There are still more than two months to go, but Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop has already had himself one heck of a 2017 season. The Curaçao native has been a smashing success at the plate en route to earning his first career All-Star nod earlier this month and being named American League Player of the Week on Monday. Without question, he has been the best hitter on an Orioles team with a fair amount of star power in the lineup.
Such a strong showing in one summer catapults Schoop into a historical conversation about Orioles who have played the position at the highest level. Baltimore doesn’t have any second baseman wearing the Bird on their cap in Cooperstown, but that doesn’t mean that spot on the diamond has been devoid of talent since the Browns moved from St. Louis in 1954. Roberto Alomar ring any bells?
So, let’s get into it. If you ranked the best single seasons by a Baltimore Oriole second baseman, where do you expect this 2017 effort from Schoop to fall?
Heading into action on Monday, Schoop was sporting a .307/.353/.552 batting line with 21 home runs and 70 RBI with 64 games to play. He leads the O’s in all of those categories, by a large margin in some cases. Baseball Reference gives him a 2.7 WAR for his efforts while Fangraphs has him with a 2.4. If you expand those numbers out over the rest of the season, the 25-year-old is on pace to notch about 35 home runs and 116 RBI along with a 4.5 WAR.
The only other fellow historical Orioles second baseman to even come close to Schoop in terms of power was Roberto Alomar in 1996. The Hall of Famer (He wears a Blue Jays cap on his plaque) had several notable seasons in Baltimore, but 1996 was by far the standout campaign. That year, he smacked 43 doubles and 22 home runs with 94 RBI and a .527 slugging percentage.
Alomar was a machine at the plate. His batting line that season was .328/.411/.527. He struck out just 65 times in 156 games while walking 90 times as he bounced between the top three spots in the order. He walked more than he struck out; substantially more! All said, it was enough to earn him a Silver Slugger Award.
It should also be noted that Alomar took home a Gold Glove that season, the sixth of his career at the time, but advanced metrics didn’t exist in the way that they do now. Was it a deserved award? Who knows? But he did take home the prize. It’s unlikely Schoop wins a Gold Glove anytime soon for his work with the leather
B-Rob, the eternal trade chip
Alomar was a consistent, top-of-the-order threat. Much like Brian Roberts was during the dark times of Orioles baseball in the first decade of the new millennium. It can be easy to forget just how good Roberts was for an extended period of time because of how terrible the team was around him.
The switch-hitter was drafted by the organization in 1999, made his MLB debut in 2001 and stuck around through the 2013 season. During that time, the team made the playoffs one time (2012) and Roberts had serious injury concerns in his final four seasons with the club.
Before that, he was a doubles and stolen base machine that made two All-Star Games and regularly had major trade buzz surrounding him. The best season of his career was 2005, the year that the O’s looked like real contenders prior to a complete nosedive the second half of the summer.
In ‘05, he batted .314/.387/.515 with 45 doubles, 18 home runs, 73 RBI and 27 stolen bases to help him to a 7.2 WAR and even a couple of MVP votes. He would never have a higher batting average, slugging percentage or hit as many home runs as he did as a 27-year-old, although he was consistently fantastic from 2003 to 2009 and should be an O’s franchise Hall of Famer sometime soon.
Second base can be a non-glamourous position. It’s changing over time, but it’s not often that a second baseman is the star of a team. Other players tend to hit for more power, make tougher plays, and get more of the attention. Things are no different in Orioles history.
Back in the day, Billy Gardner led the 1957 Orioles with a 3.7 WAR thanks, in part, to his .262/.325/.356 batting line and leading the team with 36 doubles. And Jerry Adair did a nice job for the O’s teams of the early 60s, earning a 2.7 WAR for a season on two occasions.
In the late 60s and early 70s, Davey Johnson was the pick at second base. He was a solid member of some very good Baltimore teams, but his standout campaign was 1971 when he slashed .282/.351/.443 with a Gold Glove, some MVP buzz and a 4.4 WAR.
The next decade, Rich Dauer was the Orioles second baseman at the time. He too was a long-serving and successful Baltimore ballplayer, but he was at his best in 1980, batting .284/.338/.352, playing exceptional defense and earning a career high 2.9 WAR.
Go forward 10 years and you have 1990’s Billy Ripken. The 25-year-old at the time was firmly in the shadow of his brother, Cal Jr., and had yet to really succeed at the major league level until he broke out that season. Along with his big bro, he formed a dynamite middle infield. His numbers: .291/.342/.387 with 28 doubles and a 4.1 WAR.
One final honorable mention. Prior to Roberts’ arrival in the Charm City, Delino DeShields did a nice job at the position. His finest performance came in 2000. As a 31-year-old who seemingly never smiled, DeShields boasted a 3.1 WAR while stealing 37 bases and batting .296/.369/.444 with 10 home runs and 43 doubles.
The best O’s second baseman ever?
In the 1970s, after Johnson left town for Atlanta, he was replaced by a man who may be the best Orioles player that no one really talks about. Bobby Grich made his O’s debut during the 1970 World Series season before becoming a regular in 1972. From then until 1976, when he left to play for the Angels, Grich made three All-Star teams, won four Gold Gloves and earned MVP votes three times.
Through his five full-time seasons in Baltimore, Grich never had a WAR under 6.0, according to Baseball Reference. His highest WAR season was 1973 with an 8.3 mark. That year, his hitting lacked a real “wow” factor as he slashed just .251/.373/.387 with 29 doubles, 12 home runs and and 50 RBI, but he played one heck of a second base, earning a defensive WAR of 3.9 alone.
That was Grich’s MO for his Orioles career. Across parts of seven seasons (only 37 games played between 1970 and ‘71), he compiled a WAR of 36.0 (27.9 oWAR, 11.3 dWAR) while hitting .262/.372/.405.
Where does Schoop fit?
The current Baltimore second baseman is having a heck of a year. However, he is more one-dimensional than many of his predecessors. Schoop hits and hits a lot. His defense is a hot topic of discussion as his arm is second to none, but his range leaves a bit to be desired. And on the basepaths, he makes few mistakes, but is rarely a threat to steal or take the extra base. Thus, his value lies almost entirely in his bat.
Therefore, I’m placing his 2017 season fourth on the O’s all-time list with an outside chance to climb higher. Grich in ‘73 goes first because that huge WAR number and his ability in the field is too big to ignore. Roberts in ‘05 takes the silver as he may have put forth the most well-rounded season of them all. And Alomar gets third because of his on-base ability and steady glovework.
Where would you rank Schoop? Let us know in the comments.