The Brewers front office has a difficult decision to make regarding second baseman Jonathan Schoop. The powerful right-handed bat was the subject of what may be GM David Stearns’s most controversial trade yet, as the GM swapped MLB roster asset Jonathan Villar, RHP Luis Ortiz, and (at the time) rookie ball flyer SS Jean Carmona for a year and a half of Schoop’s profile. Schoop had famously completed a raucous July in which he posted a .360 batting average / .356 on-base percentage / .700 slugging percentage batting slash line. Of course, Schoop had been ice cold through July 4, failing to slug .400 or post an on-base percentage north of .270 in any of the first three months of the season, and that’s the Schoop that unfortunately showed up in Milwaukee. At worst, Stearns got fleeced by a hot streak, which is a somewhat stunning outcome from a GM that appears to be methodical in approaching player value. At best, Stearns made a long play for middle infield power at the high market rate required of MLB contenders.
Here at BPMilwaukee, Andrew Salzman surveyed Schoop’s season and the roster factors related to the arbitration-eligible veteran, and also analyzed Schoop’s batting elements in early August. Salzman noted the declining aspects of Schoop’s plate approach, which resulted in a general profile of weak contact involving groundballs and pop-ups (both headed in the wrong direction). Paul Noonan offered a thorough critique of the logic of the trade during the deadline press cycle. Noonan illustrated the confusing logic of using Schoop in potentially interchangeable roster strategies at second base (including a potential platoon scenario), and highlights the difficulty of the second baseman fitting into the batting order.
Evaluating Schoop according to his Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) progression complicates the matter. While Schoop undoubtedly declined in 2018, his stature as an arbitration-eligible player and his exceptional 2017 season impacts almost any pricing mechanism of his performance. If the Brewers take Schoop through the arbitration process, they cannot decrease his salary according to his performance (as salaries are protected through the arbitration process, which values service time more than performance). In terms of overall career progression, Schoop’s production remains close to a $11 million per season value, which is his estimated arbitration salary according to Cot’s Contracts; other estimates are similar, assessing approximately $10 million in 2019 salary for Schoop.
The following table estimates Schoop’s three-year surplus value, which roughly means evaluating Schoop’s production and scarcity (or, production and cost), and derives one-year contracts from those models. A “harmonic mean” contract is used to balance overall 2014-2018 surplus values with the highest possible value from that time period; this is an attempt to even out the roughest edges of these value estimates.
|Schoop Surplus||Value ($M)|
|3-yr Depreciated Surplus 2014-2016||$7.1|
|3-yr Depreciated Surplus 2015-2017||$32.7|
|3-yr Depreciated Surplus 2016-2018||$35.3|
|Maximum One-Year Contract||$16.8|
|Minimum One-Year Contract||$6.9|
|Harmonic Mean Contract||$9.7|
It’s not hard to see a scenario in which Schoop is worth $10 to $11 million; in fact, balancing high- and low-value figures for Schoop places his ideal contract in that neighborhood. Even if Schoop is not “truly” worth $10 million or $11 million, it should not be difficult to see a League Championship Series caliber team overpay a player if they believe they can yield the best possible performance from that player. The difficulty is determining whether Schoop fits that logic.
An additional difficulty is that because Schoop is so young, the “Aging Curve Logic” suggests that he should be working in a prime season, and therefore produce quality performances. Yet, relying on an aging curve to promote a bounce back season from Schoop is somewhat dubious, as there are numerous disagreements about peak age, evidence that season-over-season statistics become less volatile once a player reaches age-26, and a recognition that different types of players age in different ways, anyway (Silver 2015, 81-86). There is a very real sense that Schoop already “is who he is.”
As of March 30, 2018, PECOTA picked Bret Boone, Howie Kendrick, and Jeff Kent as the age-26 comparable players for Schoop. Kendrick is an interesting pick, as his 2010 season fell backwards from a 2009 breakout, but Kendrick eventually recovered to produce better offensive value. Kent is an interesting pick because at age-26 he was not yet “Jeff Kent,” and there were some real doubts about what he might become. Boone is more interesting still, as the young phenom fell back during 1995-1997 campaigns, and produced fringe average seasons prior to breaking out again during his early 30s. These last two comparisons should be kept in mind, as it could be possible that Schoop takes several years to continue developing aspects of his plate approach, and that his 2018 and 2019 season have little to no bearing on what Schoop eventually becomes. This may not appear to be a likely scenario, but it’s a possibility worth keeping in mind given the long and often unpredictable twists of player development.
The simple point is that projecting and pricing 2019 Schoop is not simply a binary exercise; his future is not one basic either/or scenario.
With these caveats in mind, I investigated MLB seasons with at least 300 plate appearances in their age-24, 25, and 26 seasons during the Wild Card Era (1995-present) with the intention of finding players similar to Schoop’s extreme plate discipline and power approach. This is a biased sample in several ways, most importantly in the sense of seeking out “starting roles,” which I roughly designated as players with 300 or more plate appearances (which reasonably excludes players with catastrophic injuries, fringe players, and many bench players). Additionally, the sample is confined to the institutional, player development, and game constraints of the last generation, which means that this survey is in no way representative of some “true population” of age-24, 25, or 26 players throughout baseball history. Additionally, by excluding minor league players of the same age groups, I am not fully assessing Schoop’s development and plate discipline against potential replacements or other developmental trends in the game, which is another limitation for assessing players by age. Given these biases, I am reasonably asking, “Who are relatively recent MLB starting players who approach the game like Schoop?,” and “How did these players age?”; since this is not any sort of sample representative of a population, I am using this to describe development trends rather than predict Schoop’s path in 2019.
