To put it bluntly, Jonathan Schoop did not have a good 2018.
Only six players saw their offensive value drop more from 2017 to 2018 than Schoop, who went from being worth +15.8 runs above average to -14.6 runs above average on offense in that two year timeframe. He slashed just .233/.266/.416 (80 wRC+) across 501 plate appearances with the Orioles and Brewers. He hit 21 home runs and drove in 61 RBIs, but he was worth just 0.5 fWAR, held afloat mainly from defensive contributions.
A midseason trade from Baltimore to Milwaukee put Schoop in the thick of a pennant race, but it didn’t seem to help. Schoop’s 50 wRC+ from August 1 through the end of the season was the 17th-lowest mark in baseball (minimum 100 plate appearances). The Brewers, who thought that Schoop would only add to their infield, ultimately decided to cut ties with him at the end of the season because of this poor production.
But, on Thursday, the Twins agreed to sign Schoop to a one-year, $7.5 million deal, a signing that went relatively unnoticed by the majority of the baseball industry. Despite being a minor transaction in the grand scheme of the offseason, Minnesota may have made one of the bigger value plays of the winter months.
As hinted to, Schoop was actually a highly productive offensive player in 2017. Named to the AL All-Star team, he slashed .293/.338/.503 with 32 home runs and 102 RBIs. A 122 wRC+ alongside solid defense resulted in Schoop being worth 3.8 wins of value. Among all qualified second basemen, Schoop was the fifth-most valuable in baseball.
Where did all of this offensive production go?
For one, Schoop stopped hitting the ball hard. His average exit velocity dropped 1.6 mph from 2017 to 2018, taking him from slightly above MLB-average to below. His hard-hit rate, as a result, dropped by 8.3 percentage points. He also started hitting more ground balls; his average launch angle dropped almost two degrees. His ground ball rate increased more than three points.
All of this evidence is alarming. Hitting the ball hard and hitting the ball in the air are two direct measures of success for most big league hitters; in 2018, Schoop seemingly lost both of those talents. His .266 xwOBA was in the bottom one percent of the league. His DRC+ was 83 with Baltimore and 81 with Milwaukee.
Schoop may have also been met with some bad BABIP luck, though some of this could be due to a worse batted ball profile. His .261 BABIP in 2018 was by far his lowest mark in the three seasons in which he had more than 500 turns at the plate.
He also stopped walking. Though he was never a big plate discipline guy in the first place, Schoop’s 5.2 percent 2017 walk rate dropped 1.4 points to 3.8 percent in 2018.
None of this seems like good news for the Twins, but every contract signed by any player must be compared to its length and value. I am a strong proponent of the philosophy that there are no bad one-year deals, and that theory holds up here.
It’s entirely possible that Schoop never fully recovered from an oblique strain he suffered in April of last year, which may explain the poor exit velocity numbers. It’s also possible that Schoop just had a bad year (because those do happen) and can rebound.
But, luckily for the Twins, they don’t need Schoop to return to quasi-superstardom in order for this deal to be a success. First, at just $7.5 million, Schoop would only need to return about 0.8 wins of value for him to make the deal “worth it.” In a horrific year last year, he actually was almost worth that. Second, the Twins probably are looking at Schoop as a July trade candidate if they’re out of the race. If he hits well over the first few months of 2019, Minnesota could look to trade him to an offense-deprived team by the trade deadline, turning this deal into automatic prospects. Even better, if the Twins themselves are still in the playoff race, Schoop is probably one of their top contributors. I don’t think GM Thad Levine would mind that.
Steamer seems to like the odds that he’ll improve, currently projecting Schoop to hit .265/.306/.467 with 23 HR and 75 RBIs over 536 plate appearances. The system sees him as posting 2.1 fWAR. If this is the case, it’s an easy win for the Twins.
But, even in a world in which Schoop continues to play poorly, it doesn’t really matter. He’ll be a free agent once again at the end of next season, and the Twins will be off the hook. That’s why there’s no risk here.
Effectively, the Twins are paying Schoop $7.5 million to see if he can regenerate some of his 2017 magic, a seemingly light figure that could work out to be an easy steal.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.