I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I LOVE Jonathan Schoop.
Second base is a position traditionally manned by scrawny slap hitters that don't necessarily do more than play strong defense and bat 8th or 9th in the lineup. Not Schoop.
At 6'3, 230 pounds, Schoop is more horse than lamb. In 2014, Schoop slashed .209/.244/.354, but added 16 HRs and 45 RBIs in what was his first real action at the big-league level. Much to do with an unfortunate .249 BABIP, Schoop was more of a boom/bust hitter, but as a rookie playing a position not associated with the threat of the long ball, the young Curacoan did just fine. On top of the fact that Schoop was an anchor in Buck Showalter's everyday lineup for a 96-win team, his unexpected contributions still could be classified as profound.
This year could have been stamped as his breakout season, given his 137-game showing a season ago, experience playing on a winning ball club, but most importantly, he entered 2015 as a 23-year-old with only 496 major league plate appearances. The room to grow was exponential.
To open the new season Schoop was showing the maturation O's fans and the organization had hoped to see. In his first nine games this season, Schoop managed a .259 average with three home runs and a .940 OPS. However, on April 17, a play at second base would put Schoop out of commission until early July.
Boston dump-truck Pablo Sandoval is not believed to have been the main culprit in injuring Schoop, as a partially torn MCL and PCL were believed to have been caused by a misstep at first base later in the game, but the slide certainly didn't help. And so, Schoop was forced to miss 53 games from the middle of April all through May and June until he returned to the Orioles' lineup on June 5. In his first at-bat from the DL, Johnny smacked a solo dinger to left field off White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon. Go figure.
For Schoop, the improvements in relation to 2014 were drastic, even having only played in 86 games in 2015 compared to 137 a season ago. A BABIP .30 points higher than league average brought upon offensive numbers unique to the second base position, as Schoop lead all American League two-baggers with at least 300 plate appearances in slugging, while owning the 7th-best wRC+ amongst his AL counterparts. Despite playing in 38% fewer games, Schoop hit only one fewer home run than he did in '14, and in a full season, there's no reason to think he wouldn't have eclipsed the 25-plus homer plateau.
Schoop, as aggressive as he was last season, was even more willing to hack this season.
He did more swinging both in and out of the zone, and made even less contact compared to 2014, but for someone as strong as Schoop, he made the most out of that deadly pull swing.
For Johnny, it can possibly be chalked down to being more confident or less aware, but as the numbers show, it was his recognition of pitches inside the strike zone that jump out the most, despite making less contact than he did last year. Schoop's biggest folly to date is his inability to walk (2.7 BB% in '14, 2.7 BB% in '15) combined with his high frequency of strikeouts (25.4 K% in '14, 24.6 % in '15), but as it is with every player that makes their way through the big leagues, each player's game is inherently unique. Schoop is probably not going to be a player where his OBP makes or breaks his contributions, instead utilizing his squatty physique to outmuscle opposing pitchers.
Johnny took a major step forward in traditional statistics, but as it turns out, his development as a hitter was furthered by his understanding of how he was going to be pitched.
A season ago, Schoop had the tendency to be blown away with two strikes, while the league made a conscientious effort to stick with the heat. Johnny adjusted and Johnny succeeded. Schoop's recognition of his flaws turned into a place of comfort, as Schoop's +9.4 wFB improvement is evidence of his steady maturity.
Lowering wCH numbers are not a cause for any real concern, because in my mind, there is no tougher pitch to hit than the change-up. Its yet another source of evolvement that Schoop must undertake.
The Orioles would have liked to have had Schoop for another 137 games. The fans would have loved to have watched Schoop mash homers and turn double plays for another 137 games. The thing is, things happen. Schoop's touch-luck injury may have stunted his growth as an all-around threat in 2015, but as we hold onto the frustration of an incomplete Oriole season, there certainly were positives.
Jonathan Schoop was one of them.