Ryan Schimpf is having a moment.
He's a 28-year-old rookie — which, as Craig Edwards of FanGraphs notes, isn't exactly a recipe for success, but is certainly a recipe for being an excellent story. His pedigree (fifth-round pick from a top baseball school) and minor league track record show he's got the background to be a major league contributor, though the flaws in his game are obvious. And to overcome those flaws, he's doubling down on his best trait: his ability to hit dingers.
Home runs are exciting and fun, and in San Diego, where the season has been long lost like its general manager, Schimpf has been a bright spot. He's gone yard time and time again, and while there are some obvious questions about his long-term viability, he's been an entertaining spot in a rough year. How's he done it?
He's hitting the ball in the air at an insane rate
Let's start with his ridiculous launch angle, courtesy of Baseball Savant.
Among players with 100 batted balls, Schimpf's launch angle is more than six (!!!!) degrees higher than the second-ranked hitter. His goal is clearly to lift the ball — he's done it his entire career, and in the bigs, his ridiculous fly ball ways have increased by leaps and bounds. It looks something like this.
Oftentimes, a higher launch angle is a good thing. Home runs typically come from the 25-30 degree angle and while raw launch angle is far from the metric we'll be using in just a few short years, there seems to be a decent correlation between it and success.
Schimpf indeed has hit his share of home runs. That's why we're talking about him, after all. In 296 plate appearances, he's got 19 total dingers; 15 of those have come in the second half where, not coincidentally, he's received the bulk of his playing time. The launch angle is in part due to his home run prowess.
Home runs typically come from hard-hit fly balls, and Schimpf certainly has his fair share of those. His 64 percent fly ball rate is a full 15 percentage points higher than baseball's qualified fly ball leader, Chris Carter. His 40 percent hard-hit rate would rank just outside the top 15 in baseball, and he's hitting fly balls with authority (95.4 MPH exit velocity, 16th in baseball).
Along with hitting the ball in the air comes not hitting the ball on the ground. That's self-explanatory but worth discussing because, true to form, Schimpf's 20 percent ground ball rate would best the lowest qualified number in the league by a full 6.5 percentage points. These are more numbers telling us the same thing: It's absurd how much he's hitting the ball in the air.
But within that launch angle is, at least a little bit, some bad news. Schimpf's goal is clearly to get the ball in the air and out of the yard. That's led to an infield fly ball rate that currently sits at 15.5 percent, a number that would put him in the top 10 if he'd seen the playing time to qualify. Infield fly balls go for outs almost all the time, rarely advance runners, and are effectively the same as strikeouts. When that many balls hit in play are guaranteed outs, it's nearly impossible to keep a decent batting average, and Schimpf will always be on razor's edge in his ability to sustain a passable average.
What's sustainable and what to expect in the future
As Edwards noted, Schimpf is unlikely to continue to put the ball out of the yard with such frequency. Of course, he's so extreme in his approach that it's possible he's an outlier in terms of HR/FB rate too, but more than likely, that number will fall, at least a bit.
Schimpf's batting average has always been low and will likely always be low. Along with popping the ball up frequently, Schimpf swings and misses a lot too. His 31 percent strikeout rate is higher than what he did in the minors, and even if it doesn't come down, it will hinder him from putting up a solid batting average.
His BABIP is low and has been low throughout his career. With limited ground balls and the high popup rate, it'll probably stay low going forward. If it goes up, it may be a bad thing — that could be the result of home runs staying in the yard and turning into doubles instead of dingers.
Still, Schimpf has been a two-win player in half a season. There's room for him to fall back or regress and still be a useful piece, and that's not too shabby for a 28-year-old, journeyman-type rookie.
To recap: Ryan Schimpf is weird and awesome
-He's got the highest launch angle by nearly 7 degrees
-Along those lines, his fly ball rate, at 64.4 percent, is 10 percentage points higher than the next-highest player (min. 250 PAs)
-He's got the lowest ground ball rate (min. 250 PAs) by 6.5 percent
-He's a 28-year-old rookie, and sustainability be damned, he's succeeding
Ryan Schimpf is weird and entertaining, and a bright spot in San Diego. Hopefully he can continue his late and unique success.
Tim Eckert-Fong is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score