Orioles' Jonathan Schoop finds steadiness as he tries 'to get better every day'

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

On a trip when the Orioles socked 14 home runs and scored 6.4 runs per game, there were plenty of candidates for standout at-bats to choose from.

Manager Buck Showalter picked one in particular that doesn't fit any traditional Orioles offensive parameters as his most memorable — a walk by Jonathan Schoop that spurred a seven-run inning early in Tuesday's marathon win.

To him, it explained so much about what drove him to handing the 25-year-old second baseman a rare leadoff assignment Friday night, a reward for a steady start to the season. It displayed Schoop's newfound willingness not to swing, his steadier approach and the manifestation of his ebullient daily desire to improve in real, raw results.

"One of the best at-bats in the road trip, because so many guys in that situation are trying to walk you if you let them," Showalter said. "You let them take you out of the zone a little bit, you either strike out or put the ball in play weakly."

That stood in contrast to an earlier at-bat this year where Schoop didn't bring a runner in from third with one out, and Showalter needed to cut through his mile-a-minute mind and score a runner.

The manager told him: "'Jon, let's not talk about what are you thinking there or this and that. Get the run in. Get that guy in. Let's cut out all that stuff, stick our nose out.' … If you put him in that situation — sometimes, it's not where is your foot as a pitcher, what side of the rubber are you, this and that. Every once in a while, it's just, let's get it done. Let's just get it done. Don't talk about the labor, you know?"

It's hard to otherwise find much fault with what the strapping Schoop has put together at the plate this season. He insists he has had longer stretches of success than the current one, and maybe the success has been greater over a shorter period before. But there has been a steadiness to his season so far that is much more welcome than his previous runs of wild swings between good times and bad.

He had two hits during the season-opening five-game homestand and entered Friday having hit .303 with an .873 OPS since, giving him a .281/.329/.481 line on the year. There's still plenty of baseball to go, but his wRC+ (116), and wOBA (.345) would be career highs. (wRC+ boils down offensive performance and normalizes some variables to create a scale where 100 is league-average. wOBA is a weighted version of OPS, which accurately weighs hits and walks for their run-producing value.)

"I think I've had more long sets than this, you know?" Schoop said. "But I just want to be better. I want to be better than I was last year, and I want to be better at everything — not only hitting but overall. I want to be better."

It's a high bar to try to strive beyond a 25-home run season when he posted a .267/.298/.454 line, but there are plenty of places for improvement. Taking walks, like the one Showalter noted, is an easy way to improve his game.

For his career, he has just a 3.1 percent walk rate, but that's up slightly to four percent this year, entering Friday and not counting the two base on balls he earned in the series opener against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Last season, he swung more often than any other player in baseball save for teammate Adam Jones, whose swing rate of 60.6 percent just edged Schoop's 60.2 percent, according to FanGraphs.

This year, he entered Friday swinging at 51 percent of the pitches he has seen. Part of that is because he's chasing less. Last year, he chased 43 percent of the time (fourth highest in baseball), and is down to 33.7 percent thus far in 2017.

But not all of that is bad pitch recognition. If a pitcher tries to get him to expand the zone with a breaking ball, they should know he can pick it up and hit it, too. He has been the club's best off-speed hitter in recent years. Showalter is glad to see that translate into selectivity.

"Jon should be so good at that, and he has been — I don't know if you've been watching the last 10 days, two weeks," Showalter said.

Schoop sees some of those things in himself, but it's still not enough.

"I feel like everything — hitting, fielding, everything is better," Schoop said. "That's what I feel like — but you tell me. I'm trying to get better every day."

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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