LAKELAND, Fla. -- No Spring Training is complete without a player reporting to camp in the supposed best shape of his life. But as Jonathan Schoop walked into the Tigers' clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium on Sunday morning, the difference was impossible to miss.
There was less of him walking into camp.
“I was working out this offseason to slim down a little bit and to be in better shape,” Schoop said, “so I can perform better and have a better season.”
Schoop was listed at 6-foot-1 and 247 pounds last year. He had no estimate on how much weight he has lost through a combination of diet change and workouts.
“I don’t know where I’m at,” he said, “but I feel much, much better than last year. … I feel it just waking up and living life. I feel my health is better, especially when you wake up and you’re not too heavy.
“You guys will see. I’m going to go out there and it’s going to be better, for sure. You guys are going to talk more about me than you guys talked last year. I’m going to make you guys talk about me a little bit more.”
Schoop did generate a lot of talk, at least for his defense. He led Major League position players at plus-27 Outs Above Average last season, according to Statcast. He converted 79 percent of his plays at second base last year, seven percent more than expected. He was an American League Gold Glove finalist before losing out to Cleveland’s Andrés Giménez. His average sprint speed remained steady from 2021 to '22, at 27.0 feet per second, though that ranked slower among his peers last year compared to the year before.
With infield shifts gone, Schoop’s defensive range is expected to be tested. Schoop says he can handle it.
“I know for sure I can cover that ground,” he said. “But I wanted to be slimmed down a little bit so I can have a better season overall, not get tired sooner, whatever I can do to be better for this year.”
The real falloff for Schoop last year came at the plate, from a 76-point drop in batting average to a 194-point plunge in OPS. His average exit velocity of 87 miles per hour was his lowest since Statcast began tracking in 2015. His strikeout rate rose, his walk rate fell, and his .561 OPS and 57 wRC+ were the lowest of any qualified Major League hitter.
Schoop said he put too much pressure on himself to lift an anemic Tigers offense. Still, the individual struggles were humbling, especially for a 31-year-old with a track record of run production and power.
“I’ve achieved a lot in my career, but that makes you [realize] you’ve got to get better,” he said. “You have to make adjustments, and I feel like it’s time for me to make the adjustment now to be better for the second part of my career.”
Schoop wants to not only change his shape for the next phase of his career. He wants to change his style. He has generally hit more for power than for average, and his career walk rate of 4.1 percent is half the MLB average according to Baseball Reference. As the Tigers preach controlling the strike zone, Schoop wants to adapt. He has opened up his batting stance, he said, to see pitches better.
“I feel like I’m going to be a better hitter,” he said. “My first part, I put up some good numbers, but I feel like I’m going to be better overall, get more pitches, walk more, get on base. I think I might hit more home runs, and then I’m going to hit for average. The second part of my career is going to be huge.”
It’s a difficult transition to make, especially for an older hitter, but manager A.J. Hinch -- who has been receiving video of Schoop’s swing work all offseason -- likes the intent.
“My preferred choice is for him to swing at strikes,” Hinch said. “He’ll find his way on the defensive side. We’ve really got to get him in the strike zone because he’s a dangerous hitter. He left over 30 walks [chasing pitches] on three-ball counts alone. Not easy to get them all back. He’s not going to automatically correct, but things like that are going to enhance his opportunity to play at a couple different positions.”