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Scott Schebler is playing to his strengths

By joining the group of players focused on putting the ball in the air, the Reds outfielder is maximizing his potential.

Philadelphia Phillies v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In his first extended taste of major league action last season, Reds outfielder Scott Schebler was... fine. In 282 plate appearances he slashed .265/.330/.432, with nine home runs and a 101 wRC+. A solid-if-unspectacular showing from a hitter that most reliable scouting types projected as a fourth outfielder or future strong side of a platoon.

A continuance of that production this year would’ve been fine, and if maintained, would probably have keep Schebler bouncing around the majors for a few years. Apparently not satisfied with adequate, he has taken a pretty significant statistical step forward in 2017. Now through 162 plate appearances, he is slashing .248/.321/.524(!!) with 11 home runs and a 116 wRC+.

While Schebler carried a BABIP of .312 in 2016, this season it’s just .245; suggesting that while he’s slugging like a man possessed he still might be getting a bit unlucky on balls in play. Not only that, but after looking like he’d fulfill his platoon outfield destiny last season, he’s been fantastic against lefties this year.

It’s still early, and small sample size caution is necessary, so proclaiming Schebler a solid everyday regular might be a tad premature. But it’s looks like we’re headed that way. So what is the crux of this improvement? A tweak in his swing? A change in approach? First, we can go back and see exactly what Schebler was looking to work on heading into spring training this season. From an MLB.com article by Mark Sheldon:

"I've worked on the path to my swing," Schebler said. "As I go to Spring Training, I need to work on just swinging at strikes. I know it's tough to work on unless you're getting live pitching, but I want to do it. I looked up my stats, and it's like this for anybody: When you're swinging at strikes, you're going to have a lot more success."

Let’s tackle that second part first — swinging at strikes. He’s right of course that laying off pitches out of the zone will dramatically increase your chances of success, but it’s actually an area in which he’s performed worse this season.

Graph via FanGraphs

Schebler has seen a nearly four percentage point increase in swings outside of the zone and around a six percentage point increase in contact outside of the zone. This type of contact is typically of the weak variety, so both these numbers run counter to Schebler’s goal heading into the year. They may help explain the decrease in BABIP though; a small increase in weak contact could be depressing his outcomes on balls in play. It has to be something else that’s been the catalyst for his overall improvement in production.

You probably don’t think of Schebler as a prime candidate to improve his launch angle. Power has always been his carrying tool and it’s not something he’s had difficulty tapping into during games. But that first part of the above quote shows he still had a desire to improve his bat path heading into this season; a change that is shown in the numbers.

You guessed it, folks — Scott Schebler is part of the LAUNCH ANGLE REVOLUTION!

Charts via Baseball Savant

The topic has been talked about to death, and you’re likely tired of hearing about launch angle improvements, but the facts are what they are. Schebler has raised his average launch angle significantly and is hitting more fly balls.

Scott Schebler Batted Ball Changes

Year LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB Avg. Launch Angle
Year LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB Avg. Launch Angle
2016 18.4 % 52.6 % 29.1 % 8.8 % 15.8 % 6.5°
2017 16.2 % 45.9 % 37.8 % 4.8 % 26.2 % 10.2°
Data via FanGraphs and Baseball Savant

While a 26.2 percent home-run-to-fly-ball rate is probably not sustainable, Schebler has cut 6.7 percentage points off his ground ball rate and put all of that in the air. For someone with above-average power, this improvement ensures that he’s maximizing his value as a player. To go along with the launch angle improvements has come a slight decrease in exit velocity, but that’s not the whole story.

Scott Schebler Exit Velocity Changes

Year Soft% Med% Hard% Avg. Exit Velocity
Year Soft% Med% Hard% Avg. Exit Velocity
2016 16.2 % 50.5 % 33.3 % 89.2 MPH
2017 19.5 % 42.5 % 38.1 % 88.1 MPH
Data via FanGraphs and Baseball Savant

Schebler’s raw, Statcast measured exit velocity is down overall. But the different classifications of hard, medium, and soft percentage from Baseball Info Solutions show that his big decrease has come in what would be categorized as medium hit balls. Just as we suspected earlier Schebler’s soft hit rate has increased slightly, most likely due to an increase in contact outside of the zone.

While the overall exit velocity is down, his hard hit rate has actually increased by almost five percentage points. Combined with the increased launch angle, it means that Schebler is putting the ball in the air more often, and he’s hitting it with more authority when he does so. In 2016 his average exit velocity on fly balls was 89.3 miles per hour, but in 2017 he’s seen that number rise to 95.1 miles per hour.

Zone Profiles via Baseball Savant

The strategy of increasing one’s launch angle has been beaten into the ground as a narrative so far this season. But that’s because for many players, it’s working. Add Scott Schebler to list of those who are reaping the rewards of elevating. Before he was just another average outfielder, but now there’s a chance he’s something more.

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Chris Anders is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @mrchrisanders.