July 31st, 2014: the Orioles are locked in a scoreless tie with the Angels. In the bottom of the 12th, Hector Santiago gets Nelson Cruz to strike out. Chris Davis walks, then J.J. Hardy strikes out. Steve Pearce singles, moving Davis to second, and then Nick Hundley singles.
Up steps Jonathan Schoop. Bases loaded, two outs, the winning run 90 feet away. The scenario every kid dreams about growing up. Schoop watches a fastball for strike one then swings at a heater for strike two. Pitch number three is a ball outside. He fouls off the fourth pitch, another fastball on the low outside corner. The fifth pitch is a cutter that darts away for another ball. The sixth and final pitch is a fastball up and slightly in. Schoop swings (I can imagine his eyes lighting up at such a pitch) but foul tips it into the catcher’s mitt. Strikeout; inning over. Schoop has finished compiling the worst single-game WPA for an Oriole this season.
The moment captured Schoop’s 2014 season as a whole. To say the year’s been a struggle for him would be a vast understatement. He’s been awful. His batting line of .216/.254/.340 contributes to a paltry 63 wRC+. You know who’s hit better than that? Pitchers Madison Bumgarner (125 wRC+) and Travis Wood (124 wRC+).
Some might say to give Schoop time, that he’s just 22 and a rookie at that. But limiting the comparison to these criteria doesn’t help. Among rookies age 21-23 with at least 300 PA in a season from 2002-2013, Schoop’s season would be second-to-last with 26 runs created. Behind him is only Brandon Phillips circa 2003, who needed two more years of seasoning in the minors before he stuck in the big leagues.
The good news is that several of the players surrounding Schoop on this list became useful major leaguers. There’s Phillips, for one. Carlos Gonzalez is there, as is Adam Lind, Alex Avila, and Michael Brantley. Unfortunately so is Aaron Hicks, who was also demoted to the minors during his rookie year, and Alexei Amarista, who is not good either.
Schoop will move up in these rankings before the season's over. But he won't move terribly far because he's overmatched in the batter's box. Nothing shows this more than his plate discipline. Here’s how he compares with the 21-23 year old group above:
- O-Swing%: 51% more than average
- Swinging Strike%: 29% more than average
- O-Contact%: 11% more than average
- Z-Contact%: 2% less than average
- Contact%: 3% less than average
Even taking his age into account, he’s wildly aggressive out of the zone and slightly passive in the zone. That’s probably why he sees a first strikes more frequently than his cohorts but, overall, he sees strikes less often. Pitchers know he’ll chase, and he does.
His walk rate of 2.9% is pitiful, and his strikeout rate of 23.5% is high for someone who hits so many ground balls. It’s almost like he’s trying to emulate Adam Jones at the plate. Jones has a walk rate similar to Schoop’s, although he strikes out much less often. The two teammates swing at pitches out of the zone at a similar rate. The difference is that Jones swings at many more pitches in the strike zone; Schoop lets these go by more often. Jones sees fewer pitches overall in the strike zone, probably due to the power he’s demonstrated the past few years. Schoop still sees a lot of pitches in the zone because he hasn’t established himself as a threat. He needs to learn to recognize these and take advantage.
I'm a little surprised that he's still starting, because he's cost the team a lot. The argument of "But the Orioles are in first place!" doesn't hold water. The team is leading the AL East in spite of Schoop's performance, not because of it. We should be focused on the process, not necessarily the results.
But I guess there aren't any clear alternatives. And Schoop is just 22, so they won't kick him out of the organization. He has plenty of time to learn while getting a taste of meaningful Orioles baseball. He's certainly learning about failure at the major league level. Let's hope it sticks with him and drives him to improve going forward.