The 2014 season was not a pretty one for Jonathan Schoop. He batted .209 with 122 strikeouts and walked only 13 times in 137 games. Despite the glaringly obvious growing pains the 23-year-old suffered through last season, it remained quite clear that Schoop had immense potential. Of his 95 base hits on the year, 34 went for extra bases, with 16 leaving the yard. He also played outstanding defense, with only seven errors on the year and a 1.8 dWAR. This year, Schoop has really broken out, even after missing most of the first half with a sprained knee. In just 39 games, he has hit eight home runs and driven in 22. After barely keeping his head above the Mendoza Line last year, Schoop is batting .302 on the year. Had he taken enough trips to the plate to qualify, Schoop’s .548 slugging percentage would lead the league’s second sackers by 50 points.
Listed at 6’1″ and 225 pounds, Schoop is far from a prototypical second baseman. Despite the ways that many roles across the game of baseball have changed, the second base position is the one that has seen very little change. It has become relatively commonplace to see a 6’3″ bruiser play shortstop, but second base is still primarily occupied by players who fit the old school second base mold — under six feet, under 200 pounds. All-Stars Jason Kipnis and Brian Dozier are both listed at 5’11”. Dustin Pedroia is generously listed at 5’9″, and Brandon Phillips and Ian Kinsler fall right at the 6’0″, 200-pound level. Chase Utley and Robinson Cano, who helped begin transitioning second base to a middle of the order position, are both relatively slim compared to Schoop. Utley generated power with his incredibly quick wrists, and Cano is a smooth-swinging glider. DJ LeMahieu stands tall at 6’4″, 215 pounds, but does not pack the power punch that Schoop does.
Schoop is none of those things. At 225 pounds, he is built like a strong safety, not the jitterbug types we have been accustomed to seeing at second base. He swings hard, runs hard, and plays the position like a bull in a china shop. The conventional wisdom held for years that second base should be played by a smaller man with good lateral quickness. As with the shortstop position, it has taken years to shake the notion that size should preclude someone from playing second base. Cal Ripken was the first player to show a big boy could play shortstop, but there has not really been a breakthrough player to turn the second base position on its ear.
I believe Jonathan Schoop can be that player.
Last year, Schoop showed that there should be no concerns about a larger player handling the second base position. He’s been just as good this year, with only one error and a .993 fielding percentage. Schoop has one of the strongest arms at the position, and his size and strength make him an immovable object on double play turns. The knee injury has slightly limited his range, as measured by the sabermetric fielding statistics, but with a full offseason of recovery from the injury, Schoop should exhibit very good range going forward.
Getting away from the defensive side of the ball, Schoop has taken incredible strides as a hitter this year. Four walks in 39 games is nothing to write home about, but the second-year player has taken a big step when it comes to plate discipline in 2015. Last year, Schoop chased a terrible 40.5 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, but swung at only 68.3 percent of pitches inside the zone. This year, he has cut down on his chase rate, although there is still some work to do in that area as he is still chasing 37.1 percent of pitches. What’s more impressive is the fact that Schoop is swinging at 77.1 percent of pitches inside the strike zone, and making contact on 83.3 percent of them. The increase in aggression speaks of a player who is becoming more comfortable against Major League pitching.
The kind of pitches Schoop has laid off has also made a big difference in his results this year. Last year, Schoop was very susceptible to pitches off the plate away, especially down. Most of his swings against pitches out of the strike zone last year, especially away, resulted in lazy popups or weak ground balls. The data set is still fairly limited this year because he has only played in 39 games, but so far, Schoop appears to have tightened the zone. He will still chase pitches down, but you can live with that because he is a low-ball hitter.
In addition to the zone chart, Schoop’s improvement can be seen in his spray chart. In 2014, the Orioles’ second baseman saw most of his attempts against breaking and offspeed pitches pulled weakly. This year, because he has been more selective against non-fastballs, Schoop has been able to barrel those pitches up with greater frequency. Furthermore, using the whole field has started to pay off. As with most young hitters, Schoop is still pull-happy, but now, fewer of those pulled balls are being hit weakly to shortstop.
Last year, because he was so susceptible to chasing pitches down and away, Schoop swung and missed at nearly 40 percent of changeups, curveballs, and sliders he saw. He batted just .156 on curveballs and popped up over 15 percent of sliders. This year, it’s been a different story. Schoop is batting just .091 on curveballs, but he’s seen far fewer. He is batting .276 against sliders, and has absolutely crushed fastballs to the tune of a .371 batting average and .714 slugging percentage. Whether this surge from Schoop, who has put up a line of .329/.345/.519 with three home runs and 12 RBI in the second half of the season, can be sustained remains to be seen.
Jonathan Schoop is still very young, and I am by no means ready to christen him the best second baseman in baseball due only to a limited number of games in 2015. It is clear, however, that he has matured as a hitter this season, and the All-Star potential that many saw in him as a prospect is there. Baseball is still waiting for the first second baseman to really break the long-held rules that govern who plays second base. Schoop is still very early into his career, but by the time he is done playing the game of baseball, he could very well have played a large role in opening up the second base position for a new set of bigger, stronger players.