple, seven homers and 40 RBIs. But post-Midsummer Classic was a different story for Cooper, who spent time on the injured list three times with a right wrist contusion, a concussion and a left pinkie fracture. He slashed .210/.310/.371 with 12 doubles, one triple, two homers and 10 RBIs. Prior to a season-ending hit-by-pitch, Cooper had righted the ship with an .871 OPS in September that he carried over into the winter.

Plus, a deeper dive into his splits don’t show a great disparity:

First half vs. Second half
Hard-hit rate: 43.9% // 43.0%
Barrel rate: 9.9% // 12.5%
Whiff rate: 23.7% // 28.1%
K rate: 25.4% // 25.4%
BB rate: 8.0% // 9.9%

So what changed? While Cooper’s actual performance pretty much matched his expected performance in the first half, he underperformed by a lot in the second half:

First half vs. Second half
Expected wOBA: .344 // .336
wOBA: .341 // .304

In 14 Grapefruit League games, Cooper is batting .325 with one homer and a .741 OPS in 41 plate appearances. He singled in his first at-bat of Wednesday’s 0-0 tie with the Cardinals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.

"He's making good adjustments with our hitting guys,” Schumaker said last week. “Getting Cooper to go pole to pole is going to be the main thing for us. Seeing him every day and keeping him healthy, if he does that, he's going to have a really nice year, a productive year. He's a good hitter, a smart baseball player. Those at-bats are what I've seen all along. Hopefully we can get that for 162."

Though Cooper has some of the best power on the club, he considers himself more of a line-drive hitter. He went deep just nine times in 2022, what some considered a knock on his otherwise solid season. 

Cooper knows there’s a fine line between being a good hitter and understanding that the ballpark he plays half his games in isn’t conducive to slugging. He doesn’t want to sacrifice average -- in his words batting .210 or .220 -- to hit 40 homers and strike out 200 times.

With the additions of 2022 American League batting champion Luis Arraez and Jean Segura, the Marlins anticipate a different dynamic with their contact-oriented approaches in the lineup. Cooper, Jorge Soler, Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Avisaíl García will be looked upon as run producers in the heart of the order. 

“Hopefully there's a lot more power,” Cooper said of his 2023. “I spent a lot of time this offseason changing an approach -- maybe be a little more aggressive early on in the counts and just not waiting for pitches. Each year, you go into a season, [and] you have to adjust because they adjust with you every single day and every single pitch. Just to come in this year with a little bit different approach, a little bit different attitude when I'm in the box."