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Jonathan Schoop has been succeeding thanks to making more contact

Jonathan Schoop has gotten off to a hot start in 2017 and it has been fueled by him making more contact

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Schoop has been the third best Orioles position player according to fWAR in 2017. He has posted a 0.6 WAR to date (prior to Tuesday’s game) is only behind Seth Smith (!) and Manny Machado. He has played his defense at an average level, again according to Fangraphs, but this year his .294/.336/.510 batting line, good for a 130 wRC+, has him as the third most productive hitter on the team.

Schoop in his career has been an alright hitter posting a 97 wRC+ in 2017 and a 112 wRC+ in 2014. wRC+ is a newer stat that measures production: 100 is league average, higher than that is better by an equal amount. So Schoop’s 112 from 2014 means he’s 12% better than average.

While it is still early, Schoop has looked great at the plate and has been a key to the Orioles hot start. So, this obviously pushed me into looking into what may be different for Schoop this year than in past years.

So far, Schoop is not walking much more than in years past. He has a 3.5 percent walk rate compared to 3.2 percent last year and 3.0 percent for his career. Never a patient hitter, he still has not picked up that skill.

However, his strike out rate is at 16.8 percent to start the year compared to 21.2 percent last year and 22.8 percent for his career. So Schoop is not walking as much, but he is getting the bat to the ball a good deal bit more.

He is also putting the ball in air much more often in 2017 posting a 40.7 percent fly ball rate (a career high) and a 39.5 percent ground ball rate (a career low). Fly balls are much more valuable than ground balls.

Also, while he is not hitting the ball much harder than in 2016 (87.9 mph average exit velocity in 2017 compared to 87.3 mph in 2016) he is spreading the ball around more. He has a 37.2 percent rate of putting balls into center field which is a career high and is only pulling it 41.9 percent of the time a career low.

We need to dig a bit deeper to find some actual answers. Looking into the plate discipline numbers something is clear, not only is Jonathan Schoop making more contact, he is swinging less. He has the lowest swing percentage of his career he is swinging only 51.8 percent of the time compared to 57.7 in his career and the 60.2 percent rate he swung in 2016.

Yet, he is making more contact. He is making contact 75.5 percent of the time compared to 73.3 percent for his career. This includes a higher contact rate on pitches in the zone (87.7 percent compared to 84.2 percent for his career) and a higher contact rate on pitches outside of the zone (56.4 percent compared to 55.8 for his career). More contact means and more fly balls means more chances to be productive.

Breaking it down a little further below are some heat maps. The first two are going to be the contact rate heat map on pitches for Jonathan Schoop in 2016 and in 2017 for comparison.

These heat maps are a little hard to read, but focus on how the in 2017 the rates are much higher across the entire zone, but especially up in the zone. He is much better at making contact on those pitches especially those out over the plate. He is still struggling lower in the zone, but let’s face it, he’s Jonathan Schoop is not Mike Trout, he’s going to have some weaknesses.

To give some context on how he is producing on this contact below are two more heat maps. These heat maps show his Isolated Slugging (ISO, read more about that here) per pitch across the zone.

Again, these heat maps are a little hard to read, but, in 2017 Schoop has been getting much better results. He has increased the zone slightly to include the entire middle of the plate in 2017, but if you look into each of the individual zones, you can see the numbers are way up in 2017. That’s a product of hitting more fly balls and getting much better results on that contact that is making.

Bottom line, Jonathan Schoop has had a great start to 2017, and it has been driven by the fact that he is swinging less, making better contact, and making more contact. While Schoop will never be a patient and well rounded hitter, he can be a productive hitter if he can keep his contact rate high and his strike out rate low. He can hit the ball hard and as long as he keeps it off of the ground it’s going to be productive. Now, we’ll have to wait and see how long it lasts.