(1) Schoop and Grichuk. In the last 24 seasons, there is one player who matches Schoop’s general trend of striking out more than 20 percent of the time, walking less than 6 percent of the time, and homering more than 3.5 percent of the time during each of his age-24, 25, and 26 seasons. Interestingly enough, that player is also a contemporary of Schoop, Randal Grichuk. Even within these general parameters, Grichuk is quite different than Schoop, as his walk totals are sometimes closer to that 6 percent threshold, and the strike outs are also much higher; Grichuk is more of a “Three True Outcomes Hitter” (relying on strike outs, walks, and homers) than Schoop, who is more of a bizarre type of contact hitter.
|Schoop Comparison||age-24 TAv (PA)||age-25 TAv (PA)||age-26 TAv (PA)|
|Schoop Comparison||age-26 K%||age-26 BB%||age-26 HR%|
It is startling that even given the general acceptance of strike outs over the last generation, and the proliferation of home-run based batting approaches, baseball simply does not produce batting profiles like Schoop. This could be a good thing for the Brewers, as the club certainly seems comfortable working with unorthodox plate approaches; for example, another recent Stearns era player with an unprecedented approach is Keon Broxton; additionally, another unprecedented role on the Brewers’ roster is Hernan Perez. It certainly cannot be said that Stearns is squeamish about working with relatively oddball player profiles, and that trait probably helps to explain his ability to quickly turn around the Brewers franchise by assembling a bunch of high-floor players with extremely prominent scouting flaws. The only question now is whether Stearns will pay $10 million for that privilege.
(2) Examining “low walk” players (Schoop and Salvador Perez). Working with the parameters defined above (1995-present survey), Baseball Prospectus CSV provided 29,397 players overall, which whittled down to 6,495 players with 300 (or more) plate appearances; when searching for players with at least 300 plate appearances in each of their age-24, 25, and 26 seasons, I constructed a batch of 246 players for analysis (thus the above caveats for sample bias). This is quite an interesting group of players, and as one might expect from the present biases, it’s a very productive group of players:
|Median Performance (300+ PA 1995-present)||age-24||age-25||age-26|
|Home Run Percentage||2.7%||3.0%||3.2%|
Within this group of players, the most striking and promising trait for comparison with Schoop was walk rate, which was a good indicator to separate comparisons and descriptions of development from big walk, big strike out, big home run players. For Schoop’s intriguing trait is generally huge power (and indeed, he consistently produced better-than-median power for this group) without corresponding high walk totals. Thus, it wouldn’t do much good to compare Schoop to Mike Trout, Adam Dunn, Prince Fielder, Edgardo Alfonzo, and other age-26 walk monsters; those players are doing something different at the plate to reach their prodigious power. So, I isolated a group of 37 low-walk total players that posted an additional 300 (or more) plate appearances during their age-27 campaign, in order to describe an age-26 to age-27 aging pattern for these players. This is quite a fun group!
Here, the top table shows the change in category performance from age-26 to age-27 season, while the bottom table shows the basic age-26 production for Wins Above Replacement Player, Plate Appearances, True Average, and Strike Outs / Walks / Home Runs.
|Low-Walk age-26 to 27 Change||WARP_26-27||PA_26-27||TAV_26-27||K26-27||BB26-27||HR26-27|
|Low-Walk age-27 Production||Age27_WARP||Age27_PA||Age27_Tav||Age27_K||Age27_BB||Age27_HR|
By plate discipline (K / BB / HR), the most comparable player to Jonathan Schoop on this table was Salvador Perez. Perez was able to cut down the strike outs and tap into more power during his age-27 campaign, which provided a boost back to league average batting production for the catcher. Jedd Gyorko was the best of these players at age-27, but did so by completely retooling both walks and home run power; this is a demonstration that large scale plate discipline changes can occur on a season-over-season basis. What is striking is that even among players who are comparable to Schoop in terms of low walk rates, there are very few that strike out as much as Schoop, or hit for big power. Hence the lack of comparable players, save for Randal Grichuk.
Schoop has his work cut out for his age-27 season, as the middle infielder can retain value through his power if his strike outs and groundball / pop-up fluctuations do not impede that power. He’s a strange $10 million gamble for a front office, as the general ideal of age-27 seasons from players with 4.0+ WARP seasons on their resumes suggests bright futures rather than large question marks. Yet, there could be reason to suspect that Schoop may age differently than other prime age middle infielders, both due to his consistently better than average power and due to his extreme plate discipline. Nobody hits like Schoop, and in some sense this ought to result in a vote of confidence from GM Stearns when the opt-in is a one-year gamble. But the lean months of 2018 speak loudly, where the power was rendered empty by low batting averages and the lack of another offensive carrying tool when that one vanished. So here we are, fixated on a relatively marginal roster deal, looking for excellent production in the middle of the diamond.
Silver, Nate. 2015. The Signal and The Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – but Some Don’t.. Penguin.
This post was updated at 5:24 PM on November 23, 2018 to correct the figures in the Grichuk / Schoop table.