One trend that is unavoidable in baseball is that Home Run power is dissipating. Since the peak year of HR production in 2000, the number of HR’s hit has dropped by almost 27%. A full 10% of that drop happened between 2013 and 2014. A HR was hit every 29.4 AB’s in 2000 and that number was 39.6 in 2014. Some numbers for your viewing pleasure….
|Year||Total HR’s||HR/FB Rate|
Statistics Courtesy of the Seattle Times
For once we don’t need to dwell on the reasons for this decline—they are well known. As with any obstacle we are presented with an opportunity. It is fairly easy to identify the players who are proven HR hitters and capable of providing power within the more restrictive confines of the new normal. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to find an emerging power hitter who provides a measurable advantage in the HR category at a position generally not associated with HR prowess? Enter Mr. Jonathan Schoop, second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles.
The precocious Mr. Schoop moved quickly through the Baltimore Minor League organization reaching Triple A Norfolk at 21. He was one of the youngest every day players in every league he has played in. A stress fracture in his back sidelined him for 6 weeks and certainly took valuable development time away from him just as he was starting to adjust to the higher level of Triple A play. However, Scouts who saw him, rated him as the 2nd best positional prospect in the Orioles organization behind Manny Machado. His power was evident from the start. The overall assessment was that he had a raw “ hit tool”—scout speak for an inconsistent approach at the plate—still they recognized that the ball jumped off his bat in ways you would not normally see for a player who projected to be a second baseman.
Schoop was promoted to the Majors in 2014 and became the Orioles starting 2B. Over 137 games and 455 Plate Appearances, Schoop managed to bat only .209 and he had an incredibly poor K/BB ratio walking only 2.7% of the time and striking out 25.4% of the time. His chase rate was an alarming 40.5% although his contact rate for a Rookie at 74% was better than some of the more heralded Rookies like George Springer. Schoop was fairly easy to ignore except for one thing…he clubbed 16 HR’s. OK, so he has power, but some of these overhyped rookies sneak up on pitchers and once the league makes the proper adjustments, the HR numbers fall off. Well, not the case with Schoop. He slammed 6 HR’s in his first 77 games and 10 in his last 57.
Let’s dig a little deeper into Schoop’s first season. To do this I looked at ESPN’s Home Run Tracker which records the distance, speed off the bat, trajectory, and almost everything else about every home run hit in 2014. Among true 2B last season, the premier power hitters were Brian Dozier, Neil Walker, Ian Kinsler, and Robinson Cano. Dozier and Walker led their respective leagues with 23 HR’s each. In order to further categorize HR’s, the ESPN Home Run Tracker uses the following metrics:
“Just Enough” or “JE”, which means the ball cleared the fence by less than 10 vertical feet, OR that it landed less than one fence height past the fence. These are the ones that barely made it over the fence…
– “No Doubt”, or “ND”, which means the ball cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet AND landed at least 50 feet past the fence. These are the really deep blasts…
– “Plenty”, or “PL”, which is everything else.
|True Dist. (True Distance, a.k.a. Actual Distance) – If the home run flew uninterrupted all the way back to field level, the actual distance the ball traveled from home plate, in feet. If the ball’s flight was interrupted before returning all the way down to field level (as is usually the case), the estimated distance the ball would have traveled if its flight had continued uninterrupted all the way down to field level.|
|Std Distance (Standard Distance) – The estimated distance in feet the home run would have traveled if it flew uninterrupted all the way down to field level, and if the home run had been hit with no wind, in 70 degree air at sea level. Standard distance factors out the influence of wind, temperature and altitude, and is thus the best way of comparing home runs hit under a variety of different conditions.|
|Speed Off Bat – The calculated speed of the baseball as it left the bat, in (mph)|
I decided to focus on the “JE” or just enough category since it is often used as a predictor for future HR performance. If a player has a large % of “JE” Home Runs, it could suggest that the HR numbers were inflated in a particular year and that regression in power numbers could occur the following seasons. I figured that the Standard Distance on HR’s would adequately cover the “PL” and “ND” categories. In order to further bolster the comparisons, I added ISO (a measurement of raw power) and the recorded average Speed Off Bat on HR’s hit which is often considered when evaluating a players physical tools.
|Player||PA||HR||ISO||Speed Off Bat||True Distance||Std Distance||JE||JE%|
Statistics Courtesy of the ESPN Home Run Tracker
When measured against the most prolific power hitting 2nd Basemen last season, Schoop compares very favorably in just his first season in the Majors. He had the longest Standard Distance and True Distance on his HR’s and the smallest % of his HR’s were of the “Just Enough” designation. Schoop’s Speed off Bat is way above MLB average and far superior to the other players in this grouping. As a point of comparison, Schoop is comparable to Mike Trout in Speed Off Bat on HR’s hit and his True Distance is equal to that of Troy Tulowitzki. Certainly I’m not suggesting that Schoop is in their league as hitters, but it does speak to his potential to be an impact power bat.
Without much fanfare, and an ADP of 386, Schoop started the 2015 season at 2B for the Orioles. Unfortunately, he suffered a partial PCL tear and a mild MCL sprain in his right knee in mid-April. Before his injury he hit 3 HR’s in his first 29 PA’s. He did not return until July 5th but has still managed to hit 3 more HR’s and bat .264 with a .472 Slugging Percentage and a wOBA of .330.
Right now, Brian Dozier has emerged from the pack and is clearly the most prolific HR hitter among pure 2nd basemen. It should be noted that Neil Walker, who tied Dozier with 23 HR’s for a 2nd basemen in 2014, has slipped way down the list with 9 HR’s this season. Walker had a very high percentage of “JE” HR’s last season at 43%. Again, let’s look at the numbers….
|Player||PA||HR||ISO||Speed off Bat||True Distance||Std Distance||JE||JE%|
Schoop’s 2015 numbers cover a small sample size, but they are not inconsistent with his Distance and JE% over a larger sample last year.
Schoop could be the next great HR hitting 2B and he is still virtually ignored in Fantasy. The young 2B of the moment is Rougned Odor. While Odor appears to be immensely talented at only 21, he is a different kind of ballplayer. Good speed, excellent contact rates, and strong plate discipline. Many things that Jonathan Schoop is not. Here’s how they stack up this season….
|Player||Age||PA||HR||XBH||SB||BA||Speed off Bat||ISO||Std Distance||Owned CBS Leagues|
For the owner that needs a boost in power for the stretch run, Jonathan Schoop could be your guy. He will go through bouts of inconsistent play, and a BB/K ratio of 0.14 is troublesome, but in an era where HR power is at a premium, and even rarer still at positions like 2B, there is no way that Schoop should be owned in only 23% of CBS Sports leagues. And to Dynasty owners, this should be your wake up call.
Fell in love with baseball at a very young age. My dad claimed that Joe DiMaggio picked me up as a toddler when we were sitting behind the Yankee Dugout. Do remember walking across the lush green grass of the old Yankee Stadium outfield when there were three baseball teams in New York. Fantasy Baseball Analyst for Fantistics and Insider Baseball. Thrilled to be part of the FanGraphs Team. Fantasy baseball team owner since 1990.