Schoop’s defense has been a welcome sight for the Detroit Tigers
After Jonathan Schoop was in the midst of his best season since he was an All-Star with the Baltimore Orioles in 2017, the Detroit Tigers signed the then 29-year-old pending free agent to a two-year extension. At the time, it seemed like a good deal for the Tigers.
Schoop slashed .278/.320/.435 in 2021 with 22 homers and was worth 2.0 fWAR. Not bad for a second baseman who played first base last season. At just $7.5 million per year, it was a pretty team-friendly deal as well. It seemed like a win for the Detroit Tigers.
Here we are almost halfway through the first year of that deal, and Schoop has taken a huge step back offensively. A slash line of .192/.227/.313 is by far the worst of his career. What once looked like a good deal for the Tigers now looks like another failure…or does it?
Yes, Schoop has been abysmal offensively. Nobody can deny that. He’s looked completely lost at the plate this year. Although, he has been pretty unlucky. His expected batting average is .250 and his expected slugging is .402. This comes after he had a BABIP of .313 in 2021 with expected BA and SLG% both below what they actually were. Perhaps this is just everything evening out.
But what has made the Schoop deal not a total bust—and what has made it hard to keep him out of the lineup—is his defense. Schoop, of course, moved back to his natural position of second base after playing first base last season, and that has done wonders for the Tigers’ infield defense.
Schoop currently leads the league in Statcast outs above average at 17. That’s every fielder in the league—not just second baseman.
MLB defines outs above average as “a range-based metric of skill that shows how many outs a player has saved.” It is calculated differently for infielders and outfielders.
Here’s how it is calculated for infielders:
"“Outs Above Average for infielders takes the following factors into account.• How far the fielder has to go to reach the ball (“the intercept point”).• How much time he has to get there.• How far he then is from the base the runner is heading to.• On force plays, how fast the batter is, on average.”"
Second base is far from the most difficult position to play, but it’s still awfully impressive to see Schoop lead the entire league in this stat. His defense has simply been phenomenal.
His defense has always been solid, never being below the 82nd percentile in OAA since 2017 according to Baseball Savant. But now he’s an elite fielder. He should get some gold glove consideration, but unless he improves offensively, he probably won’t get it.
Schoop performed admirably at first base last season, but the Tigers’ defense up the middle was terrible. They didn’t have a reliable shortstop or a reliable second baseman. Moving the second baseman back to second base and having a first baseman in Spencer Torkelson play first base has done wonders for the infield. Who would have thought?
Unless he absolutely torches opposing pitching in the second half of the season, Schoop is very likely to stay with the Tigers in 2023 by not exercising his player option. Despite having a putrid wRC+ of 51, his fWAR sits at 0.9 because of his elite defense. He’ll probably still be a positive WAR player this year. Schoop needs to step it up at the plate, but his defense is what’s keeping him on this roster.