There's something that Baltimore second baseman Jonathan Schoop does more often than any other player in baseball, at least of the 260 hitters who stepped to the plate 300 times last year, and it's incredibly important: He swings at pitches in the strike zone.As we recently used Statcast™ to investigate,
There's something that Baltimore second baseman Jonathan Schoop does more often than any other player in baseball, at least of the 260 hitters who stepped to the plate 300 times last year, and it's incredibly important: He swings at pitches in the strike zone.
As we recently used Statcast™ to investigate, that's a big deal, because contact made on batted balls within the strike zone had a 91 mph exit velocity (and .300/.502 batting average/slugging percentage), while contact made outside the zone had just an 83.2 mph exit velocity (.188/.263 batting/slugging). It's why pitchers throw fewer and fewer strikes each year, from 50.4 percent in 2010 to just 47.8 percent last year -- the more often they get weak contact on bad pitches, the better.
For Schoop, who hit his fourth homer of the spring on Thursday, a blast to left-center off of Bud Norris in Baltimore's 6-1 victory over the Phillies, no one else swings at those in-zone pitches as often as he does:
Percentage of swings at balls in strike zone, 2015 (minimum 300 plate appearances, 260 qualified)
- Schoop, 81.3 percent
- Adam Jones, 79.6 percent
3. Marlon Byrd, 79.4 percent
- Avisail Garcia, 78.4 percent
- Carlos Gomez, 77.2 percent
MLB avg: 64.4 percent
Now, you'd expect that like nearly every other player in the game, Schoop would do better when he makes contact within the zone -- and you'd be right. On contact made against strikes, his exit velocity was 92.6 mph, with a batting/slugging of .302/.574. On pitches outside the zone, it was just 87.6 mph and .252/.378, all enormous drops.
Gif: Jonathan Schoop home run
All of this is important because a roster that also contains slugging stars like Jones, Chris Davis and Manny Machado makes it easy for Schoop to be overlooked, but there's an argument to be made that if healthy, he'll be baseball's best power-hitting second baseman in 2016. After all, his 484.5 foot homer off of Johnny Cueto on Aug. 26 was the third-longest home run measured by Statcast™ all season long, and one of the two ahead required help from Coors Field.
"Baseball's best power-hitting second baseman" sounds like a lofty title, and indeed it is. Then again, Schoop did crack 15 homers in just 303 plate appearances as a second baseman last year (having missed time due to an April knee injury) and led all second basemen with a .482 slugging percentage. Each of the four others (Brian Dozier, Robinson Cano, Rougned Odor and Neil Walker) to have more homers as a second baseman had at least 120 more plate appearances.
So why isn't Schoop a superstar? Well the obvious flipside to all this that he swings at everything outside the strike zone, too. Schoop drew just nine walks in 321 plate appearances last year, and he offered at 44.6 percent of non-strikes, well above the Major League average of 30.9 percent. That's a problem, one that's very difficult to fundamentally change at the big league level, and it's probably why Schoop's ceiling may remain somewhat limited, long-term.
But Schoop is very aware of that issue, telling FanGraphs late last season that he was "trying to see the ball longer… [and] trying to swing at strikes." For what little matters from spring training stats, it's at least noteworthy that in 63 trips to the plate so far, he's only whiffed six times, a 9.6 percent rate that's markedly down from his 24.8 percent career rate.
Of course, Schoop only has two walks this spring, too. That's never going to change, not from the guy who had baseball's highest overall swing rate. But the power is real, we know that, considering his average distance of 231.2 was longer than that of Bryce Harper's, and he's already shown a capacity to improve.
After all, in his poor 2014 season, Schoop's zone swing percentage was just 68.3 percent, making 81.3 percent in 2015 a huge jump, and he's still only 24 years old. He'll get lost in Baltimore's lineup, at least to start. But it's easy to see Schoop shining through, sooner than you'd think.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs.